The Battle of Wounded Knees

by Loretta Slota Marshall

© Loretta and William E. Marshall, Children's Television Workshop, 1982

Our quiet Sunday evening was abruptly interrupted when Marc came wailing and limping into the house. His head-on run-in with another preschooler had ended with two bloodied knees and a lot of promises to never, ever, play together again.

Considering myself something of an expert on such injuries--as an undiagnosed myopic child, I spent most of my pre-glasses years with skinned knees--I tried to comfort Marc with first-aid spray antiseptic and the assurance that I had had lots of scraped knees and they were no big deal. But, he informed me, "These aren't your knees. They're mine, and they hurt plenty."

Good point.

Marc assessed the damage to his body as considerably beneath emergency room status, but nothing to be dismissed with a simple kiss-and-a-hug. And, between sobs, he prescribed for himself complete knee rest--he was not going to straighten either leg until "my body makes its own bandages and nothing hurts."

After a period of cuddling and coddling (and some surreptitious checking for serious damage), I thought we were ready to return to our previous diversions. But Marc persisted in his role of non-walking wounded until bedtime.

In the morning, he showed up by the side of our bed--or, to be more precise, below the side of our bed--in a crouched position usually reserved for games of leapfrog. When he hopped for bathroom and breakfast stops, I knew we were in a new ball game and proceeded with caution.

Ploy #1: Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. Lest I elevate Marc's new quirk to attention-getting stardom, I tried to be offhand and nonchalant about his self-imposed invalidism: "Oh, is that you down there?"

His response: "Yes, is that you up there?"

Ploy #2: Diversionary tactics. I casually mentioned several times that it would probably be a lot more fun running around outside than being literally underfoot all day.

Marc: "OK, then why don't you carry me outside?"

Ploy #3: Stratagem. When his younger brother happened to call for help (in a non-alarming tone), I tried the ruse insurance-fraud investigators supposedly use: "Quick! Run and see what's the matter with Matthew!"

Marc quickly hopped off to his brother's rescue.

In the early evening a second boy-toad joined us--Matthew happily hopping behind his brother from room to room. The situation was only slightly improved when Marc decided his knees were sufficiently healed to lumber about like an orangutan, with his knees bent and his knuckles barely clearing the floor. "The Igor-routine," as his exasperated father dubbed it, lasted through the morning of the third day. By that time, my repeated "suggestions" that it was time to give this game up sounded indistinguishable from nagging, and I was just about to resort to the classic parental last stand: "Do it because I say so!"

Then, unexpectedly, the incident took on a deeper significance in response to my latest ploy aimed at getting him upright, Marc looked up at me, and with touching solemnity asked, "Why can't a person walk any way he want to, if it makes him feel better?"

Indeed, why not?

No safety or sacred issues were at stake. What was? His right to make personal decisions on his own versus my preference or convenience? I hadn't expected to confront this question at this moment any more than one expects questions about procreation in the supermarket checkout line, but there it was.

I'd often talked to Marc about personal rights (mostly connected with dramatic proclamations along the line of "Parents are persons, and we have rights too, you know!"). And here was this little being reminding me that he too is a person--with rights. Was this one of them?

The small person scrunched at my feet was waiting for an answer. It was one of the first times I had faced this kind of a dilemma, but I knew with absolute certainty it wouldn't be the last. I was about to set an important precedent.

"I can't think of a single good reason why a person can't. If it's making you feel better, go ahead," adding as I knelt down to administer another get-well hug, "I hope your knees will be 100 percent well very soon."

A few hours later, the thunder of Marc's feet roared through our house again. The Battle of Wounded Knees had ended in victory for everyone. I am glad to have my boy back hale and limber of limbs, although it was, well, interesting, having those two hoppy toads--I mean, persons--around.

This essay was published as a "Day by Day" column in the Sesame Street Parents' Newsletter in 1982.

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