My daughter loves a plaster. There is nothing quite like that sticky bit of fabric (it doesn’t matter what colour, what design, waterproof or not) for making everything better. I’m not quite sure what it is about them that she loves, but they have been an enormous source of comfort since an early age.
It could be visual. The fact that she can no longer see the cause of her distress in all its gory glory could be the thing. That plaster looks all clean and everything seems under control. And of course, the wonderful, magical thing about plasters is that when she takes one off (eventually), blackened by grubbing about doing whatever it is the nine year old girl does in dens these days (I think it’s mostly digging), the wound has gone, or, at the very least, the bit that caused all the tears and couldn’t be kissed better is shrunk, soft new skin instead of scratchy scabs.
For L, the bigger the plaster, the better. She is particularly fond of those enormous square ones, the ones that cover an entire knee, or an entire elbow with room to spare, no matter how tiny the splinter; I think it’s the drama queen in her that enjoys the attention as she moans and groans her way around the house, limping between destinations, her downturned little mouth begging your sympathy.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’d hate you to get the wrong impression of my daughter; she is no more an attention seeker than any other nine year old, but I do understand how it works, the ‘special-ness’ that injury confers. When I was six, you see, I bore the biggest plaster ever stuck to human child. It covered a scar that ran around my rib cage and along my shoulder blade and I well remember the pain of its removal; my gentle mother, gingerly picking it loose, shoved aside by an efficient nurse who was a fan of the ‘get it over with’ approach.
I never got to show anyone my plaster, though. Not any of my peers, anyway. I was far too wrapped up by hospitals for that. No, rather than developing a fondness for plasters, for me, it was scars. That scar that zipped me up was my tattoo, the mark that marked me out. It took years before I tired of explaining, before it faded to a shadow that barely raises comment. Not that I hide it, it’s impossible in the swimming pool after all, it just doesn’t define me any more; that specialness, that difference.
I got to wondering, the other night, while I was supposed to be sleeping, whether those plasters that my daughter loves so much aren’t a bit like the labels we apply to children. Like the sticky strips my daughter insists on, these labels, like SEN and PP and FSM and ASD and ADHD are invested with far more than their properties of coverage. Like those plasters, especially the big ones, or the ones with OUCH written on them in loud colours, the labels are a sign post. They are a signal that something is wrong, that the person who bears them, or the person who parents the person who bears them, needs special treatment. Adjustments. Protocols.
The thing is, though, the thing that occurred to me in those long moments of sleeplessness, is that, unlike the plasters, under which the magical process of healing happens, the removal of which reveals, if not perfect skin then at least a work in progress, the labels we apply to children change nothing.
A child living in reduced circumstances still lives there even if they have PP or FSM after their names. An application of ADHD doesn’t make a child’s behaviour any less zippy or impulsive. The parents of dyspraxic children already know their child struggles to organise themselves and their bodies. Sam had that extra chromosome from the moment he was conceived. The label, the naming of the condition didn’t actually make a blind bit of difference to the situation.
For all that I know about Down’s syndrome, for everything that label has told me about low muscle tone, or auditory processing or the development of speech and language, it has never, not for one moment, made anything better. It hasn’t made it easier to put him to bed, or do as he’s told, wash his hair, put his toys away. It hasn’t made it easier for him to get to school, or me to get him to school. It hasn’t made it any easier to learn to read.
Of course, I don’t know what it’s like to live in a state of perpetual confusion. I don’t know what it is to live under the shadow of the unknown. Neither me, thanks to my scar, or Sam, thanks to all manner of physical tell-tales have ever had to suffer the funny looks or questioning glances courtesy of an invisible disability.
But as much as L loves her plasters, Sam can’t abide them. For him, the plaster itself, not the wound, is the cause of considerable distress. If he comes home from school bearing one he isn’t happy until he’s torn it off. It is only when it is removed that he is all better, no kisses required.
Sometimes, he’s quite profound, my boy.