He’s dreaming of a stubbed toe…


A few months ago Leo’s teacher posed a question to her students each day, and their answers were written on a list on the wall.

I wasn’t surprised by some of his answers, such as what made him angry (when my brother stomps on my train), or what made him afraid (spiders, bees, or mosquitoes). Then one day I came to pick Leo up, and the list from the day said “What I Wish for.”

I skimmed the sheet to find our son’s name and read, “A real racecar.”

Hmm. Leo has many interests, but racecars are not a favorite. I wondered why he had chosen that particular answer.

As we were driving home that night, I said casually, “So you told the teacher you want a real racecar.”

And, in the rearview mirror, I watched a grin spread across his face. I knew there was more to the story.

“Yes, Mama,” he said. “I told her I wanted a real racecar. But that was not the first thing I said.”

Now we’re getting somewhere, I thought.

“What was the first thing?” I asked.

“I said I wanted to stub my toe!” he said, and he laughed. “But she said that was a silly answer.”

Ah, yes. I thought. There’s the challenge in having a teacher who doesn’t read Uncle Wiggily books. If she had, maybe she would understand that our son was giving her an absolutely honest answer.

You see, there’s a wonderful Uncle Wiggily story about a boy who is always stubbing his toe, and Leo is absolutely fascinated with the idea.

But his preschool teacher thought Leo wasn’t taking her question seriously.

So Leo and I talked again about how badly he wanted to stub his toe. I told him it would hurt, but he was still eager to experience it. And I can understand that. Hearing from your mother that it will hurt is fine, but sometimes you still want to go through it yourself.

I found myself thinking about how many times people had tried to warn me in my life, telling me to avoid something or choose a different path, but I was determined to figure it out for myself. And that was Leo. He heard what I was saying, but he wanted to find out for himself. I had also told him he wouldn’t like gummy worms, and I had been way off, so maybe I would be wrong about the stubbed toe, too.

Either way, he wanted to try it, just as he wants to experience many of the things he reads in books—camping, flying to the Moon, and planting a Truffula seed.

Then one night not long ago Leo started climbing onto the couch and bumped his toe. And I saw his face freeze.

“What happened?” I said—even though I was pretty sure I knew.

“I stubbed my toe,” he said, very matter-of-factly.

“You stubbed your toe!” I said. “How does it feel?”

Maybe I was wrong to tell this child with such an amazing pain threshold that it would be painful, I thought. Maybe for him it would be a funny sensation. Maybe he would be so thrilled to have experienced it himself that he wouldn’t notice the pain.

“Mama,” he said. “It hurts.”

Oh. Well, maybe he’d rather have that racecar.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.