Paper Cuts That Don’t Heal

Parker on the run...

I am not afraid of inflicting great emotional injuries on my daughter. I don’t call her names, compare her to so and so, or tell her she’s ruined my life. I don’t send her to bed without dinner, or banish her to her to her room for hours behind a locked door. I don’t threaten her by telling her that my continued love for her is contingent on her actions.

I don’t do any of those things, because I know from first-hand experience how much they hurt. I have felt just how deeply these wounds can go and how long they take to heal – if they ever do – and I vowed never to inflict those injuries on either of my children.  It is a vow I have not broken.

And so, I am careful not to cut too deep. I am conscious of the power within the words I wield. I know that these things stay with children, and I think of them as the wounds left by an ax within the trunk of a tree. As that tree grows, more and more rings will form around the gash. Though shielded from view, the results of the injury remain – a scar – which while it may be deeply layered beneath years of growth, will never fully repair itself.

Everyone carries these scars with them. Whether they were inflicted by parents, friends, ex-lovers, teachers, bosses, husbands – they are there, and permanent, and both easy to recall and painful to relive if we allow ourselves.

And it is fairly easy to be certain if you are throwing those axes. We brandish them – as offense or as defense – when we feel we need to, but knowingly all the same. It is often purposeful, even when we feel we can claim a justifiable purpose. Especially in those cases.

But what about the moments when you are not throwing axes? When these may not be major lacerations you are inflicting?

What if it’s just a paper cut?

There are moments lately – a lot of moments, when I have had enough of my five year old and some of her recently developed habits.

She is full of spirit and affection and eager to please.  She is so proud that she has recently learned to read, and is earnestly poring over everything from books we get from our trips to the library together, to the junk mail we receive each day.  She just about glows when she hears you say you’re proud of her, that she has done well, that she is a “big girl”.  She is learning to be more patient with her brother, showing him more empathy and including him often.  She has adapted the games they play together to be easier for him to follow – even if “follow” just means he is literally just following her around the house as they play Hide and Seek or pretend to be spies – or Secret Cajuns as Parker thinks that particular vocation is called.

She is also a precocious back-talker, seems to be taking her cues on mood changes from the rounds of ping pong we played on our recent family vacation, and she has mastered the art of non-verbal griping with a variety of admirable – if ear-splitting – yowls, moans, and wails.

She is truly a whine connoisseur.

There are always reasons for these sob-fests – it’s just that the majority of the time, I am not privy to them.  To be honest, I’m not sure that she is privy to them.

And there are times when I have the patience and the empathy to try to understand what she is feeling.  There are evenings that I have the emotional capital left over to let it roll off of my back and try to put myself in her shoes.  There are afternoons that I can calmly rationalize that this is a phase and take the time to sit with her and talk about how she is feeling and why. There are mornings when I know that it is up to me to ensure that her outburst isn’t the way that day begins for either of us, that only I can resuscitate the situation that has left her breathless and howling.

But there are days – whole days it seems – when I cannot do any of that.  When I am too overwhelmed by whatever I have going on, or when my patience has been spent. When I am exhausted. When I have started the day off writing something truly difficult, or I have started the day off having true difficulty writing anything at all.  When I am heartbroken by another setback of her brother’s, or concerned there will be one on the horizon.  When my husband and I have been bickering.  When I am hurting, or restless, or distracted and don’t have any more room for those emotions.  Or when I am finally feeling happy, and content, and optimistic, and resent having those emotions interrupted.

And I know that is wrong, that it is bordering on blasphemy to have feelings that go beyond the well-being of your child. I understand that it is an offense punishable by public whipping on a pillory to resent your child for raining on your parade, or for flooding the streets by adding to the the precipitation when the rain had already begun without them.  But I am not just her mother.  I am also a woman – I am just a person.  Full of faults and brimming with things that go directly against the proverbial shoulds that our society – or at times our own conscience – demand.

And so on some of those days that I have run out of tolerance, I brush her off.  I ignore the tantrums and let her resolve them on her own.  I send her to her room until she is able to calm herself down.

These are not the moments I am ashamed of.  The moments that worry me are what I call “paper cut moments”.

Paper cuts do not cause any permanent harm.  No one without a rare and serious medical condition hemorrhages to death from a paper cut, and stitches are not required.  While not overtly injurious, they do sting.  Adding insult to minor injury, they also tend to stick around for a while.

It’s the moments when I am harried and hurried and trying to get her and her brother out the door and to school on time and she chooses that exact moment as the perfect one to show me the latest drawing she’s made.  Or the approximately eleven times a day that she waits until I’m on the phone to strike up a conversation with me, despite having been completely silent for the previous fifteen minute drive home from school after I repeatedly prompted her by asking about the details of her day.   Sometimes it’s the way she takes a painfully long period of time to make what should be a simple decision – like which pair of white socks to wear that day, or whether to have blueberries or strawberries with her lunch.  Occasionally, it’s the full cup of juice spilled during dinner – soaking her plate. And the chair. And the floor. And if it’s the end of a particularly trying day – my will to live.

I am well aware that these are not examples of her shortcomings or character flaws, they merely end up highlighting mine.

In my constant state of rushing, and moving, and juggling – my life usually feels as though I am on the precipice of chaos, and that’s on the days that I don’t feel as though I reside directly within the eye of a chaos hurricane.  I’m thinking of having my mail forwarded there.

Parker, I can’t right now.  We seriously don’t have time for this at the moment. I tell her in a clipped and dismissive tone.

Paper cut.

I’m on the phone. Can’t this wait? You’re interrupting again and being rude. I respond, clearly irritated.

Paper cut.

Seriously, Parks?? The entire cup of juice? I exclaim with annoyed disbelief.

Paper cut.

I’ve had enough! I am in the middle of something! I say through gritted teeth.

Paper cut.

And I see her face fall.  And sometimes I regret it instantly and apologize. And sometimes it takes me a few minutes. And sometimes I’m genuinely annoyed with her and it takes hours. And sometimes, I’ll admit, I never get around to it at all.  But the damage has already has been done once those words leave my lips.  Feelings have been hurt.  Little people have been slighted.  The paper has made its infinitesimal – yet effective – slice into skin.  And when our children are hurting, we hurt for them too.

There has been no major bloodshed and none of this will go on to be the topic of a conversation she will have in 40 years with a therapist while recumbent on a couch in a musty room lined with books, Well, that time my mother snapped at me for spilling my cup of juice when I was five?  Yeah, I’m pretty that was the turning point for me – it must be the reason why I have trust issues and can’t carry on a relationship for longer than nine days and have seventeen cats.

Because paper cuts heal, right?  A few days of wincing after you’ve reached for the hand sanitizer and feel the burn of the alcohol to remind you of this relatively tiny fissure, or while shampooing your hair, or removing your nail polish with the highly unpleasant sensation brought on when acetone meets an open cut – but then it’s over, it heals without a trace.

But what if some of those paper cuts didn’t heal?  What if those words I’ve thrown out at my sensitive and perceptive girl leave marks I cannot see?  That is what I fear most.  It’s the bits of pain that linger well after they should have been healed.  The words we carry around in our heads, that lay heavy in our hearts long after they should have been forgotten. I can remember those words that have been said to me by others – regardless of my attempts to move on.  I fear the same fate – the same burden – will be cast upon my daughter, and worse, that I will be the one to cause it.

Not deep wounds, just paper cuts.

But what if paper cuts don’t heal?




  1. alison says

    This is probably the blog post that hits most to home for me. I have tried to make more of a concious effort to really be engaged in all the activities with the kids but its when I need to work and i loses my patie nce that I will remember piece and think I hope of more constructive things to say.

    • says

      I couldn’t agree more, Elisa! It is my greatest hope that what remains and resonates are those great swaths of love we paint, rather than the tiny brushstrokes of those lesser emotions. Thank you so much for sharing… J.

  2. says

    I’m totally guilty of inflicting paper cuts, probably more than I’d like to admit. The worst was one evening when I was going through a pretty stressful time and I had had a particularly rough day. Mia had a tantrum about something and I didn’t handle it well so the tantrum escalated. I needed to escape, to breathe and think and calm down before paper cuts turned into something deeper, so I hid in my shower. Our shower is clear glass so not really an Einstein move, but I crouched in the corner and hoped she wouldn’t come looking for me. Of course, she did. “Go away,” I told her. “I’ll be in to talk to you in a minute.” But she walked into the shower and sat down and held my hand. “I will not leave you, Mama,” she said, both of us crying at this point. “I will not leave you.” And it hit me like a slap in the face that my daughter was mothering me just then. I’ve never been able to truly forgive myself for the way that I behaved that night, and I highly doubt that it will be cause for therapy when she’s older, but maybe the paper cuts we inflict on our children leave scars on our hearts long after evidence of their existence disappears. All of this is to say, you are not the only one.

  3. says

    Gosh. This is something I have been thinking a lot about recently. I have two girls- 10 and 8- an the ten year is full on in to tween-ness. It is so easy to snap at her and when I do, I will often think of how I sound to her. I don’t think paper cuts leave permanent scars but it sure would be nice if we could reduce them. Sigh…

  4. Lisa says

    As thoughtful as you are to the sensitivities of your young daughter, let me offer this perspective…the world will not treat her with the same love and difference that her mother does. Her teachers, friends, bosses and husband will snap at her, treat her unfairly, be unkind. It happens all the time. If a child has had no exposure to harshness and undeserved sharpness, they will grow into an adult who may have a thin skin, overly sensitive and bruised by the slightest of offenses. We mothers are human and by sheltering our kids from that side of us, we leave them vulnerable to a sometimes unkind world. Its ok, paper cuts are part of life.

  5. adkamanda says

    For whatever it may be worth, there isn’t a hurt I’ve carried with me that hasn’t helped lift me over another one. All the lessons we learn, planned or not, become arrows in our quiver. She’ll be a fine, strong, and caring woman. xo


Leave a Reply to Jamie Krug Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *