Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
“Mom, what happened to Rafal’s head?” Audrey asked me.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s got a big gash on the top of his head. Did he fall or something?”
“No. Rafal, let me see, come here.”
Rafal inched slowly towards me, his head and eyes downcast. Yep, there is was in the middle of his head, a gash an inch long. It looked as if he had been scalped. Dried blood surrounded the gash where a chunk of flesh and hair had once resided.
“What happened?” Audrey asked again.
“Razors or clippers,” I stated with conviction. We had recently finished reading Sign of the Beaver, a book about a young boy, during the frontier days who had been left alone to guard the family cabin and claim. He was forced to rely on the help of the Native Americans and learned many things from them. While there were no scalping incidents in the book, we had discussed it. He had many questions about the subject-how do you scalp? Can you live through it? How much of the hair comes off?
“Wah?” (Audrey’s favorite new word meaning ‘what’)
Rafal took advantage of Audrey’s moment of wonderment and confusion to make a quick exit.
Later that weekend, Rafal came to me, “Mom my mouth hurts,” he complained.
“Let me see.” I had just taken Rafal to the dentist earlier in the week for a fitting for an appliance that would pull a tooth back into place, a tooth that had come in sideways. I looked at his red apple sized cheek and thought that maybe that tooth had caused an infection inside his mouth.
“It seems that Rafal bit the side of his cheek extremely hard,” the dental hygienist stated.
I looked at her in shock and disbelief.
“It is infected, so you did the right thing bringing him in.” She finished her instructions for treatment as I sank lower in my seat. She noticed my discomfort and reassured me that many kids bite the sides of their cheek. I didn’t feel encouraged. This was Rafal’s second unexplained trauma of the weekend.
When I questioned him about it outside the dentist’s office, he gave me the same response that he had given me about the scalping, “ I have no clue how that happened.”
Denial. He later confessed to Amerey that he had taken a razor to his head. I asked him about the Indian scalping theory. He just smirked and took to wearing a baseball cap in public. I came to the conclusion, after a conference with Audrey, that he bit his cheek when he razored his head, not wanting to scream out because he would have been caught in the act.
Inside the home, any mention of his scalping (in the weeks it took his head to heal) resulted in an angry outburst from Rafal, to which I responded, “You scalped yourself, you can’t tell people not to notice.”
On the one hand, I felt like a bad parent, on the other hand, I felt as if this set of wounds was just another rotten fruit produced from his early life’s environment,
chiefly- alcohol exposure in the womb.
Nine years earlier, when Jerry and I sat with the children in the psychologist’s office in
Poland. The doctors had gone over a detailed description of the children’s life before the
state intervened. One of the prominent factors in their life was the presence of alcohol and
neglect. “The mother drank,” we were told matter of factly. Of course much more detail
was given, but that was the pertinent information that I tucked away. Little did I know, the
little guy (Rafal) I was holding on my lap that day, sporting his pink Minnie mouse sweat-
suit would suffer the most long term effects.
*Rafal gave me permission to share this story and asked me to tell my readers, ” I was a lot younger when this happened.”
Join me for Part II on Wednesday!