Ever the jokester, Bubba attempted to amuse me the other day with an age-old toddler trick: pretending to stick a jelly bean in his ear. To a normal mother, this type of silliness likely would have been met with a swift but gentle reminder that sticking foreign bodies into any of our orifices is a no-no, and then quickly forgotten.
When I saw that jelly bean heading towards the dear lad’s ear, flashbacks came screaming into my mind like a shellshocked soldier, adrenaline rushed through my blood and I jumped into action, intercepting the candy mid-flight with cat-like reflexes. I may or may not have shouted “NOOOOOOOO DON’T DO THAT!” and had to resist the urge to chuck the jelly bean out the window like a grenade, nearly forgetting that the confection itself was not actually to blame for the near tragedy.
I realize that probably sounds like an over-reaction, but when you consider the fact that I once lived with a piece of a rotting sponge stuck in my nasal cavity for a quarter of a year, I think it’s perfectly reasonable.
The horror began innocently: picture a three-year-old me, happily enjoying a bath with my big sister on a totally ordinary evening. In lieu of bath toys that fateful night, my sister and I were enjoying a pack of those little sponges that start off in capsule form and then expand in the water — like these, except this particular assortment featured letters of the alphabet. Well, I don’t know if it was something in the sponges themselves, the bubble bath, our shampoo, or what, but those letters smelled divine. I couldn’t stop sniffing them…which would have probably been OK, had I not also been experimenting with tearing the sponges into smaller pieces.
It was only a matter of time before one of the pieces went right up my little nose mid-sniff. A piece of an N, to be specific. And I can assure you that it was an N and not an A or L or K or any other letter, because I spent the next three months telling anyone and everyone, “THERE’S AN ‘N’ IN MY NOSE!!!” over and over again in hopes that someone would free me from my spongy torment, to no avail.
Now, to be fair to my family — because you’re probably wondering what kind of horrid neglect I was enduring that resulted in me walking around with a goddamn sponge up my nose for any longer than three minutes, much less months on end — my mom did pry out the sponge immediately after the ruinous sniff. The problem was that she only pulled out part of it, not realizing that another piece remained lodged deep within my nasal cavity. I, of course, was well aware of the stranded fragment, being that I couldn’t breathe out of my nose, but she was unaware that her extraction had been incomplete. This little problem surely could have been quickly remedied, if not for the simple fact that I was three years old and lacked the verbal dexterity to properly articulate my plight. Perhaps if I’d said something like, “Mother darling, despite your best efforts, a small portion of the sponge you attempted to withdraw was inadvertently left within my nostril and further nasal examination is necessary,” I would have seen some results…but alas, I was three and the best I could come up with was “THERE’S AN ‘N’ IN MY NOSE!!!” and thus the sponge remained.
I suppose my family just thought I was insane.
It wasn’t until three months later when I sneezed (in church, no less!) and my mom nearly gagged from the foul odor that accompanied my mucus that the figurative lightbulb went off and she finally realized that the “N” I’d been babbling about was probably related to that sponge she thought she’d removed a whole freakin’ season prior. She marched me on over to the doctor the very next day, where, at long last, with the assistance of some very large tweezers and a blindingly bright light, the now-moldy sponge was freed from its sinus prison. I don’t remember much about the aftermath of this incident — my memories of The Great N-Sponge Tragedy of ’86 all focus on the frustration of trying to get someone to believe there was an N up there in the first place — but my mom reports that I sneezed incessantly for days, my nose probably ecstatic to have such freedom after so many months. It must have felt fantastic, and it’s really too bad I don’t remember that sweet relief.
(My mom, for the record, felt terrible. AS SHE SHOULD, SINCE HER CHILD HAD A ROTTING SPONGE UP HER NOSE FOR THREE MONTHS. Ahem. I love you, Mom.)
The good news is that this experience made a lasting impression on me: never again did I allow a small object to come within sniffing distance of my nose; I’m hesitant to even get a tissue too close, if we’re being honest. I’ve used the story as a cautionary tale for babysitting charges and young relatives many times over the years, and I was happy to share the tale with Bubba after he flirted with disaster with the jelly bean. He had a lot of questions about why I felt the need to sniff the sponge and why I had chosen an N instead of another letter, so I’m not entirely sure the point of the story really sunk in…but I can assure you of this: if he’s ever spouting nonsense about something being stuck anywhere in his body, whether it’s a letter N or a number 8 or an Elmo or a tree, I’m taking him to the damn doctor.
If nothing else, they can just confirm that he’s insane and at least I’ll know his sinuses are clear.
My mom did not have the foresight to take a photo of me on the doctor’s table mid-extraction (if Facebook had existed in the mid-eighties, surely she would have), so here’s a photo of me from the same era, playing with paper dolls and wearing some kind of bonnet.