Wednesday, August 14, 2013


It was all because of toothpaste!  Five children under the age of twelve meant toothpaste smears on the sink, on the towels, down the front of shirts, and even on the floor.  That's when I got the brilliant idea to put away the toothpaste and use tooth powder instead.  I'm not sure why I thought that would be less messy.

The day I brought a tin of tooth powder home, my curious four-year-old promptly removed the lid and stuck her finger inside the can, presumably to taste the powder.  That's when disaster struck.  She couldn't get her finger back out of the tiny opening.  I tried all the usual methods for a stuck ring; soap, ice, lotion.  Nothing worked and by that time her finger was bleeding where the can had cut a deep groove around her poor little finger. 

We lived less than a block from the fire station, and being a reporter, I knew most of the firemen at the nearby station.  Leaving my oldest daughter to watch the other kids, I dashed to the fire station with my bleeding little girl.  The men were sympathetic and kind to my daughter as they tried the same methods that had failed for me.  Finally a paramedic said, "We'll have to cut it off."  He explained that he'd have to use the jaws of life, the same tool used to rip open cars to extract accident victims and though the tool is large and scary looking it would work fine. 

My child stood still and didn't cry, though pale and wide eyed, while the firemen cut away the can.  "There!  All done. I'll just put a band-aid on your finger and it will be just fine." 

She looked up at him and in a trembling voice said, "But my finger is still there." 

Both the paramedic and I had tears in our eyes as we realized my little daughter had thought he was going to cut off her finger instead of the can. I was overwhelmed by her courage, but I also learned a valuable lesson about using pronouns. Be very sure it is clear to the reader or listener what the antecedent to the pronoun is.   

I've read a number of books lately that have left me confused just the way my child had been confused over whether the author like the paramedic meant for it to stand for the can or the finger.  This problem pops up a lot on face book and it would be helpful if we all were more careful in the quick comments we make there, but let's take extra care in what we write for publication.

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