A Dad, a Mom and an 8-Year-Old With a Bashed Lip

Eight-year-old boy with fat lip and Giants T-shirt, smiling. BF Newhall photo.

The Walrus Boy got his picture taken a week or so after being bashed in the lip by a hard ball that was hit off a T. BF Newhall photo.

Here’s a story about my husband, my son and an errant baseball. I wrote it when Peter was eight — and I was a mom who worried a lot.

By Barbara Falconer Newhall, The Oakland Tribune, May 14, 1989

It’s all their fault. They don’t do their share of the housework. They edge us out of the good jobs. They don’t talk about their feelings, and when we talk about ours they don’t listen. They are insensitive. They are selfish.

eight-year-old boy in Gorman Furniture Berkeley baseball league uniform. Photo by BF Newhall

The Walrus Boy five months after his upper left lip was bashed. I could see the bump; it bothered me. Photo by BF Newhall

Why, we wonder, why can’t a man be more like a woman?

You can talk to a woman. A woman is sympathetic, sensitive. A woman understands about child care. She understands about job discrimination. She understands about men.

She likes to talk.

It has been decades since American women got the vote, the birth control pill, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Roe v. Wade.

Yet we are still not entirely liberated . . . At least I’m not. When things don’t go right, I whine. I complain. I blame.

Instead, I should just do.

Case in point: The Lip.

At 7 p.m. last Saturday, Peter came home from the park with a lip the size of a ping-pong ball. He had been hit by a hardball on the fly. Inside was a gash an inch long and a quarter inch wide. “I’m taking you to the hospital,” I announced.

I have a policy on gashes. Get them looked at. Get them stitched. Then be done with it. That way, there will be no unnecessary scars on the faces of my children.

“No,” said Jon. “It’s just a fat lip. It will be fine.”

I called the pediatrician.

The doctor was a man. He agreed with Jon. “It will be fine,” he said.

Given my policy on gashes and scars, I should have pressed the doctor to see Peter. But it was Saturday night. The baby sitter had arrived. Jon was ready for a nice dinner on the town. If I cancelled dinner to take Peter to the hospital, Jon would be angry.

Very angry.

Eleven-year-old boy with glasses and a bump on his lip. Photo by BF Newhall

Thanksgiving three years after Peter’s lip encountered that baseball: I could still see the bump. It still bothered me. Photo by BF Newhall

Next day, Peter’s lip was keeling violently to the left. On one side, Peter was his own dear self. On the other, he looked like a walrus.

I was horrified, Peter would go through life deformed and vilified. Eyes would avert and conversations would stop at the Walrus Boy’s approach.

And it was all Jon’s fault. Jon had talked me out of taking Peter to the hospital.

That night at bedtime, I pounded my pillow in rage. I couldn’t sleep. I made pilgrimages to the Walrus Boy’s bed. No doubt about it. He was deformed.

Monday morning, I was still pounding my pillow. Peter still looked like a walrus. But my thinking was clearer. It was not all Jon’s fault. I had let my husband talk me out of doing what I thought was right.

I called for an appointment with a plastic surgeon. No sooner was the phone back in its cradle than my anger was gone.

I stopped pounding on things.

Later, the specialist took a careful look at The Lip. Jon was right. The pediatrician was right. Peter did not need stitches. It would heal without help.

It was just a fat lip.

Any self-respecting American male who had played his share of sandlot baseball could have told me that.

Peter Newhall in green high school graduation gown with his mother Barbara Falconer Newhall. Photo by BF Newhall

Peter graduates from high school: If the bump was still there I wasn’t noticing it any more. Photo by Jon Newhall

Now, if course, I felt foolish. But it was a better feeling than anger. I had done what I had to do. And it was nobody’s fault.

Note: Twenty-four years later Peter says he can still feel that bump on his lip, but nobody seems to notice it. If I do see the bump these days, it doesn’t much bother me; it’s all part of Peter.

Read more about Jon at “Would My Husband Like to Add My Name to His?” Read more about Peter at “How Selective Service Made a Man of My Son.”

Excerpted from a column that appeared in the Oakland Tribune. Reprinted by permission.
















  1. Wow, I had no idea my fat lip affected you so much. I don’t remember being bothered by how it made me look – if anything I thought it was kind of cool b/c it was subtle. I never once thought it made me look like a Walrus.

    And yeah, I can still feel it if I run my tongue inside my lip but you can’t tell from the outside.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Peter, Don’t forget, I’m a writer who likes to exaggerate. And . . . the lip looked a lot worse for the first few days and weeks causing the walrus metaphor to spring to mind. It troubled me not so much because it looked bad, as because I was worried that I had let you down. All’s well that ends well, cuz you turned out to be such a handsome guy.

  2. This really takes me back – 35 years to be exact. My toddler fell from a chair while visiting grandma over the weekend. BIG lip – same spot as Peter’s. As this was an overnight stay, I didn’t hear about it or see it until the next evening. Same result – bumpy lip for years and years. Today, at 37, my son’s lips look perfect. Thanks for the look back in time, Barbara!

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      . . . And my daughter fell from a high chair as a baby. Smashed her nose on a table edge. Cried a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever confessed this to her as it was all my fault. Like our sons’ lips, the effects don’t really show today. But I sure thought her nose looked funny for lots of years.


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