Sometime around 5 p.m. Thursday night, I received a text from Abigail’s nanny that my girl was running a fever of 103.
They say that a healthy child is akin to winning the lottery. They are right. And when you’re the parent of a healthy child, and in the moments your child becomes sick, you begin to understand why.
After some Tylenol, the fever dropped, she went to bed, slept through the night, save for some fussing. However this morning she woke up burning up – 102 – and after about two spinach smoothies and some Tylenol, things weren’t changing. A quick call to the pediatrician and by 10:30 a.m. I was hightailing it into their offices to make sure all was OK.
She was drinking, eating fruit, playing. Snuggly and clingy, yes, but I wasn’t worried. It is not my job to worry.
Fast forward 20 minutes from walking in the door to the doctor’s office today and you’d find me in a patient room, my entire body draped over my child’s upper torso, her bottom lip quivering, turned inside out from the sheer intensity of fear and pain she was feeling as two nurses worked to prep her so they could insert a catheter into her. Somehow I decided that I should play the Stevie Wonder station on my iPhone Pandora app, but with the screaming, and the nurses chattering at me with instructions that I couldn’t hear over my sweet girl’s terror-filled cries, Al Green wasn’t doing much to help the situation.
Which ended up being fine. The moment the nurse picked up the thin, clear flexible tube to begin, Abigail began to urinate all over. And, thankfully, the other nurse was ready with a cup to collect it all.
“This is a margarita Mother’s Day, Mom,” said the nurse to me with a laugh.
She’s not wrong, but you know, my poor girl.
My own mother did not do a lot right. It is not, I suppose, particularly kind to belabor that point, but her deficits as a parent inform a great deal of who I am, and in the moments – the every day, day-to-day, really – I parent, I often ask myself, “What would Cathy do and what should I do differently?”
Except for caring for a sick child.
I’m not saying her methods were correct or effective – for every ailment my mom would make us Lipton black tea with sugar. And open a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup. With butter-slathered crackers. Why plying children with caffeine, sodium and sugar seemed a good idea, I’ve not a clue. But, she validated the sick. The sadness that comes with being a child who doesn’t feel well and isn’t yet equipped to deal with that in any fashion remains one of my most gut-wrenching memories of childhood.
Cathy would brush my hair until I fell asleep. She’d rub my stomach for hours until it settled. When I began to wake up in the middle of the night, and started to see “spots” and feel “heavy,” as though I was being pushed and pulled simultaneously, Cathy let me sit up and watch our tank of goldfish until the feeling subsided and I could go back to sleep. She was even brave enough to take me to the pediatrician, who said I suffered from “hypnagogic hallucinations,” a sleeping condition I eventually grew out of but is probably a contributing factor for why I love the mornings more than the late night.
In the last years of her life, she never went to the lengths to care for my sister and I as she did when we were little – her life became too complicated and sad – but there was the hope. There was always the hope that we’d see that again. From my vantage, each day was a struggle for her. Cathy might as well have been vapors for as much presence as she commanded.
But when she was truly gone, so too were the bowls of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup. The Vicks vapor rub on our chests. Someone to put a damp, cold cloth on our heads throughout the night. No one was brushing our hair well after we’d fallen asleep. No tea, no tummy rubs. It was all gone. The hope, though … its absence was felt just as heavily as anything else was.
There is a wonderful line from Anne Lamott where she talks about how she lived in a house with no Band-Aids, and how not having Band-Aids left her feeling just a little less safe, a little less protected by the people who should make her feel cared for more than anyone. As a result, now hers is a home chock-full with Band-Aids.
Before Abigail was born, I told Scott he was welcome to take issue with how I parent with just about anything but not with how I mother my child when she’s sick.
“My child will never feel alone when she doesn’t feel good,” I told him. “I don’t care what’s wrong. She’ll always know her mother is there.”
And so I am the one who holds her after her shots. I insist on her being able to watch as much Elmo on my iPad as she wants when she has a cold so wicked we’ve stopped even wiping her nose. There are extra banana slices and Cheerios, sometimes we spend a little more time snuggling on the floor with her Pooh Bear.
I always run my fingers through her wisps of hair until she settles soundly against my chest, ready to give up the ghost and just sleep.
Abigail is fine. It’s possible she has a bladder infection; she was given antibiotics today, and will take more tomorrow. We have to head back in the morning to follow up and we get the final test results Monday.
But she’s not feeling well, and wants to sit on my lap and snuggle and eat Cheerios together and watch Elmo and sing songs and read books and drink smoothies and just be sick.
I am happy to give that to her. Tonight as I sang and rocked her to sleep, I ran my fingers through her hair and kissed her head, over and over, telling her I love her, how brave she was today, how sorry I was that she had such a tough day and how hard I know it was for her to have to deal with everything she did.
This picture above is of AG and I last year, the Friday before Mother’s Day. She’d just received her first shot that the nurses said would leave her cranky and upset. We’d just gotten her to a point where she was napping on her own, and so it sent a chill up my spine to think about spending the whole day in the recliner with her on my chest.
But then I remembered, “What would Cathy do and what should I do differently?”
And the answer was, “Not a fucking thing.”
I manned up and let that sick, sad little baby sleep on my chest for four hours straight.
So Sunday is Mother’s Day. Like so many moms, I’ve one foot in total confidence in the job I am doing and another squarely in a pit of quicksand. I’ve not a clue as to what I’m doing, and while I feel secure that I’m doing well on the foundational, fundamentals of raising my daughter, I’m keenly aware that new challenges remain around the corner that will no doubt shake all of that to hell.
Really, it’s far too early in the race to make any predictions. I’m fine with this.
But for now, like, for right-now-today, I know I did OK.