I wrote this a few weeks ago, while Brady had what turned out to be strep throat. After two days being stuck at home with him, I started to feel like I had a newborn again: I hadn’t showered, or remembered to brush my teeth, or slept well. Now I can look back and say of course it was worth it. He got better after three sick days, and went on to play in the championship game. But there was a lot of time for existential navel gazing and repeating the mantra “This is why I do this…”
The tooth that won’t let go…
We’ve had a good school year, as far as injuries and sickness go. The third grader only stayed home once because he was up all night barfing. The following day he was fine, but he took the “sick” description and ran with it, moaning and stretching his long limbs out on the couch, or looking up at me pitifully when I came into my bedroom where I had tucked him in and propped him up on pillows so he could watch TV but be quarantined from the rest of the household. After all, my mother was visiting, and the last thing I needed was for her to barf. She was great backup, reminding me what to do when you have a sick kid at home.
It’s the first grader’s turn, and though I know he delights in skipping school and watching TV all day while his brother is trudging through lessons and recess, he is uncomfortable, with a low fever and a sore throat. In retrospect I knew something was wrong last night after he took a bath and his skin was hot to the touch too long after he had dried off. But he seemed fine, and it barely registered in my mom brain, cluttered as it was with so much other information.
This morning he padded into my bedroom at 5:00, asking permission to go to the bathroom. “Do you mind, Mom?” I mumbled assent, confused by sleep and the odd question. He’s seven years old. He doesn’t have to ask permission, and also, since when does he use such polite, such mature language? Either way I was relieved when he left me to my one remaining hour before the alarm was set to go off.
The damn birds – crows, mocking birds – beat the alarm to it. They perch on the roof of the house next door and CAW! seemingly right into my face. I gave up and got out of bed, sucked down some coffee, and started my morning writing. It’s best for me between the time I get up and the moment anyone else gets up. It’s almost like sneaking. I write surreptitiously, as if my identity is secret. I know it’s not, really, but I like the way it feels. Dangerous, against the rules.
In these morning quiet times I shake the fuzz off my brain, consider the day ahead of me, steel myself for the onslaught of kids’ needs, emails, laundry, chauffeur-ing, cooking, shopping, whatever mundane tasks I am lucky to be burdened with. Because it’s true – I am lucky. Where I am in life is a result of much hard work, yes, but also a great heaping glop of Right Place, Right Time served up by the cosmic lunch lady, her hair net askew and a twinkle in her eye. My kids are healthy. My husband is strong and kind. My mind is clear and my body, albeit plagued by a thousand tiny annoying quirks, functions just fine. Lucky, too, to be in my station, a stay at home mom – or if you’d prefer, a work-at-home parent – who is able to adjust accordingly when life doesn’t happen as I plan it.
By 6:30 AM I got a page of words down on paper. Finally getting into a groove, I had at least 30 more minutes to myself. Oh, wait. Are those footfalls I hear above my head?
Indeed. A few seconds later the boy came loping downstairs, face gloomy, moaning “Ow, that hurts.” His skin was hot, his throat was sore, and he showed me a spot under his arm that ached. A swollen gland.
I pushed my notebook aside, gulped down some more coffee, and mentally canceled all my plans for the day. But as I drove to the drugstore (because of course we don’t have children’s pain reliever on hand) I thought about how my day wouldn’t be changing that much. Yes, I would miss a much-needed powwow with my writing partner, but I would still be able to do anything I do at home on a regular day. Writing. Laundry. Dishes. Bills.
And so it is on any day when the kids are home. They are so old now at seven and nine, so self-sufficient, such people. I can do anything I want to — within reason, within earshot of them. There is still an invisible tether between us, but I can let out much more slack now, and their boundaries are farther from me. This realization brings freedom and fear: I can no longer use my little babies as excuses for not getting things done.
Except today, I can. Every time I sit down to record these thoughts, I feel a guilty tug. I pass by him on the couch and lay my hand upon his forehead: cooler now, but still warm, still very slightly sweaty even though cool breezes are blowing in through the birch trees that line the back fence. I settle into my chair and hear a pitiful “Mom…?” coming from my bedroom. He is hungry. He is tired. Can he download a new app on the iPad? (Even though you’re sick, the answer is no.)
So yes, the list is long, and the hours are short, but look at him – is he taller now than he was a few hours ago? Did the fever accelerate his growth? His legs are long, his knees are blocky and solid. But when he snuggles his head up onto my shoulder as he watches a cartoon, he is my little baby again. I’ll get to all that other stuff later.