Just before midnight, my son cried out. At first I thought he would settle. Bad dream I reasoned as I rolled over in bed taking in the time. Other than a stuffed nose for a week or so, he was fine before bed. But soon his cries grew louder. So I crept into his room to rub his back and sat on the floor next to him, ready to help. But I quickly realized all of my mom tricks would not do the trick.
He was thrashing, then curling up his body, then wailing, unable to get comfortable.
“Does something hurt?”
“Do you want some water? Some milk?”
“No,” he cried. “No! No!” And then my ultimate trick.
“Do you want to watch a show?”
“No!” Now, when Benjamin turns down TV is when I start to get worried.
“Do you want to sleep with Mommy and Daddy?”
Finally he agreed and we all trekked into our room.
“I want my blanket and pillow,” he demanded. And so Jay, like the dutiful father, went and collected them.
“Do you want Yellow Bear or Tiger?
“Yes.” Finally a yes! And so Jay grabbed those too.
“No!” And as I carried him in my arms he hurled Yellow Bear, his favorite I may add, across the room. But this is Yellow Bear we showed him as we picked it up. He smiled through his tears and snot at the mistake of it and nodded that he could come too. And that smile showed me my little boy was in there somewhere of that mess of sickness.
Once settled in our room, he dozed off for 5 to 10 minutes, usually draped over my arm. If I dared to move, he would know and the wailing would begin again.
I walked him around. I climbed into his crib with him. We cuddled on the couch. And still the tears. But through the tears, he could not explain what was wrong.
“Mommy, I want you,” he kept repeating. And I kept doing what he needed.
When my child is sick, I straddle two worlds. One is utter calmness. I become completely in control, soft voiced, letting my son know he is safe, reminding myself that I am the adult and he depends on me and so I will know what to do, even when my husband and I look at each other knowing we don’t know, only knowing we are terrified.
The other world is pure panic. Since he could not tell me what was wrong, every awful possibility ran through my mind. As I held my son in my arms I actually flashed on losing him. I quickly saw the destruction of my world, my home, my marriage, all wrapped up in this little person and his well being.
It is usually, if not always, in the middle of the night or on a weekend when this happens. But despite the hour we called the doctor. When you call the doctor in the middle of the night, you kind of feel like an ass if your child isn’t actually very sick. He had no fever. He wasn’t vomiting. But his manner and his screams where so off. He just seemed to be in such pain. The doctor was lovely, walked us through it all and recommended only going to the emergency room if he spiked a fever. So we gave him Motrin and we all went to bed.
And he slept. Finally.
At least for a little while, then he and I cuddled on the couch around 5:30 in the morning. I was hoping it would all be done with and he would wake up happy and refreshed. But he cried and rolled about some more.
So we went to the doctor and she diagnosed double ear infection. And honestly I felt relieved. Ear infection, though uncomfortable, I can handle.
See my brain goes everywhere. A woman I know, Ann Hood, lost her daughter who caught a virus and was dead in a day or two. She wrote a beautiful book about it called “Comfort.” I think about this when I see him so off. Is this that? When I leave him with my mother and go away, I think about how fast something could happen and that I might not be there.
I do not know if this is just from his having a birth trauma and ending up the neonatal intensive-care unit. Am I saddled with an unnecessary burden of worry because of this or is this just standard parent worry? When I, as an adult, fainted on a plane in front of my mother, she told me later that until I came to she was planning to hurl herself off the wing if she would have lost me. Parenting is exhausting but parenting a sick child is the most trying of all, so I think it is pretty common, even though it is wrenching, to let worry take over your imagination.
I know he will hurt himself and fall down and get sick through the years, just like I did, just like his father did. I will nurse him (and myself) through it all. And hopefully each time will turn out to be nothing, but each time will feel like something to me.
Rachel Zients Schinderman lives in Santa Monica with her family. She can be reached at Rachel@mommiebrain.com.