Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I remember when Jack got his first cold.
He was four-months old.
I swore, it was the end of the world.
My baby was sick.  This must be it.  The end.
Our young life as a family of three, 
pregnancy, delivery and beyond, was blissful.
When he got sick that first time, I could barely stand it.
He was so tiny, a mere ripple under the blanket in his big crib.
So congested, his little breath raspy and shallow,
his tiny body feverish and listless.
It was just a cold.  But to me, at the time, it was too much to bear.
I remember reading that you should keep their head elevated, 
so that things could drain and they could breath easier.
So I rocked him in his car seat, maybe I drove him around the block safely secured in the back of our Cherokee.
I can't remember.
Then I put the car seat in the middle of the crib.  
That worked for an hour or so the first night.
Anything to make him more comfortable.
I remember sleeping with the monitor literally on my ear.
His end of the monitor in his crib, mere inches from his face.  
A mommy-baby one-way-walkie talkie.
I tossed and turned so much the first night, listening for his breath.
Never mind the fact his bedroom wall backed up to ours, paper thin walls.
But the monitor wasn't good enough.
Although only ten feet away from me in our cozy two bedroom apartment,
I felt like oceans lay between us.
As Brian snored away, 
(clearly not losing sleep over this, dad's worry about other things,)
I rummaged up some blankets and a pillow
and camped out on Jack's floor.
I'd sit up to rest on an elbow to peek between the slats of his crib in response to every peep or sigh.
Watching the rise and fall of his little chest.
Touching his forehead every ten seconds, praying I wouldn't wake him.
Then back down again, to stare at the ceiling in the dark.
Then up again, to sit in the old rocking chair of his great-grandmother's that sat adjacent to his bed,
where I could sit and glide silently and fixate on him in the dark.
Rocking myself back and forth, mostly to assuage my own discomfort.
My vantage point above the ground was better anyway, so there I sat.
If I stayed awake and worried enough, he'd be okay.
I could protect him. 
Ah, the endless and irrational worries of a mother.
Those nights tending to a sick baby felt like they would never end.
I crossed and uncrossed my legs,
tried to lay my head back to rest,
paced the halls of my frantic mind.
Watched the clock.
I realize now this is was a little overkill.
I don't think all moms worry this way.
And again, it WAS just a cold.
But for me, well, this was my christening of motherhood.
Not the nine months of pregnancy and 40 lbs of weight gain,
not the fourteen hours of delivery and challenging weeks postpartum.
THIS was my initiation.  A (moderately) sick child.
I've had it easy compared to so many.
But I remember that night like it was yesterday.
Nine years ago now.
Days when parenting could be utterly consuming, 
simply from my own fearful, paranoid thoughts.
And all the countless nights since, 
when my mind ends up there.
Usually at night, when the house is silent and the dark creeps in.
In challenging moments, usually couples with extreme exhaustion,
I fall in to the deepest, most morbid depths of thinking.
Thoughts and worries I can't even begin to share or try to rationalize to anyone, for fear you'd start to back away slowly.
I'm sorry.  Have you met me?  I'm kind of a spaz.
And a mother.
Nights, especially in the heart of winter,
preceded by days with not a glimpse of sunshine or warmth to help lift the spirits. 
Nights of blankets kicked aside from limbs hot like little radiators.
Cool washcloths and bowls of broth.
The washing and the drying and the washing and drying again 
of sheets and blankets, pajamas and pillowcases. 
Hours upon hours, up and down the stairs, 
exchanging dirty for clean, flipping washcloths on foreheads.
Each year of their precious little lives,
forced to cover the bases of illness,
from flu's to colds, to random things that strike out of nowhere.
Their lips crimson red and cracking,
cheeks on fire and eyes glassy and distant.
Nothing sucks more. 
It is THE worst and the most terrifying part of being a mother.
Watching our children suffer.
Being utterly, utterly helpless in the midst of their struggles, 
whether it's coaxing them through your run o' the mill flu or 
holding their hand while they combat something more serious.
Maybe the hardest, I have yet to experience,
learning to let them go and make mistakes and figure things out on their own as they get older and crave more freedom and independence. 
But it reminds me of a few things, these seemingly long days when they're down.
Reminds me of those early days when they were clingy, needy, helpless babies.
When the top of their head tucked neatly under my chin.
When I could feel their little breath puffing in to the hollows of my neck,
my hands an easy shelf for their little butts to rest on.
Those days seem so far away.
And I am reminded how good we've got it.
Although this sucks so much, 
we will survive.
I somehow have to set aside the fear and relish the small things.
That Grace is still small and light enough,
that I'm still young and strong enough to carry her up the stairs to bed, her 7-year-old legs and arms still able to wrap around me.
That months of late night and early morning fits of seizing hands,
legs stiffened upon waking, big eyes looking to me for help until his little body settles down, are over.
BEYOND grateful for a husband who is willing to set aside his own weariness, to give me some relief.  
A half hour nap to get caught up on sleep
or an uninterrupted afternoon to do with what I want.  
Grateful for the simple knowledge of knowing how to get up from a bed as silently and gracefully as a ballerina, so as not to disturb a sleeping babe who needed extra comfort in falling asleep.
The knowledge of knowing where the floor boards creek on the stairs, how to avoid them and move stealthily across a bedroom floor, to hover a hand above a forehead and check for a fever.
Despite the often overwhelming fear of the unknowns in raising children,the lack of an owner's manual 
or a quarterly performance review of our role as mother,
SOMETHING to let you know you're doing a good job and that they'll be okay and please, oh, please, far outlive me, 
which can never be promised,
despite the gut wrenching heartache and disappointment for lives we hadn't planned on nor were expecting,
even despite the rage-fueled frustration and anger for unmet expectations 
(not with them, but with each other and ourselves,)
despite ALL of it,
the same thought always floats to the surface of my consciousness when I get stuck in the dark.
It is all worth it.
It'll all be worth it.
And then I know as clearly as I know the love I have for each of my children, I would do it a 100 times over,
this mothering thing,
to experience what it means and feels like to completely let yourself go, 
to wholeheartedly care for the mind and body of someone other than yourself.
To know, simply by raising children, that there is something bigger than us out there.
I know that simply by being a mother, 
I am one of the lucky ones to have a perspective on life that you can't get anywhere else, from any other job,
from loving any other person, other than your own child.
So I continue to be grateful.
Grateful for it all.
The really shitty stuff that leaves you paralyzed with fear.
The really awesome stuff that shows up when you need it most.
Grateful for having to slow down and nurture until we can get back up again.


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