I kid you not, within two days of posting about our winter of horrible illness, Robin got sick and had an asthma exacerbation. And then it happened again about 4 days later. And I have a cold, and now Holly has a fever. I turned 32 yesterday and I ended the day having a panic attack in bed over Holly’s illness. The worst part is the time between discovering that yes, this is an actually sick kid and not just tired or cranky or whatever, and the time when you know exactly how bad it is. The verdict, this time is: not so bad. But I didn’t know that last night, for all I knew, she’d wake up every hour. She’d spike a fever again and be inconsolable. She’d start throwing up, which is still my #1 fear, even though it’s not any worse than any of those other things. In the fog just before slumber, I chased those fears down a rabbit hole of extreme scenarios, and that always ends with the certainty, the absolute certainty, that one of my children will be diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.
In the moment, it seems completely plausible. They get sick so often. They have this wanness about them that reminds me of Colin from The Secret Garden. When sick, they’re extra sweet and lovely like Beth from Little Women. And no one I know has a kid who has been seriously, gravely ill. It seems like it’s bound to happen: I know lots of people with lots of kids, and it seems statistically likely that SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE, will have a child with cancer or meningitis or some other awful thing. Why not me? It will probably be me. It will probably be my child. Every time I’ve ever considered having a third child it’s because in the darkest moments, I am heartbroken at the notion that one of my daughters could lose a sister.
I do not handle these things well. I simply don’t have the temperament for handling the ups and downs of these things with grace and good humor. I fret. I stew. I worry. And I shut down. It’s embarrassing and it’s the number one aspect of parenting that makes me wonder if I ever should have gone down this road. I mean, if I can’t handle routine childhood illnesses well, what business do I have raising children? If I can’t fathom summoning the inner strength to cope with a serious illness, I should probably have never gotten on a train where that’s a possible destination. It makes me think I’m probably not a great mom. I think truly great mothers weather those tides.
It reminds me of this clip from Parenthood (the movie, not the show) in which the grouchy grandfather (Jason Robards) consults his son (Steve Martin) about a problem with another son of his. He tells him about a time when he was a child and they thought he might have polio.
“For a week, we didn’t know… I hated you for that. I did. I hated having to go through that… caring. Worrying. Pain. It’s not for me. It’s not like that all ends when you’re 18 or 21 or 41 or 61. It never, ever ends…”
I get that. It’s a horrible thing to say, and you can see Gil (Steve Martin) react with horror and disgust that a parent would hate a child, would resent something the child can’t control. But I relate so much to that sentiment.