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March 6th, 2004 · 1 Comment

Perfection. Elisabeth’s temperature this morning. I couldn’t believe it. 98.6. Exactly. A sign that she was free and clear of fever! I am grateful. Thank God.

I’ve been staying up too late at night this week, in part out of a need to decompress after these intense days. I don’t know why it is that a sick child gives me such stress. I haven’t felt as anxious as I have in the past, during previous illnesses in our family, but I have needed time at night in the quiet to calm my mind.

I don’t know if it comes from memories of my own mother and my sick brother. I can still see the hospital where I spent my fourth birthday, my brother recovering from brain surgery, bandaged head and limp body in the crib. Or the way I’d hide in the corner of the room when the nurse would draw blood from his veins on a visit to the doctor. I don’t know if my own stress now draws on stress from the past.

Maybe it’s the stress of the symptoms. How irritable she is, wanting only to be held. How she fusses and cries. It is an automatic maternal reaction to respond to Baby’s screams. It’s something you can’t block out or ignore. It digs deep inside you.

Maybe it is motherhood itself. How I can’t control my children’s health. Yet I feel guilty when my girls get sick. I constantly wonder what I could do for them. Vitamin C. Echinacea. Exercise. Wash hands. Or what I should have done instead. Was it that they weren’t wearing warm enough clothes last week? Or was it that I took them to the library where they were exposed to the flu? Maybe it was that toy Elisabeth put in her mouth at the park. Am I feeding them enough vegetables?

And when they do get sick, I need to determine the proper medication and dosage. Tylenol? Motrin? Nothing? How often do I check the fever? How long to let her sleep? If I let her have a popsicle for supper is that bad? How much should I make her eat? Will Gatorade rot her teeth? Maybe she’ll starve and lose weight. Maybe she’ll get dehydrated. Is there something else I’m supposed to do? Something I’m not seeing? Should I call the doctor? Take her in? When?

As if I could control it. As if I am Magic Mommy with wand to wave that can cast out any illness. As if I’m responsible for any and all germs that decide to attack my daughter’s immunity. As if I can cure and heal.

Not even the doctor knows what to do. Two days ago I took Baby in again for another visit since her fever had not lifted. Two hundred dollars and a blood draw later, the doctor didn’t know much more than I did. He pointed at some numbers and a chart to say that it looked viral not bacterial. Those lymphocytes. It didn’t seem to me that even he with his training and experience knew how to cure her.

And that’s what’s scary about parenting. The way your heart goes out and into these children. How much you love them. How you hold them and kiss them, cradle them across your chest. They are your treasures. You’d die for them. In an instant. No hesitation. Yet you can’t keep them from getting sick. You can’t give them health. You can wake up one day and find that they didn’t make it into the morning with you.

The first several months of infancy with the possibility of SIDS scared me: Lay Baby on her back. Make sure the clothes are safe. No blankets. Pray. I’d tiptoe into her bedroom in the morning and hold my breath, hoping Baby was breathing and sleeping in the silence.

From the moment Baby began to grow, I learned how little I can control her. How little I can make the numbers be perfect. I can’t make it say 98.6. Not me. Not vegetables, echinacea or even Tylenol all the time can do it. Not even the doctor can do it. Thank God.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 tania // Mar 7, 2004 at 9:12 pm

    glad to know e is doing better. don’t think we ever get over blaming ourselves when the little one is sick. i remember when i stop breastfeeding, and natalie got sick, i totally blamed it on me and tried to relactate. pretty sad. : )