It’s 11pm and I’m sitting vigil over a sick child. Sitting with me is my friend Primal Fear and my other pal, Unfettered Access to Googled Medical Information. As a rule, our child is fortunately healthy. Which makes us freak out just a little bit when she gets sick. It is a reminder of the fallibility of the human body and it reminds us of our powerlessness as parents.
On NPR, I heard an interview with Pamela Druckerman about her book Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. Once again, my defensive parenting hackles are raised because it sounds like just another Why American Parents Suck Treatise. To be fair, I’ve not yet read the book. I’ll be sure to add it to my list of Books I’ll Read About Parenting When I’m Not Too Busy Parenting. Of course, that’s one of the author’s points – that we spend too much time being parents instead of balanced people like, apparently, the French. When your kid is running a 104° F fever though, all leisurely parenting advice goes out the window and we become as feral and protective of our young as any other living creature.
I had a child well into my thirties. My fears and anxieties were already well-developed, cultivated and accepted. Then I had a baby and my familiar catalog of neuroses promptly went out of print, only to be replaced by a revised and updated Wow, Now I Might Screw Up Somebody Else’s Life catalog of fears. When it comes to a child’s health, it becomes less about whether or not they’ve been signed up for too many lessons and more about, are they breathing? It’s a quick distillation of parental responsibilities and biological anxieties. I can’t even allow myself to go to the “what if” place in the middle of illness, because the possibilities seem endless and overwhelming. I’m forced to be present and focused on the problem at hand.
At about 2am, she sits up in bed and begins expressing deep concerns about getting some eggs in her Angry Birds game. I tell her she’s dreaming but she says defiantly that it’s real. I ask her, in my sleep deprived state, if the fever has boiled her brain. Not a proud parenting moment, but at the time, it seemed funny. She lays back down in defeat and falls asleep. I check every half hour. Is she breathing? How high is the fever now? It’s one of the few times I toss off all my intellectual beliefs and pray to a master puppeteer, in the hopes that the random nature of bacteria is actually under someone’s control. I know rationally that I should be praying to the bottle of antibiotics and to my daughter, whose body is fighting off this infection. But I’m no longer rational. I’m missing some serious sleep, which is apparently important, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – although I don’t trust any pyramid that doesn’t include caffeine and chocolate.
By 6am, she’s slept peacefully for 4 hours. I wake up from my uneven slumber and look in on her. She’s rosy cheeked, long lashes closed, mouth open in a quiet snore. I slump against the doorway in relief. The night shift is over.