I am lying awake in bed in the early hours of morning, my husband lost in dreams beside me while darkness shrouds the spring-time day soon to explode outside my window. I am sleepy-eyed and cozy and still in that blissful, transformed state that occurs only when you’ve just woken from a deep and restful sleep and the details of daily reality have yet to flood back into your consciousness to shock you stupid. That’s when I hear it. Like a phantom menace from my daughter’s bedroom emerge the sounds I have come to dread most: Cough-cough, sniffle-sniffle, cough, sniffle, cough-cough. “Please God, please,” I silently pray, “Please, don’t let her be sick again.”
My prayers fall on deaf ears. By the time I reach her bedroom the coughing is intense. Her child-cum-young-lady’s body is convulsing in rhythm to the spasms in her lungs, her cheeks, flushed and warm to the touch, and her face contorted in an expression that screams “Help me, Mom.” She is twelve. I am not new at this. I should be able to keep her healthy. I should be a better mother.
Mornings like this are not a rare occurrence in our home. Over the past year-and-half or so she has been sick, more than most children. After a battery of tests in the fall of ‘08 that required countless doctor’s appointments, numerous lab visits, and far too many tubes of blood drawn from one so small, we were able to determine that she does not have Mononucleosis, no Celiac’s Disease, not any form of Immunoglobulin Deficiency, no severe allergies. And although she has had pneumonia four times, this, apparently, is not cause for alarm within the medical community.
“She may be what is called an A-symptomatic strep carrier,” one health professional announced. “We suspect she carries the strep-throat virus without presenting the usual symptoms, and therefore can easily fall prey to it’s negative health consequences.” Translation: She can get sick, often.
“No kidding, Einstein?” was my reply. Okay, I didn’t actually say this, but it crossed my mind. “But how do we fix it?” was what really came out.
“I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do.” Period.
Well then, what now? I know that this is not life-threatening, but is it life altering? And still…cough-cough, sniffle-sniffle, fever-fever.
In the periods when she is well my Little Miss is a happy, vivacious, out-going girl. She excels at school, she has many friends and she is a talented singer/musician/performer. A simple glance into her big brown eyes or a quick flash of her grin is all that’s required to see the light shining within. But just when I am lulled into a sense of security, just when she has been well long-enough to almost forget, wham! That tormented sound slithers its way back into our lives and I am chagrined, humiliated, for being so easily fooled.
As mothers we believe, I believe, that my primary duty is to keep my child safe, happy and well. To this end, I read the label of every food product I buy, I shop organically whenever possible, I am religious about bedtime, I believe wholeheartedly in appropriate clothing for inclement weather, and she must, MUST, carry her cell phone at all times so I know where she is. I have been heard to say on more than one winter’s afternoon while hanging out at home, “Put socks on your feet before you catch a cold!” Even though I know that colds are not caught through the exposure of bare feet to carpet, a part of me holds fast to this old wives tale, just in case. Better to be safe than sorry, especially where she’s concerned.
Last night I went out to a very enjoyable event with other mother-writers like myself celebrating a recently published new memoir. Little Miss was safely at home with her father. The night before, a Saturday, my husband and I went out with good friends while Little Miss spent the evening with their children, twelve and fourteen years of age. It was a late night, sure, but we do not go out without her often, and once in a while, on a weekend, bedtime can be extended by even the strictest of adherents to the rules like myself, can’t it?
The answer seems to be no. Every time I let down my guard, the result for her is a day or two or three in bed with the phantom in the other room. As irrational as it may sound, I feel like this is payback, a lesson to be learned the hard way as penance for going out two nights in a row when a “good mother” would have been at home, caring for her off-spring.