Wonderbaby is sick. Not in any terrible, life-threatening way – she has a bad infection of the tonsils that probably is or involves strep throat – but in a fully mother-alarming way. She’s simply never been sick like this, sick to the point where she spends much of the day slumped and lethargic and glassy-eyed. When she had chickenpox, she bounced off the walls. When she’s had flu, she continued to practice her bookshelf base-jumping. Even when she was 11 weeks old and had a mysterious fever that propelled us into the ER at the Hospital for Sick Children, she was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and boisterous to the point of freaking out the paediatric surgeon (there can’t be anything too seriously wrong with an infant this lively, ma’am.)
But this time, she’s sick. She tries to rally – the medicines ease her discomfort a little and she tries to summon the energy to leap from sofa to coffee table and back again – but her little body just isn’t up for it, and she falls. And then she gets angry and upset and the combination of her frustration and the pain overwhelm her and she cries and cries and cries and then curls up into a tired little ball and MY. HEART. BREAKS.
I’ve spent a lot of time holding her, these last few days. She’s ordinarily not a cuddler – she usually vibrates with energy until the very moment of falling asleep, and can’t be bothered to stop for a snuggle unless she’s stopped short, momentarily, by a boo-boo or a fit of temper or tears – and so it feels precious, this collection of moments during which she curls her feverish little body into mine and settles there, a baby, my baby, seeking comfort and safety and love. But it’s a bittersweet kind of precious, precisely because she’s seeking those things as an escape from her pain and exhaustion. I miss the hastily-proffered hugs and kisses, the drive-by snuggles that she dispenses like so many favors – because Mommy asks for them, needs them – during the frenzy of her go-speed-racer day. I miss them, even if they are not so prolonged and intense as these comfort-seeking huddles, because they are so uniquely hers. They are how she expresses her love, her fierce, intense love – in rapid, passionate doses. The head bent for a kiss as she speeds past me in the hallway, the sudden, spontaneous grasp of my leg or arm as she leaps out from behind the door, shrieking boo!, the rapidfire loveyoummommybyemommyloveyoubye as she races out the door, with Daddy, to school – these are her. These are the expressions of love of my Wonderbaby.
And yet, and yet… there is something that I’m loving – guiltily loving – about the solemn quiet that has descended upon our little nest. She lets me hold her until I’m too tired to hold her any longer; she cuddles up against me and falls asleep with her head against my chest and I can feel my breathing slow and my sighs deepen as I let myself feel needed, really needed, as a mother, as Mommy, in a visceral way that I haven’t felt for more months than I can count on all my fingers and toes.
And then I feel guilty, for feeling anything other than distress at her weakness. And the silence, then, is deafening, as I kiss her hot cheek and wipe back the damp strands of hair from her forehead and wish, with all my heart, for my little speed-racer-rebel-angel to come back to normal, to come back to me.
And then run away, again, as she always does, and always will.