About Last Night

February 2, 2010

Jasper goes to playschool a couple of days a week. He loves it – loves it – and he knows exactly what days he’s scheduled to go. He toddles down the stairs on those mornings and heads straight for his coat and boots, which he tries to tug on over his pajamas.

SKOO! (School!) he yells. RUSSELL! ELLA! (friends) GO! GO! GO!

Yesterday was a school day. He’d been up throughout the previous night with a cough, and he’d felt a little warm at times the day before, but there are always bugs going around this time of year, and he seemed okay in the morning, and in any case, there he was, clutching his coat and boots and yelling skoo!

I hesitated, for a minute, maybe two. He didn’t feel warm, but he did have a cough, and he had been so, so sick before Christmas… but no, he wanted to go. And I wanted him to go. I had work to do. So I took him to school.

Some hours later, my phone rang, and the voice on the other end was a little panicked. Could I come right away? Jasper wasn’t well, he was hot, really hot, sweating through his clothes, his temperature 105 and climbing, and obviously in pain, and coughing, badly. I dropped what I was doing and ran straight there, not bothering to put on socks or scarf or hat or gloves, not stopping to lock the door, not stopping for anything. I just ran. And as I ran – the very short distance from where I was to where he was – I berated myself a hundred times with every step. I should have kept him home. I shouldn’t have taken him to school. I shouldn’t have let what was convenient and easy trump what was right.

We spent hours at the hospital last night with our sick little boy. I spent hours worrying and fretting and, occasionally – as when they pulled him from me and, while he called out for me desperately with broken, cough-ravaged cries, bound him in a plastic tube and x-rayed his chest – crying. Pneumonia, the doctor said. It might be pneumonia – there’s certainly another respiratory infection – his lungs aren’t clear – we have to treat him for pneumonia.

I know that if I’d kept him home yesterday, it wouldn’t have made any difference. His lungs have been compromised for a while, and the development of pneumonia this time around wasn’t something that I could have prevented by watching over him. But still, but still. He’d been sick – he’d been getting sick – and I suspected as much and still I let him go. Still I let him go.

I lay with him in the wee hours this morning, listening to him rasp and wheeze and cough and I pressed my face into his hair and I promised him, never again. But even as I made that promise, I knew that I might break that promise, that I would break that promise, that I wouldn’t always know when I should be worried and when I shouldn’t be worried, that I would always be caught between the impulse to worry and the need to just let worry go and to forgive myself for letting go of worry because living in a state of worry is just no way to live.

And my heart ached.

Why is this so hard? Do we ever get comfortable with it being so hard? Or is parenthood just one long exercise in coming to terms with one’s own unreasonable expectations of one’s self, with one’s lack of control over all of the things that it seems so necessary to control if one is to protect one’s heart, with anxiety, with worry, with fear?

Must it always be true that our joy – our love for our children, our delight in our children, our pleasure in putting them in sunglasses and having them do parodies of Horatio Cane – is always shadowed by fear? Do we ever really become fearless? Do we really want to?


Can our hearts, will our hearts, (should our hearts?) be ever at ease?

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    Alexicographer February 3, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Oh no. I’m, er, supposed to be working while my son naps so no deep musings here but I do hope Jasper’s recovering (and, yes, I’d have sent him, well, mine, to skoo too.).

    Della February 3, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    This ties in with my guilt over not being able to watch/hear about other people’s tragedies.

    Found myself sobbing, shaking, gorge rising after watching video showing happy active 2 year old, like mine, get stroke from operation and revert to newborn function level. Nightmares ensue. I remind myself I need to avoid these stories, the videos – there but for the grace, I think, and it paralyzes me with fear. And then the wash of guilt for my inability to share with these parents who can’t wake up from that nightmare. If they can live it and survive, how dare I say I can’t handle hearing about it, worrying that it could happen to me?

    Find myself unable to let the almost 5 month old sleep in a room without me because of the fear instilled from hearing about SIDS deaths of people whose kids I know. WANT her to sleep elsewhere, but the worry and the guilt you describe paralyze me. If I let her sleep in a different room tonight, if she stopped breathing, if my spider sense didn’t hear it and tingle and wake me (would it, even? …irrelevant), how could I forgive myself for not having done everything I could to be careful? And yet…. if it happened, god forbid, how could I blame myself?! I know it’s irrational, but it’s compulsive.

    I asked my mom this question, too: does it go away? And she said, no. Not when they’re big enough to move away, not when they are taking care of others.

    What I didn’t ask is, how do you make it work? It’s harder than I thought.
    .-= Della´s last blog ..Monkey-rina =-.

    Judy February 3, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    You just do what you can. You will never stop worrying. My oldest is nearing 50 now, and the baby is closer to 40 than 35, and I still worry and fret over them.

    One thing that helped me enormously, and has continued to help me, was a lecture I heard once where the speaker said “Look, nobody has a baby and says ‘I think I’ll f*** this one up.” We all do what we can, the best we can. Sometimes it’s not enough, but sometimes nobody can provide enough. Sometimes it’s the wrong thing, but hey, we want to keep the shrinks working into the rest of this century, right? We do what we can. Beyond that, no need to feel guilty about it, that is unrealistic guilt. Realistic guilt is when you feel guilty about something you deliberately did to harm someone. If the harm just happened, in spite of your best attempts, then you do not need to feel the guilt.

    Redstocking Grandma February 3, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Now that my 4 daughters, ranging in age from 36 to 27, have married and have given me 4 grandchildren under 3, I now have 12 people to worry about, instead of 4. However, I am confident that they are excellent mothers, more confident than I was about myself.
    .-= Redstocking Grandma´s last blog ..Catholic Penguins =-.

    Marilyn February 3, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    My son recently had pneumonia and the fact that I let a doctor tell me nothing was wrong – even though I KNEW something was wrong – and took my very grey-looking child home to sit burning up for hours upon hours without help weighed heavy on me for some time. I did end up taking him directly to the hospital instead of back to Dr. Stupid where my son was admitted and he received a horrific intra-muscular shot that required two people to pin him down because it was so excruciating. It was horrible and I felt horrible. I think I know what you feel. Mom Guilt is a heavy thing.
    .-= Marilyn´s last blog ..No One Told Me How to Handle This =-.

    Karina February 4, 2010 at 12:10 am

    I completely understand how you feel. My daughter got sick, very sick, in November. She was weezing, having trouble breathing, when I rushed her to the pediatrician. By the time we got her there, her head was bobbing and she was looking awfully blue. Her doctor started barking at the nurses for steroids and breathing treatments.

    Then he broke my heart. He turned to me and said, “I wish you had brought her in earlier; she wouldn’t have gotten this bad.” She had gotten so bad so fast. I couldn’t anticipate it. She was a little warm before her nap but happy and eating and playing. How was I suppose to know that she was going to wake up like this?

    To compound my guilt, he insisted that we take an ambulance over to the children’s hospital. She needed monitoring. We couldn’t drive her; what if she stopped breathing on the way? So, off we went. She spent a week in the hospital with oxygen and more steroids and more breathing treatments. She had croup brought on by H1N1. One of the worst cases they’ve ever seen.

    I still ask what if. What if I had just taken her in when she woke up with a fever? Would it have gotten that bad? Would they still have poked and prodded my baby and stuck tubes to her face? Would they still have taken vials and vials of blood?

    I know that the answer is probably yes, it still would have gotten that bad. She still would have had to go to the hospital. But the mommy guilt still eats at me over it.

    red pen mama February 4, 2010 at 11:10 am

    My heart goes out to you, and I very glad your little girl is well again, but I have to say, uh, that was kind of a jerky thing for your pediatrician to say to you. As you said: she was fine, she woke up with a little fever, and it happened fast. Geez louise, why compound how you were already feeling? Did you say anything to him about it, like, “I already feel pretty terrible, so lay off.” Lord knows I certainly could use a filter, but I think under the circumstances, I may have laid into him a little bit.
    .-= red pen mama´s last blog ..Lost: LAX =-.

    Karina February 5, 2010 at 1:35 am

    I think I muttered something about how fast it all happened. I admit that I was already crying by this point. It was very very scary. I’m not really sure what her doctor was thinking; he is normally a kind, considerate man.

    Thank you so much for your kind thoughts. She is much better now and running around causing havoc like a normal toddler!

    Debby Carroll February 4, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    So glad Jasper is on the mend and so glad you know that your sending him to school didn’t make him get pneumonia. The only thing you could have done differently to keep him from getting sick is not have given birth to him!But, to answer your question, no it never doesn’t ache to suffer along with them. But, you do learn as time goes by that some problems will pass, even illness and knowing that does help put it all in perspective. It gets easier, I promise. My are grown now, I still ache for them and with them, but the aches pass faster. I think.
    .-= Debby Carroll´s last blog ..Is Your Daughter Your Mortal Enemy? =-.

    goofdad February 4, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    I only found your blog today, but I’m glad I did. None of us is perfect, but out of our imperfect love comes our perfect (would you believe near-perfect?) children.

    My second son was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease last year. During one of the MANY tearful conversations, in which I confessed that I felt bad for not knowing, he said “Don’t worry, Dad, I thought I was being a lazy a**hole teenager, too!” … I know how you feel, and you did nothing wrong!

    My wife and I have 9 kids between us. I have to say: No … it doesn’t get any easier. No … it never goes away. Like grief and loss, constant fear is something you learn to live with.

    We’ll keep you in our thoughts!
    .-= goofdad´s last blog ..I love my wife =-.

    Jenny February 4, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    You always seem to write what I’m thinking…but maybe I’m too afraid to write it! My oldest son is very sick right now with a sinus infection, but it seems SO much worse this time around. He’s missed three days of school and I really don’t see him going tomorrow. I want to tell the doctor to run this test and that and do a sinus x-ray, but don’t want to appear to be a big fool, either, or waste our money on unnecessary testing. No one tells us it will be like this–the constant worrying–and I know even if someone would’ve shared it with me, I still would’ve had these kiddoes.

    Amanda February 5, 2010 at 9:54 am

    I don’t think the worry ever goes away. Parenting is really nothing more than a series of calculated risks.
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..Life With Zach =-.

    Nigel Lane February 6, 2010 at 3:09 am

    No matter how old they get, you will always worry about them. And then you worry about your grand children when they have them. It’s just natural.

    sandy February 6, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    So there was the day of my sisters wedding. After washing three cars that morning, and helping with all of the prep for the backyard reception of 80, and being the maid of honor, I came home and literally collapsed. I was 16 and I had walking pneumonia. I spent the next two days in the hospital. My mom still feels guilty about it. She thought I was just moping over not being the center of attention…

    You could second-guess yourself all of your life, I would venture… and feel guilty either way. Be kind(er) to yourself, please. :)

    Honor February 7, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    Beautiful post! My babies are now in their early teens. The worry and second-guessing yourself never really goes away, but the focus of the worrying shifts. And judging from my mother’s reactions to my health issues, you’ll still be worrying when they’re well into adulthood.

    As an aside, and not to sound sanctimonious, but while reading this post I kept worrying about the other children in Jasper’s daycare who were exposed to a coughing, feverish boy. It’s not fair to knowingly place other families in a position of possibly contracting an illness akin to what Jasper suffered. /rant Sorry for babbling on!

    Jessi February 8, 2010 at 3:04 am

    oh! the beginning of this post made me cry, because I’ve spent a few nights in the hospital with my little girl hating myself for thinking that little cough was no big deal. I haven’t even read the rest of it yet, or all the comments, but I wanted to say we’re parents and we make the best choices we can in our given situations, and the important thing is you ran to him when he needed you.

    6512 and growing February 9, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    From a mom who has been in an ER room with a boy who has pneumonia more than once, I am sorry and I hope Jasper gets better very soon.
    .-= 6512 and growing´s last blog ..Col wins this round =-.

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