Monday, April 9, 2012

Blindside and Blind-Sided

A Twitter connection asked a question that parents, throughout time, have asked: Why do children always get sick in the middle of the night? Of course she knows, as I do, that children don't always get sick in the middle of the night. Sometimes they prove sick after you have rousted them from bed, and they have struggled to dress and present themselves at the breakfast table. And sometimes you receive a call while at work, the school secretary reporting your child’s temperature or an incident of chucking up at the wrong time in the wrong place.

No matter what the time of day or night, the illness comes on at the most inconvenient moment--for you, the parent--those moments when you had almost caught up on that long-term project at work. You could see the finish line, but suddenly it withdraws incrementally as you realize you must be absent from work for a day or two. Or you had a great weekend planned, one wherein you would find time for adult beverages and adult entertainments. Now, you realize, that weekend is like a dandelion blossom in a high wind: gone, obliterated, leaving only the root feeling of longing behind.

Dear Parent, you’ve just been blind-sided by Life’s unexpected, poorly timed slaps. Once the sting fades, you begin to regroup, rethink, and reassess. You adjust your calendar and plan for that project. You dream of another weekend, one not too far into your future. You adjust.

As I replied to my Twitter contact, the answer to “why children become sick in the middle of the night” is: to remind us that we are vulnerable and that we are simultaneously resourceful and strong. Nothing is quite as humbling as asking for an extension on a deadline at work. You know you are letting down many people in line to receive the finished product. You know that your inability to meet the deadline will require that others adjust as much, if not more, than you, and you hope they will understand, that they will walk in your shoes and remember when they too have had to juggle work and personal responsibilities.

Besides being humbled by stuff at work, a sick child makes us vulnerable in other ways as well. When the temperature climbs above 101°, when the fever is so intense that your dear child begins to shiver, and when she cannot keep tiny bits of crushed ice on her rebellious tummy, you worry about doing the right thing. Is it time to rush to the emergency room, or is there time to wait for the pediatrician’s office to open? Should a fever be fed or starved? Is a fever-reducer a friend or the enemy for this condition? How quickly does a child of a certain age dehydrate?

We rush to our trusted resources: books, the Internet, grandparents, neighbors, and partners. We steal precious minutes from our child to determine the next step and to calm our fears. We are the quarterback in a sudden-death overtime, and we need someone to watch our backs, a left tackle on the field, but there isn’t anyone else. It’s just you and the night and the child. No matter how many people you ask, how many sources you consult, no matter if the one you love stands beside you through the night, watching your sick child with you, it comes down to mother. She is her own left tackle for the real quarterback of the game: your child. It’s Mother’s job to shuck off all opponents: the viruses, bacteria, wounded hearts, and dangers.

My own mother could not be the left tackle for me when, at the age of four, almost five, I forbore Scarlet Fever. She had a new baby in arms so I was confined to a bedroom where she could not go, where I was visited by a parade of stand-ins, mostly cousins and neighbors. I have never forgotten the hope each time the door opened and the sadness when someone else came to my bedside.

My own child was quarterback through her ordeal with breast cancer at the age of 24. Never had I felt so vulnerable; never had I, the left tackle, performed worse. I had no power over the opponent and its minions: chemotherapy, hair loss, nausea, fatigue, surgery, and radiation, but she performed brilliantly, scoring one touchdown after another as she refused to dwell in the night of her disease. She rose with every dawn to greet another day, convicted, determined, and strong.

And that is the rest of an answer to “why children become sick in the middle of the night.” Those unsettling, frightening nights and days prove to us that we can not only persevere, but also triumph. We can pool our resources and marshal our strength to overcome the setbacks, dread outcomes, and terrifying moments. We can celebrate in the knowledge that we are not as vulnerable as we feared. We can rise above and soar.