A little boy looks up at me with big, miserable eyes. Using his fingers to pluck something invisible from his forehead he pleads with me, “Momma, just…*take* my fever away.” It was as though he believed I possessed a power to reach in and quickly snatch the nasty fever out and fling it into the toilet for disposal. Watching him writhe in pain started a slow panic of not knowing what I was supposed to do to FIX THIS!!
As a Mom, you get used to fixing things. You’re hungry? We can fix that. You’re cold? Yup, that too. You’re tired? Let’s go lay down. You’re shoes hurt your feet? Let’s see what’s in the bin for the next size up…you’ve been growing! Oatmeal too hot? Sure, let’s blow on it. Lost toys, pants stuck, bike in the van, boogers in the nose, bug bites on the arms, grumbly tummies, exhaustion, and exasperation about anything, moms live in “problem-solving, fix-it-if-we-can” mode for all things physical.
To watch this very real physical distress and have nothing for comfort other than tea and sympathy can be distressing.
As I watched him, I began to recall being sick as a child. So rarely as a grownup do I get sick, and then even rarer to be ill vomiting that it took a minute to travel back and remember. In my recollection I feel the emotion and vividness of “sick dreams”; of having the same odd dream loop over and over again, never quite getting the closure of completion. My dreamscape always created a drip castle; drippy sand plopping from my fingertips in incrementally smaller and smaller quantities, trying to get the teeniest grain-of-sand-size drip on the top and failing EVERY time. Eventually I was out of earth’s atmosphere still trying to get that final drip on top and I could.not.do.it. I feel memories of writhing in pain, of being too cold, too hot, the caustic taste of emptying one’s stomach, the complete fear that it would happen again, and of wishing so hard that Mom would come check on me so I could ask her to pee for me only to realize hopelessly in my sick-induced haze that deligating the act of relieving oneself was totally impossible…being sick is no fun.
Soon my sick boy has a spasm that empties his stomach. Little boy eyes then start the slow drift to sleep, drooping down ever so gradually until at last he is released from consciousness; his body rests. Other memories of sickness wander in now that there is peace again. The intense calm when at last your body at last everything succumbs to healing sleep, finding relief in its freshly emptied stomach and feeling so heavy your arms couldn’t raise even if you tried. Emotions of relief and gratitude come to me. I feel the kind and loving presence of my mother as she would check on me, bring me broth soup, or fuss over my pillows or blankets. Closing my eyes, I feel her help me get out of bed to wash off the sick as I began to feel a little better. These are things I could not or would not have done for myself alone.
Sentimental thoughts are then interrupted by Gabe finding the freshly cleaned throw-up bucket. Gleefully discovering that it totally altered his view of the world when placed on his head, he pulled it on tight and began running around giggling, promptly running into the buffet. The game suddenly loses its humor and we’re off to wipe water from his head.
The tangent of re-experiencing illness as a child prompts me to consider how unique the care and compassion of the sick child is. Being grownup and ill is pretty thankless. Work doesn’t always wait and children certainly don’t wait. There are varying degrees of misery that could turn this whole story into a novella of different ways it’s awful to be sick as an adult, but it is rarely the rest-and-take-as-much-time-as-your-body-needs-to-heal-completely kind of experience that my son wallows in now.
So today I watch little eyes, puffy and half-mast, furrowed in ache and discomfort. I consider his unconscious knowing that his small self feels safe and cared for, even if he doesn’t realize how special that is until he’s a grown man, or perhaps never. I ponder how the existence of a small boy randomly and unexpectedly gives me a pause.
I watch little eyes fight to stay awake, and then, finally close again. His furrowed brow instantly smooths over.
Little shoulders sigh and give over to the relief of rest. Rest his body has fought for.
My beautiful sick child.