November 2010


I knew it was inevitable: the Darth Vader breathing, the barky cough… Yes, folks: the middle of the night trip to the ER has come upon us once again.

I write this as I lay on the bed with James asleep on my chest, knowing that — at 5:19 a.m. — what I should be doing is falling asleep, but too hyped up to be able to close my eyes. (Although, to be honest, it could be the 10-minute dose of epinephrine I got along with James. The only way I could keep the face mask on him was to hold him to me, practically cheek to cheek, and take in that mist as I sang “Don’t Fence Me In” to him over and over again. Which, come to think of it, might have been the reason he was crying and *not* the medicated mist blowing in his face. After all, Lucy and Will have clearly inherited the my-mommy-is-not-allowed-to-sing-out-loud gene. Who knows how early it starts?)

Happily, medication now inhaled, he seems to be breathing much better. There is not a strider to be heard. (I can assure you I wouldn’t be writing this if the situation were otherwise.) I’m not sure what the doctor will say about staying overnight, but I’m feeling much better about everything right about now as is James, it appears, given how soundly he is sleeping.

With that in mind, I thought I’d jot down a few things for future reference;

1) That thing I was saying to someone earlier today about needing to purge and then repack the diaper bag? That would have been a good thing to do before going to bed. That way I might not be lugging two diaper bags and several stray blankets — “just in case” — around with me right now.

2) Thank goodness for my iPhone! I remember this experience several times over with Lucy and Will. Lying alone in the middle of the night with a sick baby is awful. Having the world be at my fingertips — whether it’s being able to text Kelley and other family re. progress, getting (o.k., fishing for) support (knowing that if I posted anything about where I am right now I would almost immediately be receiving well wishes from friends near and far), or distraction (I have nine whole chapters of story posted and ready for editing, not to mention facebook, twitter, general web surfing, and, oh right, three months’ worth of emails I could start to return)… Well, it certainly helps pass the time and, more importantly, keeps my mind from wandering and worrying. Plus I can be getting all these thoughts out of my head so that I can maybe get some sleep!

3) Be careful what you wish for: I kept saying how much I wanted to spend some major quality time with James on this last day before he goes to daycare. Spending it at Children’s Hospital wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. (Considering something very similar happened with Lucy re. this coming Friday, I would just like to state for the record that, as much as I’d also like some quality time with Will, could we try for a non-medical-related, purely happy thing? I mean, I’m good with a movie, even a trip to mcdonald’s in a pinch. Something that doesn’t involve doctors, nurses, or any type of emergency worker would be more than fine with me.)

4) Pee* when you can. Although I’m not sure I would have done anything differently (having a doctor tell you that, yes, a 4 a.m. trip to the hospital is advised certainly provides you with a level of urgency), a sleeping baby lying on top of me for going on an hour now isn’t exactly doing my bladder any favors.

*apologies to my mother and anyone else offended by the use of this word

5) Wear layers. I am wishing that I’d thought to put on a short sleeve shirt when I left the house as it’s been quite warm in this room during these last few hours. Of course, now I’m happy to have long sleeves as it seems as though the air conditioning just got turned on. Options would be good.

And, last but not least, 6) Trust your instincts. Or, rather, I should say, trust your instincts when they say to call the doctor: When I heard the telltale croup signs at 3 a.m., I was proud of myself for calmly bringing James over to an open window and then bringing him outside for a few minutes. And as, 10 minutes later, (and, yes, at kelley’s much-calmer-than-I-even-though-I-was-doing-quite-well-thank-you-very-much suggestion) I sat on the floor of a steamy bathroom telling myself not to panic because we’d been here before and knew what to look for. Still, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to just check in with the dr. Low (lo?) and behold, she says to take him to the ER because ‘this isn’t something we like to see in babies this age’. And then to have the attending physician say he wants us to stay in the hospital for the whole day and night because croup doesn’t peak until the third night and given how severe the symptoms were in just the first few hours…

Um, well, nice job, jen, on the not panicking. Missing that he was getting worse and not better? Not so much.

That said, I am glad that, so far, I seem to have learned enough about this mothering thing to realize that the instinct I’m trusting isn’t my ability to diagnose and treat my kid’s illness but instead to know that it’s never a waste of time to make that 3 a.m. phone call to the doctor’s office, even when you think everything is going o.k. I’m really hoping that, as the ER doctor just said, James will ‘impress us’ and not need breathing meds every three or four hours today. If it turns out, however, that he does need that medication, we’re spending the next 24 hours at a world-class children’s hospital. Considering the circumstances, there’s no place I’d rather be.

Several weeks ago, there was a 12-year-old girl who was home sick, alone in the house, when a burglar came through. Actually, she might have been 11, or maybe even 10. I’m not entirely sure given that I heard the story secondhand. What I do specifically remember, however, was that the story wasn’t really about the burglar or even so much about the girl: the main thrust of the story was about the mom. Really: what kind of mother leaves heryouthhome alone during the day? What kind of mother leaves her *sick* kid home alone?

I was reminded of this story this morning as I was dropping the kids off at school. We were later than usual, which meant that I had to drop Lucy off first since her school starts earlier. We were too late for me to be able to pull all the way up to the door since the street was already closed off for the busses. That meant I had to take the right turn that put the doors of the school out of my sight.

Call me overprotective, but I like to see her actually get into the school with my own two eyes. That’s being a ‘good’ mother, right? The problem, though, was that unless I chose to just stop the car in the middle of the street and let her out — as several of the cars in front of me did so apparently that’s a valid choice — I’d have to park the car, bring Will and James out into the cold rain, and walk her to the door. I decided to compromise: since I was able to park the car two cars in from the corner, I left James with Will in the car — completely within my sight, on totally flat ground and with the keys safely in my hands (i.e., not in the car and most certainly not anywhere close to the ignition) — walked Lucy to the corner, and with one eye on the car and one eye on her, watched as she walked to the school and up to the door, and then I turned and went back to the car.

So, well, what’s the verdict now? At 10 Lucy is old enough to walk up and across the crossing-guard-protected street. Hell, at least two of her classmates walk to school on their own, so what’s the problem? My guess is that in the (yes, unlikely) event that something had happened to her on that short little trip, I have no doubt that the story would be about the horrible mother who allowed her daughter to cross the street alone.

Another story, this one with a much sadder outcome: a year or so ago, a young father was killed on cambridge street when, while taking his baby’s carseat out of his car, a drunk driver hit him. That time, at least, the spotlight was on the drunk driver and not on the dad. I do distinctly remember, however, a comment made on one of the local listservs: how irresponsible of the father to not park so that the infant seat was on the sidewalk side of the car. By having to take the seat out of the car into traffic, he had not only put his own life at risk but that of his baby’s as well.

Um, ok, I guess. Except, well, have *you* ever tried to find a parking spot in Boston? Have you ever circled for hours trying to find a legal spot? Have you done it with a tired/hungry/diaper-change-needing screaming baby in the back of the car? And while doing so were you keeping in mind the possibility of a drunk driver coming by at that particular moment? No, probably not.

To be honest, when I left James (in his baby seat and on the traffic side of the street thanks to the one-way nature of that particular road) and Will in the car this morning I wasn’t thinking of all that either. I was, however, thinking that it was rainy and cold and there were way too many frustrated drivers of schoolbusses and SUVs for me to be comfortable, especially since they’d be safely enclosed only several feet away from me. But if something had happened to one of them, well, see above re what the story would be.

I’m not saying I made the right choice. And I’m not saying that there aren’t horrible parents out there putting their children at risk without a second thought. What I *am* saying is that most parents are trying — they’re trying *really* hard — to do right by their kids while also trying to fulfill the other societal roles they have to play.

Which brings me back to the beginning and the mom with the sick kid. I don’t know the family; I don’t know the details. But I can definitely see how a mom who doesn’t have a partner and/or doesn’t have help but who does have a job might just barely be getting through the day. She probably does so with her fingers crossed and her eyes squeezed shut as she prays to whatever god she believes in that there be no burglar or drunk driver or [insert your catastrophe here].

I’m not saying you have to be part of the village, but maybe when we hear that inevitable next ‘bad mother’ (or father) story we can try to see the anguish in her eyes as well. We can think about the choices she has to make every day and how she prays that she’s making the right ones. And maybe we could not roll our eyes when a co-worker has a sick child or parent or partner to attend to. After all, aren’t we all just trying to get by?

I’m sitting here with James sleeping in my lap and, as often is the case when I don’t have anything else to actively engage my mind, am wondering what it is that I really want to do with my life.

I’m 99% certain that I don’t want to be a stay-at-home mom. It’s all well and good when I can sit here with a happily sleeping baby, a tv show in the background, and a book within reach. I don’t have the emotional energy, though, to keep up with little kids much less big ones. I know this about myself. I go a little crazy after a few hours of trying to keep everyone content. It never quite works the way I’d like. And, when it’s in the midst of not working out, well, not having the chance to have a moment of quiet thinking time to myself does no one any good. As Lucy likes to say, I “have hormones”.

And yet as the days count down to my going back to work, I am growing increasingly sad. I love this one-on-one time with baby james — I know sharing is good but it will be so much harder when I don’t see him all day. And it’s been really good to be able to be there for Lucy as we deal with these doctor appointments. Plus it’s been good to know that if something at school is going on I can go to it. Errands. It’s nice to be able to do errands and not be rushing around. Oh, and friends. To be able to have a leisurely lunch or meet for coffee or stroll around the neighborhood…

Hmmmm. Where’s the ‘but’? I’m not really sure. I love my job. I miss seeing my friends there. I like being able to help fix things. And I like to be able to think.

I don’t know. I’m really glad of the timing — it will help make the transition easier. But things do need to change. The pace I had pre-james is not one I want to keep up. The focus needs to be different. I’m not sure how we’re going to do it but we have to. I don’t want to do this any other way.