Walking through the aisles of Target the other day, I was working on being more light-hearted. It has occurred to me lately that I take myself, specifically, and “things” in general, far too seriously.
I have friends who are wound too tightly like me and mother as if the fate of the world lies in their children’s ability to listen to their mothers; and I have friends who model much more easy-going, unflappable mothering. I am grateful to have both because if I didn’t have my uptight, manic mother friends, I would feel like an isolated sociopathic freak; but if I didn’t have calmer, cooler-headed mother friends, I wouldn’t have anyone to emulate.
I was thinking of these mellow moms as I tried a new tack for shopping with two kids.
As any mother knows, (and any one who’s been in Target and witnessed a mother shopping with more than one kid) shopping with kids is HARD. I don’t care if you’re at Target, Macys, the Grocery Store or even Home Depot, your children will always find things they want to buy. And their constant, insistent expression of these desires will make you want to pull your hair out and will always make you forget at least one item on your list. Usually the one item you actually came to the store for.
Suddenly my daughters both think they need their own miniature paint rollers, colorful duct tape, light bulbs. If it’s packaged, they want it. I sweat and grit my teeth, make hushed threats and bribes as both girls run in opposite directions. Mothers with one child stroll calmly around the aisles singing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ softly to their happy toddlers who want nothing more to sit belted in their seats, staring at their mommy’s face, and give me pitying looks, thinking my child will never be like that.
It was one such afternoon as we worked our way through Target buying glamorous things like giant packs of toilet paper, paper towels and Kleenex when Jada discovered that she can quiet easily wiggle out of the belt on the seat in the cart. Afraid she would pull an Evel Knievel and dive onto the tile floor, I let her get out and run next to (away from) the cart.
Soon Twila was laughing and running around too.
But instead of getting tense and angry, I smiled, laughed at their joy and energy. Who cares? I thought. It’s a Tuesday afternoon, Target is deserted. The girls are having fun. But Jada, being Jada, felt my calm and decided to test its endurance. She grinned, turning to the lowest shelves of Kleenex and began sweeping them on to the floor with one arm
“Awwww—Boo-Hiss!” I shouted, using my humor instead of my anger.
Twila thought this was fantastic and started shouting: “Blue-Piss! Blue-Piss! Blue-Piss!”
Jada, delighting in Twila’s humor started shouting what she thought we must be saying, “Boo—Bies, Boo-Bies!”
I wiped tears away from my eyes as I tried to gather them back up into the cart through my laughter. I loaded the Kleenex that was on the floor into my cart and ran for the exit, my girls shouting their innocent obscenities the whole way.
Two days later, I was glad we had stocked up Kleenex.
Twila and Jada both began coughing and sniffing. Assuming it was nothing more than a cold, I turned on the humidifiers, doubled the vitamin C and D intake, kept them warm and settled in to wait it out. We read lots of books, experimented with new crafts, played with blocks and their train set. And we waited. We waited, and waited and waited for the incessant, painful coughing to stop, for their noses to stop running.
After missing three days of school, I brought Twila to the doctor. Jada’s cough seemed to be improving so I let her skip an ear check. When the walk-in doctor looked in Twila’s ears he almost leapt back.
“That is a serious ear infection.” He said. Checking the other ear confirmed that she had a double ear infection.
We were prescribed Amoxicillin and went on our merry way.
But that evening, as Ryan got home from work and we got ready to start the weekend, Twila spiked one of the highest fevers she’s ever had. Her cheeks were beet red and her feet and hands were actually cold. We called the nurse line and were assured that a high fever often accompanies Amoxicillin. We started a rotation of Mortin and Tylenol and tried to get through the night.
Twila coughed and coughed, hardly sleeping. Eventually morning came. When Twila got out of bed on Saturday, her fever was already one hundred and four point eight. I climbed into a lukewarm bath and asked Ryan to grate some ginger. It’s an old natural remedy, maybe a wives tale but ginger is supposed to draw out a fever. It, and the bath, brought her temperature down to one hundred and two point three.
All day we did what we could to keep her comfortable and keep her fever down. She agreed to sip cool water but refused any and all food. Sunday brought more of the same. We coaxed a few bites of crackers in, a few chilled, canned mandarin oranges.
That night, Twila’s fever reached one hundred and five and Jada, still being treated for the pink eye they had contracted the week before, began coughing again. But this time it was the deep, painful, barking cough that Twila has. Sunday night they both coughed all night.
When Monday morning came, Ryan asked if I could handle things on my own. Since over the weekend our two fussy and hot babies had kept us both hopping all day and night long, I wasn’t sure. But they both had fevers right off and my plan was to drag them in to be seen again (two nurse line calls had gotten me no more information than I had had in the blearily hours of a sleepless night). Deciding I could handle two listless babies in a car, I told him to go.
Our regular doctor quickly confirmed that Jada had a double ear infection as well, though not nearly as advanced as Twila’s. She also shook her head in alarm at the fact that Twila’s fever had persisted through three days of Amoxicillin. After rechecking Twila’s ears she said that the drug had not even touched the infection. She instructed me to discontinue its use and prescribed a stronger antibiotic.
Back at Target, both my girls huddled in the cart, eyes wet and glassy, hacking up a lung and radiating heat.
All day Monday Twila lay nestled in our bed, coming in and out of consciousness as I fed her bites of fruit and crackers and sips of water. Jada stayed in my arms, or sat on the floor bawling until I could pick her up again. As the motrin worked its magic on Twila she wanted food but was still very sensitive and wined when Jada touched her, called me back each time I stepped out of the room (usually when I had just reached the other end of the house) and both girls needed everything right now. At two o’ clock, I was done running back and forth, trying to keep the girls apart but happy, fed and comforted. I called Ryan asking him to come home.
Today brings more of the same. Over the last four days, they have kept each other awake. No one had taken a decent nap. As one of them would doze off, the other would scream for something or cry out in frustration or pain from a cough and wake the other up. But today, after a visit through The Culver’s drive through lane, Twila fell asleep in the car. After she was loaded into my bed, I walked Jada around her room, laying her down occasionally and patting her back until she too was asleep. Now, almost two hours later as they both sleep, I enjoy the first quiet and peace I’ve had day or night in almost three weeks. It doesn’t even matter that I haven’t showered today; the silence refreshes me more than hot water could.
I try to enjoy it. I try to enjoy the silence, the lack of wining and fighting and calling out demands. I try to enjoy that I can sit in one place for more than thirty seconds without being summoned to come help in the bathroom, take back a toy on someone’s behalf, make a snack, clean-up a spill. But I can’t help but wonder and worry as I sit here: is this a foretaste of what is to come this winter? Last winter was very difficult for us. Each week seemed to bring a new virus. But these last three weeks have been the first stretch of time I’ve known as a mother that ushered in layers of viruses. Pink eye, bronchitis, ear infections, possible pneumonia now, my doctor warned yesterday. All these infections and sicknesses are piling on to my children all at once.
It doesn’t seem fair. Aren’t I doing everything I can to keep them well? We eat well, we take vitamins, they get lots of sleep, we wash our hands. As their doctor told me yesterday, “you’re doing all you can except keep them in a bubble.”
I know she was joking but as I look down the long dark hall of what this winter may bring, I consider for the first time in two years quitting the gym and homeschooling.
As they sleep, I am afforded for the first time some perspective. I actually miss their energy in this silence. Not their sick, unhappy, miserable energy but their joyful, buoyant, healthy humor and fun. I miss their antics in the aisles at Target and their ability to make each other laugh. I miss listening to them playing games and running around the house.
As I sit in silence I send up prayers spoken and unspoken that ‘energy and antics’ and not the worry and wining of these past four days will be our norm this winter.