Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Sense of a Close Call

Nearly midnight on the last day of winter break, and I am binging on a book, which doesn't happen often enough. There is an undercurrent of tension jolting me forward, the belief that if I don't finish this book tonight, it will be days before I can pick it up again. From upstairs I hear a choked sob, and I undertake a mental calculation. Cat throwing up? No. Child who can't sleep because there's school tomorrow, and he's worried? I sigh, ungratefully, especially so because once I was exactly like him, and of all the people in the world, I should know better, and do better. With regret and irritation I close the book hard. In return it offers up a satisfying thwang of protest, and the cat, startled, jumps up from his spot, hidden among blankets scattered atop the ottoman. As I wait for the boy to present himself in the family room, I drill my fingers on the cover of the abandoned book. What I am thinking, ungenerous and immature: My time. It's my time.

He is all limb, now, at twelve, so skinny his hip bones and knees enter a room before he does. His pajamas are always too short in the leg and arm, no matter what size I buy him. His face is showing signs of angling into manhood. And here he is crying, as I'd predicted, but also clutching at his head. So I was right and wrong both. He tells me he has the worst headache of his life, and I believe him. He is pale, and his eyes are wild and darting, as if they want nothing more than to escape this body and fly away south.

I have forgotten my book. I pretend a calmness I do not feel. This headache, it has awakened him from sleep, which is not usual, is it? I can't remember whether I've read anything about this, but I'd be lying if I didn't confess that terrible words like tumor or aneurysm float up into the space between me and my son. I give him medicine, deciding to overdose him only slightly, because he's that close to the adult dose, three or five pounds off, and if anything requires sending in the cavalry, it is this headache. I have him lean his back against my chest, which given his age and lankiness means a few awkward maneuvers, and I massage his scalp and forehead. We sit like this, in the darkness, for forty minutes, when he thinks he can return to bed. I am now too scared to sleep. I remember that he suffered through another bad headache two or three weeks ago, and I swear to myself that if he has a third one, I will be running him to the doctor.

In the morning, he leaps downstairs in his coltish way, and offers me his smile, wide and restorative as a view of the sea at the horizon. And I breathe, for the first time in hours. My sleeplessness has afforded me the time to finish the book put aside at midnight, but I suspect that it will always be tainted by its connection to ruthless pain, and I shelve it far back in a bookshelf I find hard to reach. As my boy smacks his lips impolitely while downing his breakfast cereal, his hair askew in every plane imaginable, I bless this return to normalcy, and recognize how lucky I am. Roughly he carries his bowl to the sink and slops milk on the counter. I don't feel like asking him to clean it up, not just now. 

He turns from the sink to glance at me. His eyes are bashful. "Thank you for last night, Mama," he says. I return, sterner than I mean, "You shouldn't thank me for that; it's what parents do!" He nods, agreeable, and slouches off to dress for school. I wonder why I didn't, or couldn't, say, simply, "You're welcome." Maybe because nothing I did in the night seemed voluntary. I did what I was there to do. This was my imperative, no less: to ease his suffering. Or perhaps I couldn't acknowledge my child's gratitude because earlier I'd been so annoyed by his intrusion into my time alone. That kind of annoyance does not deserve to be thanked.

What dogs me the rest of the day, as if by inches I'd averted the hideous metallic scrape signifying a car accident, is shock, heightened adrenaline, relief, and most of all the sense of narrow escape through no agency of one's own. I've written this particular story, but I'm well aware that I might have been forced by chance or circumstance to write a different, far less ordinary one.

10 comments:

Magpie said...

it's so hard, this parenting stuff.

Veronica said...

There are those moments that put everything into perspective. I, too, am always fearful when my children have severe headaches. And age 12 is an age that struck me as especially sweet and tender.

On a practical note, it is easy for kids to get dehydrated in winter because they're not drawn to downing cold beverages or water like they are in summer. Also, the dry cold air can affect their sinuses and give them headaches (a vaporizer or saline nasal spray helps). Finally, the changes in sleep patterns during break can trigger migraines in those who are susceptible. You probably know all those things, but I thought I'd share since we treat a lot of patients with headache issues in my office.

Bibliomama said...

I think you're too hard on yourself, but I get it.

Mary Gilmour said...

Oh yes. The daughter writhing on the guerney in the emergency room at the hospital, a gymnastics injury that no one seems able to diagnose or treat. That goes away on its own, having been a muscle spasm.
The hovering demons pushed back, but never entirely routed.
Sending a mother-to-mother hug!

Amy said...

I am so familiar with that guilt, the annoyance of interrupted "me time". Forgive yourself. So glad he is better … and you finished the book.

alejna said...

"You shouldn't thank me for that; it's what parents do!"

This really choked me up, because, sadly, it's not always true. It should be true.

Being a parent has brought me an entirely new set of fears. So glad that Twelve seemed none the worse for wear in the morning. Here's hoping that the headaches are caused by nothing more sinister than Veronica's suggestions, and that there is no more such late-night pain for him.

Mary Gilmour said...

There's soMething in Chinese food that used to give my young teens noxious headaches. They outgrew it.

Vodka Mom said...

The scariest thing is this....we don't really know ALL of the close calls they really have......


and I'm still weak at the knees......



whew.

JCK said...

It 's the What If 's that wear us down to hubs. Whew...indeed.

JCK said...

Nubs