It's always at 3am, isn't it? Does anything good ever happen at 3am? Your child stands by your bedside, glassy-eyed, unnaturally rosy, and, if he is old enough, thrusts a thermometer in the vicinity of your face and declares that he is hot, so hot, too hot.
And of course he's not telling a lie. His temperature is soaring. It's in the range that causes your adrenaline to kick in, fast and furious. You offer him medicine, and something to drink. You make sure he uses the bathroom. And then you spoon with him in his narrow bed. You will the heat radiating off of him to transfer itself to your cool skin, skin that has been around the block a few times. You place your hand firmly on his racing heart as if you can coax it through sheer pressure to slow itself down.
You wait, wide awake now, for the medicine to take hold, but it doesn't. You lie there and imagine being the child who lives in this room. You think, Would I be happy here, born into this family, would I feel safe and cozy in this room?
It is a long time before the dampness of a breaking fever wets the pillow, longer still before your own heart understands that for tonight at least, you have seen your child safely through the heat and into more recognizable, comforting temperatures.
Sleep, possible only as dawn snatches up the final few pieces of this night, eludes you. You are never more mindful than right now of the precariousness, the essential fragility of this beautiful house of cards that is your family. In the daytime you will fall into your usual patterns, taking for granted the bounty that is yours, but at 3am what you know is that it takes only one domino to topple a thousand.
written in 2007