I’ve learned fairly well to interpret most of the girls’ complaints by now.
My belly hurts (I’m hungry)
My waist hurts (Sage has to poop)
I’m sooooo hungry (I haven’t eaten since last night and it’s now morning!)
My legs don’t feel like they’re working–can you carry me? (I missed you today Mommy. I just want to be with you a little longer.)
Then sometimes there’s the mystery complaint, and it’s all I can do not to run to Dr. Google and frantically search six-syllable diseases that surely have never been seen outside of albino apes until now. (You do know that in my head, the longer the disease name, the more likely that it will kill you. I am very logical that way.) Last night, Thalia whined that she “felt hot.” And she did.
I did that feeling the forehead thing that really, is totally pointless, because I have no idea what I’m even feeling for. But it does make me look mom-like.
I grabbed the foolproof digital thermometer and with a 98.5 reading, I carefully concluded that this wasn’t the fever that was going to spike to 107 in four minutes sending us outside shrieking for a cab to the hospital. I whipped Thalia up a nice glass of ice water which seemed to do the trick.
But then she added another mystery complaint–this one even more mysterious than before (that’s often how these things go)--my lip hurts, but just right here a little bit…not this part, only here. And now my mind is running through some sort of internal medical symptom cross-checker application that was never actually downloaded to my brain, trying to understand if HURTING LIPS/PARTIAL + WARM SKIN/NO TEMPERATURE means I missed you today Mommy, and I want you to pay more attention to me than to Sage right now, or the slightly more daunting I ate something I saw lying under the couch that seemed like it might be chocolate and now I’m about to go into anaphylactic shock.
Recently I was reminded of a moment early in motherhood–Thalia, not much of a sleeper as a newborn, decided to mess with us by pulling a full six hours straight in her crib one night. Exhausted new parents that we were, we slept those full six hours too (sleep when the baby sleeps!) only to awake in a fit of terror that of course, the baby was dead. I bolted out of bed and ran to Thalia’s crib, holding my breath until I caught a glimpse of her own tiny chest heaving up and down.
As it turns out, sleeping more than 2 hours at a stretch doesn’t mean dead. I learned this early as a parent, and I impart that knowledge to you, my friends. Use it in good health.
The thing is, I’m finding that you do outgrow a lot of the new parent paranoia eventually. If you’re like me, somewhat rational (if prone to occasional bouts of crazy), you come to accept that indeed, babies are capable of sleeping for more than sixty seconds at a time, and eventually, without too much luck, they will grow into human beings who can handle butter knives all by themselves; push down a toaster ON button without help at all; maybe even walk past an open electrical socket and never even consider licking it once.
You stop worrying that every day is a bookshelf accident waiting to happen, just like the ones you read about in those alarmist childproofing chapters of your baby books, then promptly ignored. You drop them off at preschool fairly certain that they won’t be dipping their fingers into 99.8% pure lead fingerpaint, and that you won’t one day receive a midday call from the Director suggesting that a hostage situation in the Purple Room requires you to come down right away and convey the name of your daughter’s favorite stuffed bear to the SWAT team as they console her through walkie-talkies.
In fact, if your child remains healthy and thriving long enough, you might even succumb to that arrogant belief that the universe is on your team. And that things that happen in horror movies and Bones and cliffhanger two-part episodes of SVU will most likely not happen to anyone in your family anytime in your lifetime.
And I freeze.
As a parent, my mind simply doesn’t know what to do with it.
I can’t allow myself to think about it too much, to do that thing where a thought moves from your head to your heart to your gut, where it then comes out in angry, ugly sobs. I can’t seek out the story on the news or follow it on the local blogs like it’s some sort of episodic television.
I am not good at tragedy anyway. And this one…worse.
I write about it here because it’s my way of talking myself down. I keep repeating to myself that things like this don’t happen every day. Same as monkey diseases that infect little girls in Brooklyn. Same as preschool SWAT team incidents.
Because while my mind may sometimes go to worst case scenarios and statistical improbabilities, I refuse to let them guide our lives. I need to keep being the mom who ignores the childproofing experts. I need to keep being the mom who lets my kids run ahead down the street at full speed, having faith that they will always stop when they get to the corner. I need to keep being the mom who lets my four year-old go to the bathroom by herself in the local cafe because it makes her so proud.
Basically, I need to keep being the mom who sticks with only the fears that are crazy and irrational.
So I remind myself, it’s perfectly normal to be a hot six year-old on a hot day in mid-July. I put Thalia to sleep, give her some magic Aquaphor for her lips, kiss her on the forehead, and assure her and Sage we’ll have a big breakfast in the morning.