Serendipity and Happenstance

Few things are worse than having a sick child. You are left with an utterly helpless feeling because your child thinks you can kiss awaycomfort boo-boos, dry tears and make him feel better just by holding him. When I first had my own child I finally understood the plain truth in saying to your child (as my parents had said to me so many times), “I would take this pain from you, I would bear this illness if I could.”

My son has caught a virus that gives him fevers at night and a dry cough, which was probably picked up at day camp. He is a slightly muted form of his effervescent self during the day, although his loss of appetite and declarations of, “I’m tired!” after dinner shows that he’s just not himself (I mean, what 6-year-old ever admits to being tired?).

My family has implored me to stay away from my little guy so that I do not get whatever he has. Obviously, surgeons want you to come in as healthy and strong as possible before they perform the taxing procedure to your body. I’ve done my best by only kissing him on the forehead and washing my hands until they are raw.

For the last 6 weeks I have felt useless, guilty and paralyzed as a mother. I am supposed to be his caregiver. I am supposed to be up and playing with him during these humid days, matching his laughter and sweat and imaginative adventures. Instead, I’ve been mostly stuck in my bed, feeling drained and outside of my body, which has failed and confounded me.

Last night I heard my son’s faint little cries which quickly grew louder. He must have been jolted awake by a coughing fit and wanted his mommy. I have about 15 nicknames for him, so he has come up with one for me, because he says, it sounds like “Mommy.” He has reassured me it has nothing to do with bovines.

“Moo, Moo,” he cried out. I flew out of my bed, opened his door and saw him sitting up in his bed.

“Moo, I want to sleep next to me.”

“Honey, you know I can’t get sick. Let me find your chicken.” (A disheveled mess of fur, beak and a single eye; the aptly named Chicken is his beloved companion and source of comfort.)

“Please, Moo,” he begged.

No good mother would ever deny her child comfort in times of sickness. I laid right next to him, and he promptly grabbed my free arm, wrapping it around himself. He coughed a bit more, but then fell into a peaceful, deep sleep. After sleeping next to him for several hours, I woke up as I usually do at an ungodly hour. I surveyed the scene: the boy was still sleeping serenely and the humidifier and vaporizer were still running at full-bore. I kissed him on the cheek and quietly retreated to my own bed, leaving his and my doors ajar in case of further calls for comfort.

The last thing I want is for my child to be sick, especially since I go into the hospital tomorrow for at least a week. I’ll miss him with an undeniable fervor, worrying and wondering how he’s getting along. I’m sure he’ll be fine, but every parent has these irrational fears when away from their child.

I’m realizing now what a paradox last night was. My son was ill and I felt helpless because I was unable to cure him. However, for the first time in over a month, I was able to be his mother; not the ailing version he’s seen, but the one he knows that helps make everything better. I felt needed and was able to fulfill my role; something I haven’t been able to do, which has left a constant ache in my heart.

Last night was a small moment, just a simple gesture that any parent would do. But to me it felt important and moving and serendipitous. The last memory my son will have of me before I go into the hospital and begin my long journey of healing is simply of me being his mother. This little circumstance gives me the strength to go through hell and come back renewed.


Cookie jar poetry

My mother wrote poetry. Lots of poetry. I guess the muse struck at odd times because she would often write on gum wrappers, napkins, envelopes, bills, old movie tickets, recipe cards, notes home from school and on the back of photographs. I was too little to actually remember her doing this, and I suspect I may be the only one that knows this happened. How do I know she wrote poetry? Because she hid her poems all around the house. From the time I was about 5 and could read semi-fluently and comprehend tenuously I started find them.

The first discovery was in our cookie jar. My father was at work (as usual) and there was our Cookie Monster cookie jar, staring at me from atop the refrigerator with that goofy, drunken smile on his face. Since my mother had been gone there were no longer homemade cookies (they came in bunches after she first was gone, brought in by my aunties and neighbors and ladies from church; but just as quickly as the bounty started, the visits suddenly stopped). Now, my father would buy generic brand cookies that were supposed to be like the real thing, but were always a little off. Chocolate wafers with cream filling, vanilla-flavored rounds and crunchy chocolate chip delights were the best we got now, but they were better than nothing.

I did my little climbing maneuver of pushing the kitchen chair next to the counter. Then I stepped on the chair and carefully put one foot and then the other onto the slippery counter (my mother? or maybe grandmother had taught me early to NEVER wear socks when climbing because they would surely make you slide off and break your neck). Finally, standing on my tiptoes, I carefully removed Cookie Monster’s head and slipped my tiny hand into the jar. I felt around blindly, touching crumbs, one cookie and a piece of paper.

Of course, my main concern was the cookie. I snatched it out and set it on top of the refrigerator. I picked up Cookie’s head and was ready to fit it on it’s base, but something made me pause. I can’t really explain what it was. I had figured the paper I had felt was part of the wrapper of the bag of cookies, but something in my tummy told me to grab it. I sat down the head and stood on my tiptoes again. I searched around the crumb-filled jar and caught the slight paper between my thumb and forefinger. I breathed out, set the paper next to the cookie, placed Cookie’s head on, grabbed my two stolen goods and carefully climbed down from the counter to the chair.

I munched on the vanilla-flavored cookie as I pushed the chair back to the table with my belly. The paper, which I now saw was a torn off corner of a sewing pattern, seemed useless. I was annoyed that I went to all that trouble. But, then again, I thought, why would that be in a cookie jar? I stuffed the rest of the cookie in my mouth, sat down and turned over the torn paper. On it was beautiful, perfect, light-as-a-feather handwriting. My mother’s handwriting. She had written:

He was trying to steal my heart

But he went by way of my head

His words brutally injected with a drill

He broke my heart, made my mind fuzzy

And I never saw clearly again.