Do you remember when you were in elementary school and you missed a couple of days due to chicken pox (imagine that chicken pox to our children will be like measles was to us) or the stomach flu? Your mom would call the chain-smoking tenured secretary, who’d been subversively running the school for the last 40 years, and report that you wouldn’t be in attendance that day. And when you did finally return to school, mom always sent you with a note for your teacher, explaining the reason for your absence.
I think that the same should exist for parents of sick children. Only the note would not be an excuse from school, but an excuse from responsibility. “Dear Visa Credit Card/Landlord/Work, Sarah couldn’t pay the bill/rent/come to work today because she has a sick kid and needs a complete break from life.”
While we were visiting family in Boston and Syracuse, in early May, Lucy caught a cold, and then pink eye, then a slight fever, and eventually, came down with an ear infection. Though mildly uncomfortable, Lucy championed through her first illness with aplomb and rebounded quicker than it takes us to get her to sleep some nights. And while concerned, we were surrounded by seasoned grandparents, aunts and uncles, all at the ready with anecdotes and helpful advice.
Two weeks later, we were back in San Juan, I had just returned home from work and noticed that Lucy felt a little on the warm side. We called her pediatrician who advised us on the proper dose of children’s Tylenol and we waited for her fever to pass. But, instead of breaking, it spiked. In 30 minutes, I watched (and felt) it leap from 101 to above 104. And worse than her temperature was her quickly deteriorating temperament, which went from charming to alarming in minutes. She became sadly lethargic, insanely hot, and wanted only to be held by me. My heart crumpled as I watched my usually upbeat, wide-eyed baby melt into a lump of mush on my shoulder.
For two nights, Justin and I alternated between periods of wakeful hyper-vigilance and helpless hazy sleepwalking, monitoring Lucy’s temp(erature and erament) hourly fearful of the spikes and grateful for the breaks. Her crib, once a source of familiarity and comfort to her, was suddenly plagued by its distance from us (at the foot of our bed). In an eleventh-hour effort to get Lucy to sleep, we brought her into our own bed and she collapsed into a fever-induced slumber.
Friday morning, we awoke to a smiling, energetic baby. Her fever had finally broken. We had survived. Lucy had survived. We had our baby back. Sufficiently scarred and appropriately scared, I naively remarked on Facebook that, “after 2 sleepless nights and 3 days of sky-rocketing temps, Lucy’s fever has finally broken! If I didn’t feel like a mom before, I do now!” And if you remember, I made a similar observation in an old post even before giving birth to Lucy when I declared, “I’ve known for a lifetime that I wanted to be a mom. I’ve known for 6 months that I was going to be a mom. But I didn’t truly feel like a mom until last week.”
Lucy’s brief flirtation with sleep ended rapidly as cough replaced fever. We called her doc who suggested that we bring her in to be seen. Yet, she remained in such high spirits that I encouraged Justin to wait another day or two before dragging Lucy on the 2plus hour drive to Managua. When the cough persisted the following day, instead of taking Lucy to her pediatrician, we brought her to the local health center. Within three and a half minutes, he diagnosed her with pneumonia and prescribed a battery of antibiotic injections. Justin and I exchanged a knowing glance and hightailed it out of there, dialing the pediatrician on the way.
The next morning, we embarked on the familiar journey to Managua, arriving just a few minutes shy of Lucy’s appointment. Not known for his punctuality, we waited on the doc in the germ-infested waiting room, which became quickly populated by other children, all presumably sick [and contagious]. If Lucy hadn’t been ill upon arrival, she certainly would be by the time we left. We finally got in to see the doc only to be sent down the hallway to radiology. Feeling intensely frustrated, I questioned our decision to come to Managua in the first place; Lucy appeared to be completely fine. Eventually, we made it back into the doc’s office, where he reviewed the x-rays, listened to her chest and diagnosed her with bronchiolitis. As he explained the seriousness of the virus – that many children are hospitalized with it – the possible causes, and reviewed the treatment plan, my frustration snowballed into guilt. I had delayed the trip. I had suggested taking her to the local doc. I was a bad mom.
Instead of making it up to her, in the  days to follow, we tortured Lucy with bi-hourly nebulizer treatments, prednisone drops, and chest taps. We shut off the dry a/c air in favor of stifling, humid, sweaty “fresh” air. We quarantined her in our hilltop home and eventually from her dad, who also came down with a cold. Combined, Lucy and I averaged 2 hours of broken sleep per night over an 8-night span. I began to question if the treatment wasn’t worse than the illness. I furthered question my ability as a mom. I wondered if my child would ever forgive me. And yet slowly, the cough subsided and Lucky Lucy emerged from the nebulizer mist with, not only a smile, but also a giant hug for me.
I dare not tempt fate for a third time and so will not say the one thing that I am compelled to say about feeling like a mom. Because the reality is not that I feel like a mom, but that I am one.