Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Doctor's Orders: Take a Chill Pill

George was positive Claire was cross-eyed for a while. A trip to a specialist assured us she was the picture of health. Surely, our pediatrician referred us to the eye doctor more to allay parental fears than out of concern for Claire’s sight. Dr. Gillespie’s been in medicine long enough to know that a parent’s anxiety is best assuaged by keeping him or her busy.

At each well visit to the doctor’s office, we hear a non-stop string of: “She looks fine”, “I don’t see a problem there”, “Why don’t we check to be on the safe side”. Our doc remains upbeat, despite our endless paranoia about our daughter’s health.

I imagine that someday Dr. Gillespie will reach a breaking point and respond, “What are you crazy?” instead. That’s because, even as I’m relaying my question, I know I sound like a crazy person. I just can’t seem to help myself.

George and I can divide the quality of our obsessions into two distinct categories. George is preoccupied with Claire’s physical health. Why is the skin on her feet peeling? (Try a little olive oil). What are the bumps on the back of her neck? (It’s prickly heat). Are you sure she isn’t wheezing? (Her breathing sounds fine).

I have a desperate need for Claire to meet all of the appropriate milestones exactly, to the minute, on time. When Claire’s weight dips from the 85 percentile to the 50th, I’m certain I’m starving her and bombard the good doctor with questions about diet and nutrition. She does her best to pull me down from the ledge.

The problem is I’m never completely satisfied with the answers or that everything’s really ok.

I don’t think we are the only parents who can’t stand the idea that our child might have vulnerabilities. Nor are we alone in our fear that our child’s vulnerabilities might just be out of our control. Worrying and the subsequent overcompensation brought on by said worrying are conditions of the human race. These states become compounded when you become a parent.

If I were to ask Dr. Gillespie about my own heart palpitations, I’m sure she would tell me that everything’s just fine…

Friday, August 24, 2012

The House of Yes

Claire’s balloon comes floating by her high chair. Tiny, sticky fingers reach up, grab the string and start inching it downward. George and I both see what’s coming. Should we intervene? Too late. The balloon is smashed into the tray a few times and released, replete with remnants of yogurt, sardines and rice. “Bye, Bye” Claire says and waves, as it ascends to where it came from. How about that? She has found a way of making a mess on the ceiling without throwing anything. I didn’t think that was possible. It’s pretty ingenuous, really.

The beautiful irony of the whole thing is that Claire does not paint the ceiling with sweet potato by design. She doesn’t even know she’s doing so. It’s just the innocent by-product of exploring her world. How could I possibly say no? Is it really so bad when she pulls the cat’s tail? Or takes all of the clothes out of every single drawer in the bedroom for the hundredth time that day? She doesn’t know any better, and she’s having such a great time!

I’m finding that my job as mother is becoming more and more about weighing the damage of her actions against the fun she’s having. I’ve decided that if she’s not killing herself or another sentient being or if Spray and Wash or some other heavy solvent will take out the damage, I’m down for whatever she has in mind. This philosophy does not come without a few daily cringes though. Living with the amount of chaos a toddler can generate is a learned skill. I’ve found that it’s best just to surrender to Claire’s way of seeing the world.

I’m not so sure she’s too far from the truth, either. Ask any Zen master and I’m sure he or she will tell you that order is transient anyhow. Besides, Claire will be “civilized” soon enough. For example, I’ve already begun teaching her how to put the clothes back in the drawers…Hmm? So Claire is teaching me about the meaning of life; I’m teaching her…household chores? Makes you wonder who’s raising whom, doesn’t it?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sickness and the Art of Suffering

The tables have turned.

I wrote a post recently about the first time I was sick with Claire. My month-long bout with walking pneumonia cannot compare to this weekend’s stretch of nursing a sick baby. I wish I could say that I rose to the occasion like Florence Nightingale. When Claire’s fever spiked at 103 degrees, I was sufficiently freaked out to endure things like hour-long breastfeeding sessions.

When her sickness diminished to garden variety inconsolability, the pendulum began to swing between concern for my baby’s cries to wanting to stop the sound of crying in my head.

I felt just as helpless and miserable as she did. Time was reduced to minute-to-minute increments. Victory was measured by distracting Claire longer than 60 seconds before crying returned. The golden ring was reaching nap time. Crestfallen, when nap time was taken up by screams instead of snores. I harbored no illusions about how she would sleep at night. During normal times, sleeping through the night is sketchy. Sickness blew that idea right out of the water. She wouldn’t sleep; she wouldn’t eat.

I began feeling like a failure. No matter how hard I tried, I could not make my baby feel better. But it got worse when my empathy for my baby started to wane. “Stop crying,” I implored, as if her cries were a personal attack on me not an expression on her pain. “Go to sleep,” I would plead, as if that simple entreaty would magically do the trick. Not only could I not help my baby, I was now more concerned about me than my child.

I started to worry that Claire would come to believe that she must be good in order to get my love. Now, a mountain of failure began to pile up with selfishness as the cherry on top of the garbage heap.

If I were to look at the bright side of this experience, I would say that I am thankful that Claire will get better. I do feel this way, for sure. But my generalized feeling of shell shock and sleep deprivation is trumping the “this too shall pass” sentiment right now. Claire’s sick and we all must suffer, it seems. Actually, maybe, the lesson is something different. Perhaps the lesson is that sometimes life is just a mess.

This idea is a bitter pill for me, not so easy to swallow.
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