Having a sick child chips away at you. You are worried. No one is sleeping. And when no one is sleeping, everyone gets cranky. And when everyone is cranky, Mom starts to lose it.
You think: no more. If he gets up at 5 a.m. again, I’m not going. I’m going to burrow under the covers and let him scream.
When he doesn’t eat (again) you think, that’s it. I’m just going to leave him with one of those catfood dispenser things and he can feed himself.
When he screams bloody murder when you put his coat on, you think: FINE. I’ll put you in the bathroom, close the door and let you unroll toilet paper all day.
But of course you don’t do any of those things. Angry mom is a close companion of worried mom, who must try and do everything in her power to coddle, to try this and that and everything she can possibly think of to make him happy to find that one smile in that sick little body.
Then, last Saturday, he woke up at 4:30 a.m. I went in to feed him and put him back in the crib. But no. He cried and wailed and would not have it.Yes: I knew he had been sick. Yes: I knew something was probably wrong. But I was TIRED. And I was PISSED.
“I can’t!” I whined to Dan from under my pillow. “Your turn.” Dan went but given the wails I knew that no one was going back to sleep.
By 5:30 we were playing. Oh joy. Dan and I could barely hold our heads up – literally. You know when you’re so tired your stomach eats itself? We took turns, playing with James and then dozing on the living room couch. It reminded me of the very early days, when it was all I could do to be alert enough to care for him. When I would wait in the darkness for 6 a.m. to wake Dan. When I was afraid I’d drop or hurt him out of sheer exhaustion. It was like living in pea-soup fog.
This is it, I kept thinking. The end of my rope. No more.
Finally, around 7, we got him back into bed and we collapsed into our own bed.
When he woke again, I took him for a walk to give Dan a break. We walked through the neighborhood, up a hill. Just me and James, like all the mornings that came before it this year.
He was just himself and I was just me, his mom. I unclipped him from the carrier and I pointed to the buildings: “Do you see the city?” I asked him. “And what about over there?” I pointed to our right. “Do you see the mountains?” The trees. The birds. An airplane. I pointed to them all. I held his hand and he waddled around and explored.
There’s no end, I thought. I’ve learned it again and again this year. I learned it in labor. I learned it every night when I thought I couldn’t go on. Every day. Motherhood stretches you, breaks you, pushes you past where you ever believed you could go. And you cannot turn your back. You must keep on. You must find your frayed threads and knit them up as best you can.
(It’s like those goddamn spinning classes. 10 minutes into it, I’m like: ok, done! Enough! I’m miserable! Fuck it! And yet somehow, there I am, sweating out of every pore, red as a boiled-alive lobster 40 minutes later.)
I am sure other people realize this in other, more profound and much more challenging ways.
But I’m a slow learner and I guess I have had a lucky life. I wish I could push myself so far in other aspects of my life.
And I guess I am sort of amazed that we always have more. That when we think we are out, when we feel like we can’t hold our heads up any longer, when we venture into that dark, lonely pea-soup fog–you think you will find weakness, but you must find strength. Your most deep, true, sacred heart.