Wednesday, 2 May 2012

What does the sick child teach us?

This week, my son has been iller than I've seen him for a while.

It's been a strange journey, which began with a headache at the weekend. It cleared up, so we went to visit a friend, but on the journey, he seemed to subside in the back of the car like a wilting leek. By the time we arrived at our friend's, he was sleepy, feverish and complaining of a stiff neck.

The mention of the neck sent us ricocheting to the local A & E, suddenly envisioning meningitis, undiagnosed and fatal. They declared the problem to be an ear infection, and sent us packing with Amoxycillin and ear drops.

I left the hospital, and took him for a treaty snack in a cafe. Whereupon he vomited vast amounts of pink liquid all over the floor, against the bin, up my sleeve, down his coat. Everyone in the cafe froze into a waxworks rictus of horror, pity and concern.

This was the prelude to a couple of days of mystifying fever, projectile vomiting, further agonizing trips to the GP, re-diagnoses (not ear but throat infection, apparently), and changes of prescription. By today, Wednesday, the child has:

1. Eardrops
2. Paracetemol suppositories
3. Anti-nausea medicine
4. Antibiotic

I think that's every orifice covered.

And ice cream. The moment I realised he had turned the corner, after not eating for 48 hours, was when he asked for ice cream.

Now he's watching wall to wall TV, and guzzling pistachios and peanuts.

And what of the mother (and indeed the rest of the family) during this time? A lot of the time I felt dizzy, tense, and driven to run up and down the stairs carrying washing, medicine, clean bowls and wet cloths. I printed out instructions and timings to myself on doling out medicine. I couldn't sleep at night, couldn't focus on any one activity. I started baking, and cooked new recipes for no good reason. I cleaned the house. I checked my messages, email, diary and to do list compulsively — my inbox was clean as a whistle, yet I hadn't accomplished anything. I struggled to work out ways to leave son at home while I collected daughter from school. I forced my husband to give up on an evening in the cricket nets, booked SIX MONTHS PREVIOUSLY, to come home and cover for me. I found myself telling my life story to one of my French language tutees.

Now that the worst has passed, I have become aware of two contradictory pains in caring for my nearly-6-year-old son.

On the one hand, it felt just as it did when there was a newborn in the house, that relentless prowling, the inability to settle, the frenetic focus on minute details.

On the other, I looked at my house, cleaner and clearer than it's been in a decade, toys all neatly put away, and not played with during the day.

I realise that I am looking at the future. One day clearing up and putting away, a perfectly neat and tidy house, seeing the wood for the absence of trees, will be a sign that my babies have grown up and left.

In the moment of my son's infantilizing need of me, he has also signalled his future independence of me.

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