2009 has seen a lot of illness march through our house. From head colds to H1N1 we have yet to have an entire month where at least one person in the family was not sick. December is now no different.
While our youngest had a friend over to play the other day, our youngest began complaining that his stomach hurt. I didn’t think much about this. The way he described it, how he pointed to his stomach, and where he was pointing to a space just above his belly button, I figured he was just hungry, or had had too much sugar while I wasn’t looking: two possibilities that were always likely with him.
An hour later the other little boy had left, and our youngest was still complaining about his stomach. Furthermore, he was lying on the couch – still – just watching TV. This was not like him. Usually he would be moving: something on his body would be moving, twitching, twisting, or something. He never lies perfectly still.
We asked about his stomach, and again he pointed to just above his belly button. Further complicating how to deal with our son’s increasingly uncomfortable symptoms was that he never has real stomach pain; this was accelerating, so I brought a large pan from the cabinets and placed it near him on the floor by the couch.
One trip to the kitchen and back, and without any warning everything our son had ingested that afternoon ejected from his mouth. Most of it made it into the pan, and I was hoping that, like the four times he had previously vomited in his life, this would be a one-and-done scenario. Out youngest just never vomits.
Big brother needed to get to basketball practice so I left with him and left my wife to the dirty business.
An hour later our oldest and I returned from basketball practice to find a concerned mother and an exhausted little boy. Sixty minutes of vomiting once every ten minutes takes a lot out of a 58 pound seven year-old. And then he had to rush to the bathroom as diarrhea set in.
All of this on a night my wife needed to get to sleep early in order to leave the house for an early plane flight for work. She called and rescheduled her flight to leave a little later the next morning, but we were still worried about our little boy who was now vomiting once every 20 minutes. At least the frequency was slowing down.
When you’re in that moment of taking care of your child, it’s easy to forget what’s really going on inside of the head of that little child. The focus is on the symptoms: on relieving them, and getting your child’s health back to some form of normalcy.
And then it happened.
Running to the bathroom for his next bout of diarrhea, I followed our youngest to the toilet. I remembered being that little and being really sick. I remembered my mother either sitting next to me, or leaning over near me and rubbing my back gently. While my entire body wretched, that gentle rubbing let me know that somehow, someway she was going to make it alright.
At that moment my youngest looked up at me with a look on his face that just said, “Dad, please make this stop,” and I began to rub his back. He didn’t smile. He didn’t immediately feel better, but I could feel his body relax.
I forgot about the symptoms, and all I could think about at that moment was that this little boy was putting his complete trust in me, to make everything feel better, and to keep him safe.
At its most basic, parenting is really pretty simple: create an environment where your child feels safe.
It’s just that when your child gets sick – sick in a way that you can not make them feel better with a simple little pill – the grasp of that basic task of parenting becomes a little loose, shaking faith in one’s ability to be a good parent. So when I was rubbing my son’s back, I also wondered a little if I was doing it to make him feel more relaxed, me feel like I was helping, or a little of both.
I think we all know the answer.