"they say the owl was a baker's daughter. lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be." (Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5)

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Five Feet

For the past few days, my little guy has been really sick. I'm not the type of mom you want around when you're not feeling well. I can barely operate a digital thermometer, I don't really know the difference between Tylenol and Motrin, I don't keep things like alcohol swabs and band-aids in stock, and I hate messes.  So, when you throw up on my carpet--or on me in my bed--I tend to react with something other than warm maternal instinct.

I really don't like that about myself, and I doubt my kids like it about me either. So, when my nine year old came crashing into my bedroom at midnight covered in vomit, I tried to respond with tenderness. 

We took our time and got cleaned up, I brought him ginger ale with crushed ice and a straw which is the salve for all things in my home. ("You feel off your bike? How about a ginger ale?" "You're doing the taxes? How about a ginger ale?" You're allergic to cats? How about a ginger ale?")  We somehow made it through the night with many more episodes of illness and not much sleep and I called in sick to work when morning dawned.

He spent most of the day on the sofa, fever burning him up, eyes rolling in the back of their sockets, not able to wake him for more than a few moments to force water (or ginger ale) into his system. A day later and it was time to see the doctor.  Before we left, I asked him to take a shower, and he said, "Will you help me, mama?" And in those moments of helping him into his clean soft clothes, of powdering his skin, blow-drying his hair, and tying his sneakers, it was like I was his mom all over again.  The choreography of early parenthood that you never forget.

When we got to the triage station and the nurse asked him to stand against the wall for height and weight, my little guy turned obediently and just like that, he crested 5"0' for the first time.  I had to hold back the tears. My hands had just tied his shoes and zipped his coat like the toddler he used to be. Over the past few days, I had reclaimed so many moments with him, so many of my own moments of motherhood. And it felt like it was all being ripped away from me by that stupid mocking giraffe-shaped growth chart, as the nurse exclaimed, "He's over five feet tall now, mom, too big for the 60 inch giraffe!". It sounded like she was really saying , "He's all grown up now, mom, and your little guy is gone forever."

She could be right. Maybe my son will only carry memories of me as the frantic mom who never had band-aids, was outsmarted by every splinter she ever met, and didn't know how to use an ace bandage.  Then again, she could be wrong. Maybe my son will think back on his childhood and remember all of his moments of need like this one, in which his tender and capable mom moved calmly and brought him comfort. And you know what? I don't think it matters. Because in that moment, while he rested on the hospital bed, dozing in and out of sleep, he reached across his IV, held my hand and whispered, "I love you, mama." All five feet of him.

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