We were a house full of sick people. Autumn showed the first signs, with crusty eyes and a runny nose. Then I went down with a short-lived fever overnight, complete with sweats and chills. Then Ger said he didn’t feel well and slept off his illness for hours. Quentin remained healthiest, though that’s a relative term as he still seemed to be tired and was certainly crabby. And Theo was hit the worse, with eyes that clearly indicated how poorly he felt, followed by a fever.
Throughout her little cold, Autumn has remained cheerful. The rest of us moaned and groaned, but the smile never left her face, nor did she seem to be bothered at all by her cold symptoms. It didn’t stop me from constantly checking her forehead for a fever, or wondering if her rosy cheeks meant spiked temperature, or making sure the thermometer was nearby.
After tucking her in for the night, I was compelled to check on her. The cold was only part of it. She had spent all day rolling around and now I had new, unnecessary fears of her rolling over in bed and suffocating. I know that’s not how it works, and when they roll there’s no way to stop the rolling at night, but I had this image of her somehow twisting in her sleep sack in an untenable position.
I could hear her as soon as I entered her room, because of the little snort that accompanied her stuffy nose. Somehow that still wasn’t good enough and I risked waking her by turning on a light, just to check her position in her crib.
Then I had an even more unnecessary urge to check on Theo. My big 8-year-old, with only a fever, of which he’s had dozens before. I’d given him Tylenol, which he has also had more times than I can count. For some reason, I needed to check on my sick child. I had to turn on the bathroom light, across the hall from their room, rather than turn on anything direct. I cracked open the door and it was so dark I couldn’t see anything. In his bottom bunk, I felt around for his head. Finally, my hand grazed his cheek. He kicked his leg as a reaction. Still breathing.
I know that rainbow babies are frightening enough, without the extra strain of thinking there might be something wrong. A friend of mine has a rainbow baby with a cold. Another had a baby born with some pregnancy complications. Their fragility when they are so little is palpable. And somehow that fragility has now projected itself onto my older children, reminding me that I cannot protect them. Theo’s flushed, sick face was a reminder.
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you don’t stop.” -Confucius