Damon and I step around each other, cleaning and drying the dishes and putting the kitchen back in order. We’ve caught up on each other’s days, and now we listen to the music playing, overlapping the sound of the baby monitor telling us with a quiet breath that Oscar has settled down to sleep. After a frenetic workday and the evening relay race of cooking, eating, playing, and the occasional pratfalls of one soon-to-be-toddler, we both seem to be breathing a little slower and a little deeper now, too. After a moment, Damon turns to me and says, “I am so scared of the day when Oscar gets really hurt for the first time.”
We’ve uttered some version of this to each other, back and forth, since early in our pregnancy. I recall the first time Oscar got kind of hurt. It was the first day we were released from the hospital, and we were sitting in my parents’ living room. Oscar was swaddled up like a little blue-and-white-striped burrito, and Damon moved to lift Oscar to his shoulder. In the process, one of Oscar’s fingers somehow got bent the wrong way. Oscar started screaming—not crying—screaming, and it took a good ten minutes to calm him down.
But what I remember with startling clarity is not Oscar’s being hurt, but rather the look of horror on my beautiful husband’s face, his cheek suddenly pale, his eyes shut tight and brimming. Even as I held Oscar and tried to soothe him down, I longed just as much to be able to hold Damon and wipe away that hurt and worry.
It is a terrible thing to watch your child in pain. It’s visceral. It’s far beyond compassion or empathy—it’s gut-wrenching.
Recently, Oscar developed a really high fever. It was vacillating between 100 and 104 degrees, so I took him to the pediatrician. With no discernible symptoms other than being incredibly cuddly and low energy, as well as having detected a sort of “rich” smell to his urine (possibly from starting to drink whole milk at child care), the doctor urged us to do a catheter to rule out bladder infection.
They kindly offered for me to wait outside, but I wasn’t going to leave my little boy to that without even the comfort of knowing I was with him. I held his little hands in mine and leaned close, and I could feel his hot breath on my face as he cried out, both of us blinking through the tears.
A couple hours later he was fine, peacefully playing with a toy in my lap. I, however, was shaken for days. Thinking about it still makes me weirdly uneasy, like an unexpected reminder of a strange, unpleasant dream.
It’s going to be rough. It already is! Giving Oscar the space he needs to explore means giving him space to get hurt. And even though it’s not always going to be about climbing the stairs and learning to walk, the lesson is still the same. He’s going to get hurt. He will also experience rejection, disappointment, and—god help me—heartbreak. Even thinking of it makes me ache a little. I’ve known my fair share of these passing shadows in my life, and even as I try to remind myself that they have a tempering effect, that I don’t regret any of those hurts, heartaches, and mistakes because they brought me to where I am today, still I wish there were a way we could shield him from the worst of it.
But for the heights, also the valleys.
Sharon Astyk recently wrote on her blog about having “the talk” with her boys (no, not about sex), and it’s one of the best parenting/relationship nuggets I’ve encountered recently. At the end of the day, no matter what happens, I want this beautiful little human being to know that we are here with him, no matter what. We cannot help but ache right along with him, but we will be there, holding his hands, if he’ll let us. We won’t leave the room when it gets scary. We won’t judge. We won’t hide. Whatever it is, please bring it to us—or to someone who loves you as fiercely as we do.