The Worst Thing

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.

Oscar sickRecently, 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.

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  1. I understand the feeling of wanting to put your child in a bubble to protect him from everything that might cause him to be hurt. To resist picking him up when he falls takes effort, but when he gets up by himself and wipes away his tears – you will be a proud mummy!

  2. Valerie

     /  March 15, 2013

    Aww, parenting is so wonderful and also so HARD! I know exactly what you mean about your husband. Mine is this big, strong guy but if one of our children is hurt he becomes the sad puppy dog that can’t find his way home! 😦 I have to conceal how the kids respond to vaccines and the like, because he is so sensitive to it! I am too, mind you. I have to REALLY focus on why I am allowing it, otherwise I’d say no to everything! 😉

    • I know. For days after our visit, I was still beating myself up about whether I should have allowed the catheter. Only after asking around about it and doing a little research did I accept they had just been advising what was best. We have a very good pediatrician who is very supportive of our holistic, kinda alternative approach, and I definitely trust her judgment, but my strong instinct to protect just overwhelmed that established sense of trust we have with her. Learning curve is a doozy.

      • Valerie

         /  March 15, 2013

        I had that suggested/offered to me with my older son when he was 2 or so years old because of a high fever that was unexplainable too. I declined and promised to bring him back if if was still going on days later. Well, it turned out to be Roseola which presents as a fever and then disappears and in its place is a rash. Common childhood virus, so I was irritated that the pediatrician didn’t even mention it as a possibility. Dr google to the rescue again! 🙄 I feel like I’ve gotten medical training over the years from all the researching I’ve had to do on my own!

      • Amen!

    • And doesn’t seeing your hubby care so deeply just make you fall in love even more? Man. I loved D before, but having a child has pulled us together. I know it’s not always the case, but I just love seeing him as a father. It’s beautiful.

      • Valerie

         /  March 15, 2013

        Oh YES! It is one of the very reasons I am still smitten with him after all these years!! 😉

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