So said the note I wrote to my parents and slipped under their bedroom door, early one morning. I don't know how old I was when I wrote that note, but it's possible I was almost a teenager, as I'm not sure when, if ever, I really learned the correct spelling of phlegm. (As evidence, my fingers just twisted and jumbled as they tried to type it. P...h...l...? Huh?)

Sometime last year, on a visit to my parents, I found a whole cache of these notes that my mom had saved and filed along with other written bits from my childhood. There were a disconcerting number of these sick notes, which she had asked me to slip under her door rather than wake her up before dawn with my current tale of non-urgent physical woe.

I was a bit of a melodramatic hypochondriac as a kid. To my mind, every sensation, even the slightly uncomfortable ones, merited mention and an immediate fix or, at the very least, an extreme display of sympathy. The notes she saved included details of every possible bodily fluid and symptom: how much and what color and how uncomfortable.

I wanted my mom to know. To make me better. Or just to see and understand and hold it in her hand.

I now have a child much like this.

Anytime she feels a sensation in her stomach, she needs to lie down with a warm water bottle. Every bump requires a rest with an ice pack. If her throat is sore, the resulting frown is intense. I struggle to find the right response, as sympathy and exasperation rise in equal measure to her every complaint.

I am surprised by how I can rise to the occasion of caring for an ill child. I am someone with an overabundance of sensitivity myself, and a deep-seated fear of vomiting, but I sat with a two year old Z on my lap while she suffered a long night with rotovirus. Every 45 minutes, she awoke and lost the paltry contents of her stomach into towels on my lap, whimpering at the end and gazing at me with confusion and desperation. Why is this happening to me? Make it stop.

That my first instinct was not disgust and a desire to run but deep sympathy and a futile desire to take her pain away was shocking to me at the time. One of my biggest fears about parenting was that I wasn't sure I had the strength and selflessness to deal with a violently sick child. I was sure I would run at the first sound of retching.

There is something elemental, animalistic, about parenting a sick child. You cannot help but be intimately involved with the details of their illness; not only can you not walk away from the disgusting parts, you are often covered in them.

Even as my girls get older, I am surprised by how close I am to all the action. At five, Z still hands me balled tissues with the snot on the OUTSIDE rather than the inside and has to be reminded that even though she's sick, I believe she's capable of getting them to the trashcan two feet from me.

But I think I understand. She wants to hand it to me. She's saying: Here Mom. Here's my sickness. Please, please take it away.

And I still wish I could.


Ann Wyse said...

There's a definite upside to being so in touch with your body. I feel like I'm still learning how to listen well to my body - in terms of hunger or thirst, knowing when I'm tired, etc.

On the other hand, having two less than healthy kids right now - I can appreciate the lack of sensitivity, too.

And the desire, as the mother, to make it all better regardless of the problem? Yes, overwhelming!

Stephanie said...

I just love that your mom saved those notes.

twisterfish said...

Oh I too love that she saved the notes! My mom also saved all the cards and notes we gave her, and going through them not only brings back such wonderful childhood memories, but gives me a much better idea of what she had to go through with me!

Love how you put all this together in such a beautiful and meaningful post... you rock!

Shannon said...

I love it when you write about beautiful moments of mother/child tenderness and vulnerability however gross. Finding those notes in your Mom's stuff is wonderful. My mom has a pile too - she read them to me over the phone in tears one day.

I told myself (in my melodramatic way)after my second child was born and life was falling apart trying to adjust to two completely innocent beings depending on ME for everything in life: "When I am on my death bed, what matters most is that my children felt loved by me - truly seen and loved. Everything else is secondary."
Those little "love notes" you found are so precious. Thanks for sharing the "Flem". A warm and fuzzy way to start my day!

Michelle said...

Rotovirus is the devil.

When Peanut recently had a fever, her neck got very hot. Now, every. single. time. she gets a bit warm, she clutches her neck and says, "My neck is hot momma. I'm getting sick. I need medicine."


Love that your mom saved the notes.

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