Falling Down

I worried a lot when we were expecting Betsy.  A lot.  I worried about whether I was eating the right things, and sleeping enough, and whether the exercises I wasn't doing were going to make or break my birth experience.  (Answer: They would have helped.  But babies come out anyway).  I drank an Arden's Garden juice one day and a friend casually asked if the royal jelly and bee pollen were safe for pregnant women.  30 minutes later, I threw it all up in the dog bowl.  At least my intestines had an outlet for their concern, disgusting as it was.  The rest of me just sat on the couch, reading and fretting and occasionally patting the dog.

I've worried about having a child in middle school ever since I left the damned place.  As Anne Lamott writes in Operating Instructions, "The seventh and eighth grades were for me, and for every single good and interesting person I've ever known, what the writers of the Bible meant when they used the words "hell" and "the pit."  It was Lord of the Flies.  Springtime for Hitler, and Germany. So how on Earth can I bring a child into the world, knowing that such sorrow lies ahead."

What I didn't count on was worrying in between now and, say, nine years old.  As I envisioned parenthood, it went something like:  Hard, beautiful labor.  Bring home healthy baby.  Baby doesn't sleep much.  Baby sleeps a lot.  Cruise until first grade.  Begin parenting in earnest.

At no point did I imagine Betsy as an older infant, a toddler or a preschooler.  I guess I expected her to morph overnight from neonate to running with scissors.  A conversation with Mary confirmed that I'm not alone in this regard, although perhaps the two of us are just unique in our neuroses.

When moms talk about how they "kept their children alive for 24 hours," I never really know what they mean.  Children are incredibly hardy - they have to be, for the survival of our species.  2 years as a nurse in a pediatric ER confirmed that the majority of kids, even sick ones, are actually just fine.  And then my own baby got sick.

Betsy managed to get roseola on top of her ear infection, and her second tooth just came in.  I promise I'll start writing about something else soon, but I have a ways to go before getting over the injustice of it all.  I was pissed, in the Biblical sense of the word.  

Mine is perhaps the happiest baby in the history of the world, and all she did was cry.  Even when she slept, she whimpered.  Nate is the designated weeper in our family - but Betsy crying brought me to tears on more than one occasion.  I preached the fever gospel to almost every parent I encountered at Children's but she was so hot it hurt to kiss her forehead, and I was scared for my child.  (Blessedly, I managed not to puke in the dog bowl this time).  

I paged the on-call service at our pediatrician's office three times and brought her into the office twice, always with the sheepish grin of a Medical-Professional-Who-Ought-To-Know-Better.  I know fevers aren't bad.  I know rashes look scary but most of them aren't.  I know there is zero correlation between the number of a fever and the severity of illness or the likelihood of a febrile seizure.  Turns out it's really hard to be a nurse for your own child.

Nate and Betsy were playing on the floor last night.  She is learning to stand and loves to pull herself up on everything - the more dangerous, the better, it seems.  Nate spotted her as she tugged on the leg of my desk, and I marveled at the strength in her chubby little legs.  After a few seconds she wobbled and sank to the ground  with a well-practiced thud, her cloth diaper padding the fall.  Nate's hands were beside her the whole time.  She quickly switched her focus to his baseball cap, another treasure of endless fixation.  As she tried to scale his broad chest, he kissed the top of her head and said, "Betsy, I'm not always going to be able to catch you when you fall.  But I will always, always try."

My throat caught unexpectedly.  Without knowing it, he'd so succinctly verbalized my struggle these past few days.  I'm used to being Nurse Mama, who knows exactly what to do and how to fix it -- but there was no fixing Betsy, there was just sitting and rocking and holding and crying.  

I can't protect Betsy from everything, and I'm probably not supposed to.  In fact, I know I'm not.  To shield her from all that would disempower the bravest, funniest little girl I know.  Our world needs children who can face the heart of life.  It needs mamas who can do that, too, I suppose.  

So I'm sitting in this space, trying to figure out how to parent from here.  I haven't learned to let go gracefully yet, so I'm following close behind with tightly clenched fists, trying always to catch her when she falls.