Nico’s epic bout with the stomach flu this week has gotten me thinking a lot about how I interact with my children. I don’t think there’s anything that flattens me as easily as watching my child struggle with a nasty sickness. What made this week different from a regular, run-of-the-mill illness was watching my independent, four-and-a-half-year-old Nico revert back to the younger Nico who needed me, really needed me, about 20 hours of every day. Because this was the flu from hell that hung on despite everything–every day, we’d have a few minutes where Nico would seem like he was starting to pull out of it, and every night, Ken and I would turn to each other and say, “I think we’ve turned the corner.” And then the following day our sweet little boy would revert back to a moaning, writhing, miserable mess.
For some reason, I picked this week to start trolling through a bunch of old photos that I hadn’t looked at in ages. And there was Nico when he was just a little chub. It was almost a shock to remember him as that young and vulnerable little baby–for so long, we’ve thought of him as our big kid, the one who usually has it together. This is partly due to the astute observations he’s always making. (Like the time he was three and he warned me that I needed to start sleeping. At the time, Gabriel was awake all night, every night, and I was quickly becoming psychotic. “If you don’t sleep, Mama,” Nico said, “then you get nervous. And if you’re nervous, then you can’t be happy.”)
How’s that for our little sage? See, a strange thing happened when Gabriel was born. I’d had a tough time with his pregnancy (I was on bed rest for 6 weeks with placenta previa, then had an emergency c-section a month early), but was too freaked out at the time to deal with my fear that either the baby or I wouldn’t make it. (When you have a previa that doesn’t resolve, the mother and baby can both hemorrhage, which is why the docs insist on a c-section at 36 weeks.) So when Gabriel was born, all these buried emotions started surfacing in strange ways (or maybe not so strange ways, really)–and I found myself glued to my new baby, worried about his every move. And poor Nico took even more of a backseat to his new little baby brother than most older siblings do.
I’ve done my best to work through a lot of that stuff this past year, but it took seeing a-really-sick Nico to make me really realize how much I miss the alone time we used to have together before Gabriel was born. So I tried this past week to really focus on my older child, cement our still-strong bond and spend as much uninterrupted time with him as possible. A sort-of Reboot My Relationship With Nico week.
I wish I could say I did it gracefully, but alas, I had some pretty vocal moments of chomping at the bit, of spouting How goddamn much longer are we going to be trapped in this house?! How goddamn much longer can this flu possibly last?!
The truth is, I hate being stuck in the house–it drives me insane. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that there are two things I need in order to keep me sane: regular exercise and regular writing time. Without those, I start to spin out. Which is what I started to do in between all my hours of holding Nico’s head in my lap and cleaning up puke.
I might not be the most natural caretaker in the world, but I thought I was doing a pretty decent job. Until last night, that is, when Nico was finally up and moving around and I let myself lose it because he was finally doing better. “I need a break!” I yelled when Ken came up from work. “You take care of them for a while–I’m losing my mind!”
Here’s one of the great things about kids: they always give you a clear-eyed view of yourself, even if you’re not willing to see it. So, this morning, as I was getting ready to hit the gym once our sitter had arrived, Nico looked at me and smiled.
“I’d like to challenge you today, Mama.”
“OK,” I said. (He learned this technique from school, and often uses it on us to great success.)
“No angry people in this house today!”
Ah, my little Nico-bean. Why is it so hard to stay balanced on days like this, much less emotionally sane? Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if I was a normal person with mellower moods.
For now, let me just be thankful that my spouse possesses some of my more severely-lacking traits. Who knows how many thousands of dollars he’s going to save the kids in therapist bills when they’re adults?