I spent Saturday morning gloriously alone after a week from hell.
The minute I had the house to myself, my first instinct was to get in the car and drive far, far away.
We only have one car, though, and it was gone. So instead I forced myself to work through a to-do list designed to reclaim the space. After three hours of scrubbing the kitchen floor, scraping off the encrusted insides of the microwave, making pizza dough, doing laundry, and listening to Book Worm, I had a clear head again.
This week Miles had a second episode of serious wheezing and shortness of breath, accompanied by endless bouts of whining, crying, and tantrums.
The entire month of November had given us molar teething, sleepless nights, whining and screaming fits during the days. And snot all the time, everywhere. We had only recently returned to normalcy, so I was not prepared for another extended stay at the crazy house.
The first episode of serious lung problems unfolded in November. After noticing that Miles was having a very hard time breathing, we landed in the hospital for a grueling 24-hour stay. I still can’t shake the memory of lying next to him on his hospital bed in the middle of the night for hours, my neck and shoulders cramped, watching him and wondering what horrible thing could happen next. Even when he was manically jumping on his bed and stretching his IV cord to its limit, I felt patience and tenderness towards him.
But I also felt newly staggered by the constantly deepening depths of parenthood—the layers and layers of emotional interdependence, the fears, and the exhaustion. We’ve had some serious moments of parenting intensity, but the hospital stay was a new level. I am scared to discover what comes next in this relatively new life of being a parent. How can I possibly stretch myself more?
At the hospital back in November, the doctor and nurses helped get things under control with nebulizer treatments every two hours. They ruled out some potential causes like RSV and pneumonia, but they didn’t rule anything in.
At least not until this week. Now that it’s a pattern, they can apparently call it asthma. Fortunately, this second time, we had a nebulizer at home to get it under control and avoid a return trip to the hospital.
After using the nebulizer for a day, Miles seemed better but still not back to normal. He never got to the point of severe shortness of breath, but he needed another treatment after four hours. So we went to his pediatrician, and she immediately diagnosed it as asthma.
My problem this time was that my patience was gone. Hadn’t we already lived through a hellish month of sickness and misery? I mistakenly believed I had fulfilled a quota of parental obligation and compassion. I used the term “compassion fatigue” to explain how I was feeling to my partner.
It was extremely difficult to be around him—constant neediness, whining, and flailing at me for hours on end. My central nervous system was under siege.
It’s not that I was entirely cold hearted. Occasionally, sympathy fluttered through me. One minute I’d be ready to hide when he came screaming into the dining room looking for me. The next minute I’d give in and hold him and breathe in the smell of his forehead just like when he was brand new to me. But primarily, I just felt trapped. (We were literally trapped in the house in case the cold air outside triggers his asthma.)
I began this month awaiting a major change. We had decided January was a good time for Miles to start a preschool program. I had admitted to myself that staying home with him full time every day without a break—and now without regular napping—was beginning to be too much for me. At the same time, it became clear Miles needed a new level of stimulation and socialization. It’s also possible we will adopt another baby sometime early in the new year. After spending a morning visiting a terrific Montessori school, we sealed the deal.
So after Miles recovered from the sickness and teething pain in November, December opened with a new sense of energy. It would be our final few weeks together with just Papa and Miles, living each day, all day in our own world, structuring our time however we wanted. I felt more sentimental than I expected.
I created a new back stock of activities, lots of which revolved around getting ready for Christmas (cut-out cookies, making ornaments, helping to wrap and buy presents, etc). I had the renewed patience necessary to play “car crash” 20 more times (this involves me sitting next to him and reacting to him crash cars over and over again) or engage in his repetitive imaginary play. An example: he tells me, “Pippi is jumping on the couch!” I have to respond, “Pippi Longstocking, please stop jumping on the couch right now, young lady!” Times 15.
By the third week of December, I was losing patience and energy. I had exhausted my list of activity ideas, and he was sick of recycling them. It had also been weeks since I had any solid chunks of time alone to restore myself.
Then this week, Miles got sick again. I felt like a terrible parent because, to a certain extent, I just gave up. I turned on more videos than seems right, monotonously surfed the Internet much more than usual, often refused to play with him, immaturely made faces in response to his tantrums, and generally let a funk take over.
By Saturday, as I cleared my head through labor, I felt myself begin to relax. Miles seemed to be getting better—even good enough for my partner to take him on a walk. I had a chance to read about asthma and realized it wasn’t the end of the world.
While everything was playing out this week, I didn’t understand how much fear for Miles was a factor in how I was reacting.There’s no doubt that much of what I had been feeling was resentment and exhaustion. But I think I was also kind of terrified. As soon as he started wheezing again, I went to dark places. What if the doctors missed something serious? What was really going on inside his body?
Mostly, though, I realized I just did not want to have to take him back to the hospital, ever again. All week long, I was on pins and needles, hoping we could avoid it. In the scheme of worldwide traumas, our time at the hospital in November doesn’t register, but it felt mildly traumatic for me. I never wanted my toddler to be in a hospital, attached to an IV, but there he had been.
To anyone whose kid suffers from far worse afflictions, I’m sure I sound pathetic. But I guess what I’m trying to work out is that being a parent means you always get pushed more. It’s never means one, static thing. It changes every day, and it changes me every day. Just when I think I’ve been pushed and painfully kneaded into something new by my kid and his needs, I get the news that it’s not enough, and I’ve got to do it again. I’m trying to figure out how to accept this and be ready for it next time.
When my partner and I first started talking about wanting kids, I remember saying I wanted to do it because it would force me to experience more of the range of what it means to be human, what it is to live a fuller life, even if it meant more good, more bad, and more everything in between.
I guess I got what I was looking for. I just really, really didn’t have a clue what it would feel like. How difficult and demanding it would be. Ultimately, I guess that’s what makes it rich.