When Girlfriend was an infant, she was almost never sick. Some say it was because she was home with me for the first 18 months of her life. However, the entire time she was a student at the early childhood development center she attended between the ages of 18 months and 6 years old, I can count on one hand the number of illnesses she was sick enough with that she couldn’t attend her classes.
Monkey is a different story. He started childcare at 5 months. I wasn’t ready to be separated from him. Like, at all. Not just maternally. Mentally or physically, I was not ready to be back at work, juggling all the things I needed to juggle well. Few people understood this. Those who did, they know who they are and they know I am so grateful for their friendship during this hard time. One of my friends even made dinner for my family my first week back at work.
I was pumping and nursing at home, and I was going to be pumping while at work. I would be using my specialists time, which, if you are a teacher, you know that is planning time. A mere but absolutely necessary 45 minutes to do as much as you can to make sure that you are as ready for the rest of your day and the next day as you can possibly be, especially if you can’t stay after school dismisses. After 13 years of eating lunch every single day with my team, I now was going to be working through lunch to make up for lost time during the aforementioned planning period. I was trying so hard to organize and be as efficient as was reasonable.
I was doing so much work at home, too, on weekends. No joke, I was getting up at 5 am every Saturday and Sunday to plan for the week ahead at school. Husband was getting up with our children. I spent hours working.
Frankly, I was beyond stressed and lonely.
Within a month of school starting, Monkey got a cold. And that cold lasted and lasted and lasted. It turned into a constant cough. Through all of this, he was not a good sleeper, waking up at least once, but usually 2-3 times a night, almost every night.
I was teaching full-time, parenting full-time, spousing full-time, sleeping part-time, and exercising no-time. My house was a constant mess. My best friend was out there somewhere, living her life, never once asking me about mine. When she did get in touch, all she did was talk about herself.
I was one exhausted mama.
Now, in our family, we had our own dynamic and in that, we were extremely lucky. Husband worked from home and had a rather flexible schedule so he was the one who did the majority of the grocery shopping, dinner prep and cooking. Regardless of who does the cooking in the family, we all know it’s a big job and an incredibly important one as well. It makes family dinner possible, and family dinner is one thing we never miss. I was so thankful for this part of our lives. So thankful.
In October, this dynamic changed, literally overnight. The call came in Sunday, and our lives changed in less than 24 hours.
At the time, it was supposed to be a temporary thing, which turned permanent, and we now know that this turn of events was a very good thing. Then, it felt a lot more like a nuisance in addition to it being a massive transition. Husband was offered an opportunity to work at a client’s office rather than work from home as he had been doing for the last 10+ years. What it meant was that I would be dropping off and picking up from childcare, getting home well before he did, prepping dinner, cleaning up all of the lunch dishes, preparing lunches for the next day, by myself. While millions of women do this every day, I was not one of them. Additionally, Monkey was only 6 months old. We were still nursing and pumping. And did I mention I had a full-time job that did not end when the students went home?
By Christmas, we knew this temporary thing was becoming less and less temporary but we were getting used to it. I had figured out the best way to manage on my own once I was home with the kids. And I had stopped pumping in November for reasons having nothing to do with the change in family dynamic. Monkey was now taking formula successfully and I was still nursing him as much as he wanted to nurse.
We typically would get home and unpack from our day. All the lights downstairs would be switched on to invite a warm, welcome-home ambiance. We would put on some Christmas music or a fun show. Girlfriend would sit down and do her homework. I would nurse Monkey. After that, it was time to wash lunch dishes and get some dinner prep going, be it chopping veggies or mixing sauce, or peppering some meat, or just getting the oven going for a frozen meal we’d made previously. By that time, Husband was home and I felt like I could breathe a little easier. I’d give Monkey a bath and get him in his jammies, feed him a bottle and put him to bed. Then the 3 of us would eat, clean up, and Girlfriend and I would get ready for bed. Once read aloud was complete, off to sleep we’d go. I had gotten into the habit of waking myself at around 4:30 so I could enjoy my coffee and whatever book I was reading before daily life resumed once again.
Still. This was not easy, not by a long shot.
I was more exhausted than I had ever been in my entire life.
Shortly after returning to school in January, Monkey got sick. Really sick. The stomach bug is not for the faint of heart, which, if you’ve ever experienced it, you know as a parent and as an individual with or without children. It’s non-stop vomiting and diarrhea. Really foul-smelling diarrhea. Monkey wasn’t keeping anything down. We were in the doctor’s office three times in 5 days.
Then I got violently ill. Girlfriend and I were in the car on Sunday evening, driving home from my school where I’d just been to prepare work for students as I was going to be out on Monday with Monkey. The nausea and vomiting came on so suddenly, I had no choice but to pull over to the side of the road. Husband came to get us as there was just no way I could drive home in such a condition. We left my car in the parking lot of a church in town. We had to pull over two more times before we made it home.
So I had to be out, between myself and Monkey, both Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the school week. Husband was not able to stay home so it was me and two kids. Girlfriend wanted to stay home and help me one day. My mother came over, too, one day. But Monkey is a handful. He loves his mama and daddy so even though he loves his sister and G, he didn’t want them. He wanted me. I got very little rest. My children were super cranky, my house was a disaster.
I was writing sub plans and sending them in every day. This was not easy. My sub plans are impressive works of art. It doesn’t take 5 minutes to write them.
By Wednesday, I was totally recovered as if nothing had happened but Monkey was still very sick. He wasn’t eating enough, what he did eat he was vomiting, he wasn’t sleeping much, and he was whining and fussing non-stop. Plus, his feet looked … kinda blue. And they felt cold. Upon closer inspection, his lips sort of looked blue, too. I called our pediatrician immediately. Gave them the history of the last week and a half. The dr. with whom the nurse spoke said that while yes, the color blue was concerning, she was actually more concerned about the constant whining, particularly because I mentioned that was not par for the course for him. She was thinking dehydration and wanted him to be brought into the ER as soon as possible.
I’m not going to sugar coat this. I was scared. And stressed. I wanted to cry but crying isn’t really my thing. I hardly ever do it. Plus, underneath the fear, I knew that this was normal, that lots of babies got belly bugs that led to dehydration. But this was my baby, and this was new territory. Girlfriend, as I said before, was never sick like this, not even close.
My mind went in a million different directions. I could not get in touch with Husband. I kept calling and getting his voicemail.
I wasn’t sure about the outcome of this … would we be coming home later today? If so, when? If not, what about Girlfriend? We had a neighbor who watched her each day after school for a couple of hours, but I just didn’t want to impose even though my neighbor would never see it that way. I didn’t know where this ER visit was going to take us. I decided it was best to just go to her school, sign her out, and take her with us. Maybe I just wanted her with me.
I got in touch with my neighbor to let her know about Girlfriend’s change in plans. I dressed Monkey, prepared some bottles, shoved my shoes on, pulled a coat on over my comfy clothes that I’d never changed out of since early that morning, and left. It wasn’t until much later I realized I didn’t have my phone and that I was wearing flip flops.
We arrived to the ER and signed in. The admitting nurse was kind. She was very concerned about Monkey’s cough, wondering out loud how long he’d had that. Other doctors that day wondered the same thing. I knew it was a normal question. But it felt somehow embarrassing to have to keep repeating that he’d had a cold for months, it wasn’t going away, he was also teething constantly and he’d seen his doctor several times since getting the cold and he was okay, there was no pneumonia or bronchitis that they could identify. He’d had his ears checked numerous times as well as his throat and they were always clear. The attending ER doctor came in and although very kind, he wanted chest x-rays, and he was concerned about dehydration. Monkey was crying and clinging this entire time. All he wanted to do was nurse.
I had finally gotten in touch with Husband who said that he was busy at work and would not be able to leave until his regular time; if we were still at the hospital he would meet us there, otherwise he would see us at home.
I was just not able to impart to him how serious this felt, how difficult it was to be doing all of this alone, how this was … scary. Also, I was pretty pissed off. I was doing this alone. ALONE. Not a single person in my life was there to help me. Girlfriend was walking around with nurses, being really loud and silly, which normally would have been annoying but in this situation was concerning, because it meant she was anxious. And of course she was. Her brother was screaming his head off and being poked at with needles.
In the midst of all of this, it had been decided that Monkey was going to be admitted to Pediatrics. He was definitely dehydrated, and that cough … what a cough, they said. We were waiting for x-rays to come back.
In the meantime, we began the move to Pediatrics. I had to call Husband and tell him of the plans. It was then he realized, Oh crap, this is a big deal. And he left work to go home, get things, and come to the hospital.
We arrived at Pediatrics. By this time, it was around 4:30 pm.
The unit was so quiet. Peaceful. The lights were low. Each room, of which there were only 6, was open with a lamp switched on, providing a warm glow. This was nice, because being January, it was dark outside, making it seem so much later than it was.
We were greeted by two very friendly nurses who helped us to get settled in our room. Monkey’s crib looked like a massive cage. Perfect for a Monkey, right? He was more relaxed than he’d been, his little belly satiated from the constant nursing over the last few hours, making it a lot easier to get the IV pole set up. The nurse recognized that I was alone with two children and immediately got dinners sent up for us. Girlfriend had pasta with bread, and I had what seemed at the time like the absolute most delicious meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Another of the nurses made for me a fresh pot of coffee.
And finally, around 6 pm, Husband arrived. He had clothes, pillows, blankets, toiletries, books, snacks. I was so relieved to see his face.
Things relaxed. I took a shower. Monkey was sleeping in Husband’s arms. Girlfriend played a game with me. We walked down to the cafeteria to get a snack. The hospital felt just so darned peaceful.
It was a rough night. Monkey did not want to be anywhere without me. At one point, I slept in the crib with him but the nurse had to both help me in and out due to its size and constraints. He woke up several times. My neck and back hurt like hell.
But here’s the thing. We were being taken care of. Someone else was taking care of us. I did not have to worry about work because I was here. I did not have to worry about his cough or the lack of appetite because he was here. I did not have to worry about food or cooking or cleaning because we were here. In the hospital.
By 8:30 that morning, we knew we’d be there another night. And that’s when we really settled in. I embraced our time in the hospital.
It sounds crazy.
Why in the world would I want us to be in the hospital?
Well, I didn’t. I didn’t want us to be there. I wanted us to be home and healthy. But Monkey wasn’t healthy. So I was entirely grateful that he was here, with round-the-clock care and nurses and doctors who wanted this tired mama to take a break. I was shooed out of the room a few times, to take a walk, to go to the cafeteria, to just not be in the room. And I thought, why not?
I drank glorious cups of coffee that I did not make. I had meals that I did not make delivered to my room. I did not have to clean up other than to throw away my trash and leave the plates in an acceptable manner for transfer back to the cafeteria. I had very little to worry about because my biggest worry at the moment was Monkey and he was in the best of care.
Monkey and I played together in the playroom. There was a kitchen set he loved. He was just able to reach the counter top. He liked throwing toys into the sink and taking them out again. We read books. We took walks through the unit, back and forth, back and forth. He loved riding in this toy car that had a front handle for pulling.
The realization that we could simply be here, with nowhere to go, nowhere to be, that I could just watch him with absolutely nothing else on my mind, was of enormous significance. Could I really recall another time recently when we did not have somewhere to go, somewhere to be, something to do or think about? No. I couldn’t.
We read books. We took walks through the unit. He slept an entire night without a single wake-up so I did, too.
What I remember most is the quiet. Just this constant, comforting quiet.
Quiet was what I had desperately needed.
And strangely enough, until Friday afternoon, we were the only patients on Pediatrics. God winkin’ at us? You tell me.
The reality is, I needed a break but didn’t really just how much until I got it, in its strange and unlikely form.
But this break taught me something, too. That I needed to slow down a little. Take things as they happened. Not worry so much about so many things, so many people. Just be a good mom and a good teacher and a good wife and a good person. The world isn’t going to implode because I make a mistake or I’m not perfect.
Be our best, do our best, and breathe deep, even breaths through all of it. That’s all we can do in this life. That’s all.