My Girlie has got herself a cold. She’s her own cheery self, yet with severe congestion and a runny nose (why does this irritating combination happen to humans so frequently?). Her sleep is uneven, as she coughs and sputters through the night and her naps. So she asks for ‘menicine’ regularly, and drinks lots of fluids, and dutifully blows and ‘yipes’ her nose. It’s a normal thing, and it’ll pass soon enough, but it’s evoking some reactivity in me.
Yesterday, I was giving her a bottle before her nap, her 3-foot self stretched across my lap as we enact this convention that is clearly more about her father’s nostalgia than her nutrition. She was sucking and gulping down a few swallows, then stopping to breathe, then engaging the bottle again, and so on, coughing and sputtering as these two activities would overlap. Right in the middle of ‘Goodnight Moon’, I involuntarily rushed back through time to remember her brother and his bottles. The way he would struggle, and sputter. The way his heart would race as he worked his way through the bottle until he was utterly spent. It was shocking to remember just how hard he worked, every minute of every day, and what a supreme effort it was for him to take even a single ounce from a bottle. It was shocking to remember how much work it was for his parents to feed him: to find the rythm for the day, and to tune out everything else, save the numbers on the monitor and the quick movement of his breath, and then to carefully burp him and quickly change him, and to finish his feeding by NG tube before smoothly tucking him in for a nap, and finally to disconnect from this zone of intensity and return to the regular life of living in a house with two infants.
Of course, this burden for his parents was dwarfed in comparison to his own epic struggle to breathe and grow and push on. Sitting on the floor with my gasping little girl, I looked back on Will with a combination of pride and regret. Pride in his strength and determination, and regret that our lives were so focused and weighty that we weren’t able to revel in his intense will. If we noticed his strength, it was with a plain awareness that he needed to be strong, and therefore so did we. Our whole lives were filled with a sense of duty: we pushed him to eat, and to rest, and to keep going, and we pushed ourselves to prepare for a long series of surgeries and the attendant therapies and interventions. But looking back, I’m sorry that I was so much the soldier, and less of a lover.