One morning nearly a decade ago, looking for the silver lining in the cloud of flu which has slowly schlepped through my house, I rolled over, burrowing deeper into my covers and pillow.
I can sleep in again, I thought, because even though I’m recovered from the plague that befell us, my youngest is now burning up with fever, and I’ll be home with him for the week.
He is still asleep and it’s a bit past way too early, but I awaken to the sounds of desk noise and computer whirring, keyboard clicking and documents printing and find my baby girl (the second of my four) on the computer in my room, printing a big research paper rough draft thing with a long bibliography and annotations she worked on late into the night.
The printing isn’t even that loud, but as I come more into consciousness I realize what the real noise source is. My oldest child is bellowing from the hallway, using her ugliest, scariest, meanest, teenage big sister voice,
“Let’s go, I mean it!! I’m leaving without you, now!!”
With a sigh, I get out of my cozy bed, stagger over to the computer, and yell to my oldest child to cool it, earning me the most brilliantly executed rolling of the eyes combined with a subtle, yet effective, quarter turn of the head and a powerful nasal exhalation that could extinguish a candle from several feet away.
She is that good.
I squint at my baby girl and the computer with one pirate eye, and ask my young teen if she’s nearly finished. She says “Yes, but Mommy, I don’t feel good.” My heart skips a beat upon hearing these words. Illness and this particular child do not mix because this child, at the young age of fifteen, is a competitive, driven, workaholic perfectionist who has no intentions of taking a day off from school and her load of Advanced Placement classes, illness be damned. I feel her head and neck, tell her she feels warm and ask if she’s taken her temperature.
Daughter: “No, and it doesn’t matter anyway because I’m not staying home.”
Me: “Well, if you have fever you are.”
Daughter: “Mommy, no, I’m not! I have to turn in this paper!”
Me: “If you’re sick, the teacher can’t deduct points. I’ll email her to let her know why you’re not there.”
I’m using the nicest Mommy voice I have because she is getting increasingly agitated, slamming things around on the desk, picking up and shuffling papers, and even finding the time to look up at her big sister and yell “Shut UP! God, you’re so mean! Mommy, tell her to shut up and quit being so mean and annoying!” I tell my oldest child, “Just get out of the way and go start the car”, which earns me an encore of previous eye roll, head turn, nose breathing…
It is at this point that things start to go downhill.
I follow both girls through the kitchen on the way to the garage and get the thermometer, which is fortunately right there as I’ve been using it on youngest child with great frequency. I advance towards my second daughter, brandishing the thermometer like a sword, but she slaps the thing out of my hand, yelling, “You’re not sticking somebody else’s ear wax germs into my ear!” I tell her, “It’s not dirty, I changed the cover.” She cannot be fooled, “You’re lying, I know we’re out of covers!” I admit, “Okay, I was lying, but it doesn’t matter, ear wax is not a germ source, now come here!” I retrieve the thermometer off the floor where it landed, and come at her.
I am forced to take her temperature the way I would a terrified, hysterical toddler…shoving it in, not nearly as gently as I’d like, and holding the other side of her head with great force so she can’t pull away. She is screaming at me, “Mommy, stop it! No, Mommy, that hurts—Mommy, stop it!
I fight the better fight, and I am victorious. She has fever.
I show her the thermometer and tell her—as sweetly as possible, because you know, when you’re the winner, you have to use good sportsmanship and not rub the loser’s face in your victory, as much as you’d like to—“Baby, you have to stay home. You’re sick. Your teacher will understand.”
Only, I am left talking to the air, my words hanging in the kitchen looking for their intended audience, and instead finding a couple of cats, who look at me, bewildered, heads cocked to the side, since they always get to stay home and they’re not sure what I’m blathering about, because my baby girl is like lightning.
She is running for her sister’s truck faster than a person with a temperature of 102 has any right to, running for her life, for her first period A.P. English class and for no deductions for lateness.
She is outta there.
I, having recovered from my febrile illness, am no longer sick, and, although I am nearly 30 years older, and to be fair had barely rolled out of bed, I am pretty quick myself, and this battle is on.
I am lightning, too, and I can take her. I run like my life and the gold medal depend on it. I run for the flu epidemic. I run so that I am not one of those moms who lets her kid go to school sick. I run for health prevention and the protection of my baby.
I run on principle. I am a mother on a mission.
I run through the garage and around the van, hurdling over recycling bins, trash bags, extension cords, shoes, and boxes, and catch up to her in the driveway where she is approaching her big sister’s truck. Big sister is behind the wheel, looking, for the first time this morning, less cocky, and truthfully, a little scared. She’s not sure whether to stay or go.
I grab little sister’s arm, but she grabs my hand and throws it off her with a confidence and speed that would make a martial arts master proud. I throw my arms around her, but she has good moves and is free from my grasp. As quickly as I had her contained, she’s loose again. I’m thinking, “Oh, hell no!” and, I am not proud of this, I jump on her back, one arm around her neck, the other arm waving her big sister out of the driveway. I’m screaming, “Drive, drive, go!” Big sister, caught up in the moment, and probably frightened by witnessing what may very well be the downfall of her family, finally unfreezes, hits the gas and burns rubber out of the driveway. She’s gone.
I am breathless and winded, in part due to my post-flu physical exertion, and in part due to disbelief of what I have been lowered to. I turn to my baby girl, planning to say something comforting, like, “Now let’s get you some medicine and juice and get you into bed.” But, I’m not quick enough…she is running up the stairs, yelling something unintelligible that sounds like, “Now look what you’ve done!”, but I’m not really sure. She stomps with a force that challenges the structural integrity of the downstairs ceiling and, sending her point home, slams her door.
I leave her alone for a few minutes and email her teacher, before going to check on her. I am, admittedly, a little scared of the wrath she has in store for me.
I go to her room, pop the lock because of course she locked her door, and let myself in. My sweet baby is in bed, fully dressed in her school clothes and jacket, under the covers, and she is sound asleep, her loving and loyal cat already wrapped around her head purring. I stand there a moment, watching her, wondering what in the hell just happened, and whisper “I love you, anyway.”
For the record, when she woke up, six hours later, still burning up with fever, she smiled and hugged me, and said “Oh, Mommy… I don’t feel good!” And I said “Oh, baby…I know.”
We still do not speak of the long ago “driveway incident.” She knows I was looking out for her, and I like to think she’s glad I fought so hard to take care of her.
I’m not asking, though. Some things are better left unsaid.
Author: Amy Bradley
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Paul De Los Reyes at Flickr