“My ears hurt.” In his decade on earth this child has never uttered those words. I am thinking about my anti-anti-biotic stance and missed spelling tests and then I am called back to the little voice. “Mama” he asks “do you think I should come home?” It is only 25 minutes until the end of school. It would be easy to ask him to stick in out. I pause as I remember past faked illnesses and my confusion over when to draw a hard line. He is willing to stay…but I want the boy behind this voice home with me where I can look after him.
The nature of nurture has always confused me. When Oliver was born early I felt none of the warm fuzzy. I felt full on fear, the lurking presence of the baby being stolen from me. In reality he was never at risk, but I didn’t know that. The difficulty that he had feeding and breathing led me away from belly kisses and leaning in for the sweet sound of a sleeping baby. My only job was to keep him alive and I felt ill suited. I called him “the baby” for almost 8 months until finally I realized he was going to make it and grow to become a person that needed a name. So the nurturing of my first born was not nuanced, it was not tender, it was fierce with fear and fury.
Through the next years I had little kids 17 months apart. Boys, if you want to factor in the gender to their noise level and the numbers of times they rolled around the floor with tangled limbs. Because of our lazy parenting philisophy and Vicki’s book their young childhood took less of a physical toll on me than it might have. They carried their own bags and zipped their own coats. They made lunches and filled water bottles and loaded dishwashers and scrubbed toilets by the age of four. But still I was tired. It felt as if their life force was continuing to come from me despite long ago leaving my womb. We had marathon snuggle sessions which turned into sweaty messes. We had wet sheets to change. Even with the help of a sleepy boy that is tiring work at midnight.
How different it is today. Both boys are strong and healthy. They are independent. They are people that I need to care for in ways other than the physical. They can dress and wash and feed themselves (sometimes even to my standards.) They can tell time and follow schedules. They can research and choose their activities and track election and hurricanes. When the FIFA soccer game that they ordered 3 weeks ago and paid for with their own money arrives in Eurpean format and won’t work for the wii they will call up a youtube video on how to hack the wii to enable regional differences. I thought the FIFA game disappointment would floor them, but they were only moderately disappointed. In fact they handled it so well that I felt myself wanting to fix it. Wanting to buy the US version of the game with MY own money. Something I had long trained them away from expecting.
I remember Vicki, our parenting guru explaining how much she enjoyed packing lunches now. How it felt like an act of love rather than a chore. To unlock that ability we needed to wait for our kids to regularly develop that skill on their own. I think back to lunches of chicken stock and apple juice. We are there now. I could theoretically pack a lunch as an act of love. Which also means I can pick up my boy from school.
I bring him home and tuck him into my bed. I make hot tea and honey and give him vitamin E chapstick for his cracked lips. I take his temperature and offer sympathy. And I love it. He is so sweet and thankful.
This morning I let him stay home from school. His cold is only a cold but his teacher is immuno suppressed and has asked us to choose caution over convenience. But today it doesn’t feel like an inconvenience. We stay in bed until 8 and make our way to the kitchen. As I try to locate my laptop I hear odd rustling from Leo and come in to find him in sickness attire. He has on his most comfy Patriots T shirt and the sweats with the hole in the knee. He has belted a garbage bag to his waste and carries a roll of toilet paper along with an effervescent vitamin C drink. He is ready for a sick day.
I think about how his competence makes way for my caring. I give him a long hug and a kiss on his germ free forehead.