Being Guided By Our Babies Onto the Hidden Paths of Confidence

Our children have powerful ways to nurture our strength.

Recently Matthew Salesses posted a beautiful article titled the Nature of Time and Babies. Matthew talked about the powerful impact our babies’ struggles with illness can have on us as parents.

It got me thinking back to the days when my son, who is now seven, was just a year old. I was a work-at-home dad and we did attachment parenting, sharing a family bed. I was closely attuned to his smallest waking and sleeping sounds every wonderful day of his young life. I got to the point where, even when I was asleep, I could hear the slighted catch in the flow of air in and out of him. The littlest hint of a coming sniffle. His mother and I matched his sweet baby’s breath coming and going; when his breath caught, ours did too. I can still hear his breathing change, from a room away, in a dead sleep, in the middle of the night.

Rest assured, the fears we carry for our little ones do pass. But those fears can be immobilizing terrors for first time parents. I remember one long winter’s night, when the croup cough started up for our baby at sometime after midnight. The croup comes in the middle of the night without warning. It’s a strangling cough that sounds like a goose honking. That terrible sound means the baby’s throat is closing up.

I had read about croup on askdrsears.com. I had read about a lot of frightening illnesses on Dr. Sears’ site. I remember two things the site said about croup. One was to turn on the steam in the bathroom and let your baby inhale it. The other was to ask your baby to stay calm because if they start crying they will choke more.

There was more the site said about the croup. About at what point you should call an ambulance or race through the night to the nearest emergency room for what I recall as being an injection of steroids or some such thing…

When I heard that terrible coughing sound, I scooped up my son and carried him to the bathroom. He was so small in my arms, struggling, coughing and gasping. I turned on the hot water in the shower and closed the bathroom door, forcing myself to take measured careful steps; to banish my rising panic and give my son what he needed, calm.

Then, as the steam billowed up around us, I looked down into his wide eyes and I asked him to be calm. I told him he NEEDED to stay calm so that he would feel better. To this day, I remember him looking up into my eyes. The two of us there, hanging in the space between now and another racking cough. Time slows down. Matthew is absolutely right about that.

As you wait for the next second to arrive, you are tasked with being positive; with being calm. I watched his skin take on a moist sheen from the steam billowing around us. The walls began to drip. The mirror clouded over. The sound of falling water was peaceful. At that point, his mother stood next to me, or held him as I looked on, I don’t recall which. Time had just stopped.

A small cough came. Then another. But the sound was different. Normal. The terrible croup coughing ended. I don’t recall what came next that night. Maybe we sat on the floor of the bathroom with him for hours, or his mother did while I slept. I just remember how it felt when the fear drained out of me.

And I remember his eyes looking into mine to this day. What I saw there was such calm understanding of what I was asking of him. I saw such confidence that our care for him would do the trick. Your children have surprising ways of giving you confidence, because what you do as a parent is so powerful to them.

My son continues to share his confidence in us to this day. He sometimes tells me, “it will be okay, Dada” or “you’re a good dad” or even more wonderfully heart wrenching, “I forgive you, Dada.”

Which in turn, makes all my fears just passing whisps, soon to be gone. Because although it’s tempting to give in to all the fears and panics of parenting, my son needs me to be calm, so that I will feel better. And for my son, I can do that.

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About Mark Greene

GMP Senior Editor Mark Greene writes and speaks on Men's Issues at the intersection of society, politics, relationships and parenting for the Good Men Project, the New York Times, The Shriver Report, Salon, HLN, The Huffington Post, and Mamamia. You can follow him on Twitter @megaSAHD and Google.
Click here to read more GMP articles by Mark Greene. Get Mark's fully illustrated children's book FLATMUNDER for iPad from iTunes about kid's fears and the power of play. For kids ages 4-8.

Comments

  1. Matthew Salesses says:

    Thank you for writing this, Mark.

  2. This was beautiful Mark. God I remember my older one having croup, the steamy bedroom, that bizarre resonant cough like a horny seal…

    Thank heavens we’re past that stage now. And the chicken pox – that was fun.

    Just need to get shot of the earache, the tonsilitis, the glandular fever, the flu, the broken limbs and the adolescent broken hearts and then maybe I can get back to my life again. Schedule that in for sometime around 2030. Great being a dad.

  3. What a beautiful meditation on this part of parenting, Mark.
    When the croup came, it was only my husband who could remain calm. He and his brothers had the croup — he wasn’t afraid, although I was terrified. She had it every year from 4-6, at almost the same exact time (dead of January) and once, he was away. I knew better, I did the steam thing and the cold porch thing, when that didn’t work. But I couldn’t stay calm and neither could she. So, off to the ER we went. (And don’t you know, it stopped in the car.)

  4. What a moving story, Mark!
    You touched me deeply with the bathroom scene where you looked your son in the eyes and calmed him down. I have a daughter who is now a beautiful pre-teen, but there was a moment, when she was a baby, her life was in jeopardy as she refused the breast milk. The midwife came and it turned out that our own anxiety was a big factor. By calming ourselves down and connecting to our baby-girl, we could get her to suckle again.
    Those who blame men for the mysery of the world, should read your piece and know that there is another side to us. You are really connected deeply with your son and the bathroom scene illustrates it. By showing this sensitive side to him, you have given him a sense of self-respect and entitlement. That is also what men can do!!
    Thanks for sharing,
    Michael

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