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.