In this “Love, Recorded,” Matt’s baby is sick and time is playing tricks on him.
We are just beginning to find out how when your baby gets sick, you get sick. Before, this was always a metaphor. Now it is a cycle of fever and sore throats and utter exhaustion. One that will go on for years and years. Somehow, babies do not become adults overnight.
Though this is a matter of debate.
Time is a funny thing. One day, your baby is suddenly mobile. One day, your baby is suddenly a teenager. One day, your baby is suddenly a baby again, cuddling into your arms and pulling at your breast.
I have to tell her, no milk there, Grace.
I have to tell her, slow down.
I have to tell her, time travel is in the eye of the beholder.
We call the doctor on the weekend, at the first sign of “hand, foot, and mouth,” which my wife knows about from our relatives and from the internet. Our nephew had it and wouldn’t eat. In Korea, they will hook babies up to an IV, so stubborn are they that they otherwise get no nutrition. Our daughter has one little cold sore just below her lip, which otherwise could be a beauty mark.
The doctor says there is nothing they can do. She says it is going around, as if there is no way to stop a Ferris wheel until the rotation ends.
The mark goes away after a day, and then comes back with a vengeance, everywhere on her tongue.
When your baby is sick, at first you become sick with love and regret. What if there was something you did? Somewhere you shouldn’t have taken her? You are too permissive, not careful enough. On the bus the other day, the driver told my wife to hold on tighter to the stroller because didn’t she know her baby is precious? After that, you become sick with exhaustion. Your baby cries and wants to be held always, needs to be comforted, won’t sleep, doesn’t understand why the world or you is hurting her. It isn’t clear to her, you can see. The stress of watching her refuse food makes you wonder if she is getting thinner. My wife is obsessed with fat being the mark of baby health. In the end, you become simply sick. You have your own sore throat, your own fever, and yet you still have a sick baby to attend to.
We call the doctor back after our baby, who loves to eat, has only one bottle all day and almost no solid food. The doctor’s solution: Advil instead of Tylenol. Never stop the dosage, every eight hours like clockwork.
Because we are desperate, we try this; we numb her pain until she doesn’t know that she is hurt.
I am convinced that during sleeplessness, time hangs like a fog. The hours are there, around you, but you can’t reach them. You can hardly make out their shapes.
I started drinking coffee again. 7 years without more than a dozen cups and now it is twice a day. Coffee, I have found, is perhaps as much of a lifesaver as everyone says. I am already making excuses that it will save me and not kill me faster.
Our daughter is closing in on a year and people keep saying, it goes so quick, like they know us, like they know what we are thinking, how we feel. It has been fast but it has been as slow as evolution always is. It is the slowest thing I have ever done, making that change, that mutation to survive. Now I have sleep gills, I have opposable love.
Sometimes people know nothing of the moment. What they tell us is in retrospect, always out of date. It is something that has happened to them, and that is a nice thing to know, another person’s past, but do they want to try babysitting for us?
Parenting is strange in the way that we wait for these landmarks knowing that we will rue them. We want Grace to walk, but we know that once she does, life will be harder and full of injury. We will have to be more vigilant than ever. She is taking her first steps now, a matter of confidence. When she catches us looking, she sits as if she was not just wobbling like a duck, the cutest walk. You didn’t see anything, she seems to say. Or, you didn’t see anything that was not perfect.
A coworker was telling me the other day that her son didn’t speak until age 4. The doctor said it was a Mastery problem. He didn’t want to do it until he could do it right.
The stories we listen to are maybe only the ones we need to tell ourselves. There are many. We are always reconfiguring. They are growing up, the babies. We are telling ourselves we know where they are now, a different place from where they were a moment ago, where they will be a moment later. When she can walk like a grown up.
After Grace finally recovers, her body breaks out in a rash. Two long streaks of dots down her back, on either side of her spine. Like little wings are trying to push up, feather by feather. We take a picture but have nowhere to send it. Panicking, my wife asks me to email the doctor husband of a friend, a friend himself, but one whom we haven’t seen or talked with since he left Boston.
Call, she says. Eventually we get through, and he has a smart phone. He is at a doctor party. There are doctors everywhere who say Grace is fine. The rash is just her body reacting to the end of the illness. It has taken so much out of her. The way they say it, I can’t tell whether it is her body celebrating the win or breathing a sigh of relief that it didn’t lose.
My baby is okay. A year just passed in a moment. Time is the imprint of a sickness we all have and are trying to survive.