If ever there were a universal mantra for parenting, it would be that. I can fail at many things. I have, in fact, failed at many things. I believe that failure can be a gift. You fall flat on your face and you learn, huh, maybe not that one. OR, you fail to get what you think you want only to get what you need. But to be a failure as a mother is not on the table for me, even as a learning experience. I will not fail this child. I am nothing if not a very intentional mother. I listen, I allow, I experience, I breathe, I am flexible, I do not panic. Mostly. I am trying to hold my little boy’s extreme emotions in check, leaning down to him when he’s flat on the floor, as he was tonight, screaming that he wanted a cupcake now (before dinner) when I kept gently repeating, “Yes, yes, I KNOW you want that cupcake NOW. It must be so hard. I see you’re angry. I know, my love. But if you eat your dinner, you can have that cupcake.” With tears and snot streaming, he looked at me and said, “oh wow,” which is his way of saying “yes” when he’s overwhelmed. Sometimes we ask him to take a few breaths. We talk to him through his extremes. Something my parents never did, but then again, whose parents did that in the 70s? 80s?
Last week, we had a rough day. And a day in which I thought I’d done it. I’d failed. Huck woke up at 3am, came to my bed moaning. “Mommy, I hurt.” He was clutching his belly and crying. “Owie,” he cried. I got out of bed and held him and immediately he puked all over me and wailed. I cleaned us both up, changed him and rocked him back to sleep. This happened 4 more times by 7am and I finally called the doctor who told me to bring him in at 8am. By the time we got to the doctor, he’d puked 8 times and had nothing left to puke up. In my mind, he had Covid19 and we were headed to the emergency room. I am a professional catastrophizer. He had a flu. A regular stomach virus. She gave us meds and sent us home. I put Huck to sleep for an early nap, and laid on the couch to do the same, exhausted.
Two hours later, Huck was jabbering to his Tigger and I went to the bedroom to get him up. He looked up from his bed, smiling a wide orange-tinted grin. The bedsheets were orange. His fingertips were orange. I looked around to find out what he’d eaten. There was nothing there. I said, “Baby, what did you eat?” He said “Candy, Mommy” and smiled. I looked under the bed, in the bags in the closet. Nothing. I’d remembered I had a baggie of gummy bears somewhere. I looked in his mouth for evidence. Nothing. He seemed ok. I just cleaned him up and decided that he must have gotten the candies. I gave him some water to drink and changed the bedsheets.
An hour later, I was taking a call into the bedroom for privacy, leaving him watching “Finding Dory” for the 100th time, when I looked down to the floor and saw a single 200 mg Advil on the ground. I said to my friend, “Oh my God, I think my son just ate Advil. I have to go,” and I got on my hands and knees and found a stash of white pills where the orange had been scraped off, and a snack sized plastic baggie tucked under his pillowcase. For the life of me, I didn’t know where he’d gotten it. Had I had a small stash of Ibuprofen stuffed into a purse that I’d forgotten. I carry it around when I have my period for cramps. It had been 3 weeks since my last cycle, so I must have left it in a bag and forgotten. I ran outside, grabbed Huck, asked him, “Buddy, did you eat Mommy’s medicine?”
“Oh wow” (i.e., yes)
“How many, Buddy?” He held up his hands and spread out his fingers. Which meant nothing as his counting now goes “One, two, three, six, nine, ten!” He didn’t understand me. I didn’t know. I called the Doctor back. I was in a full on panic. She told me to hang up and go straight to the emergency room. I was on the verge of crying, of freaking out, I was alone with Huck, I left him alone in his room to nap, he’d gotten into medicine I didn’t know was there (I’m really careful about having all meds way out of his reach or in childproof locked containers behind cabinet doors that are locked). It was my fault.
I started to drive like a maniac toward the ER. It was 15 minutes away. I didn’t want Huck to be scared, so I counted my breaths, calmed myself down, thought “the mission is to get there safely, the mission is to get there safely” (sometimes it helps me to get through emotional distress by practicing a technique called Wise Mind that teaches me to focus only on one thing at a time. Driving. Not future tripping. Literally, driving.). I noticed in the rear view mirror, Huck was nodding off. I reached back and shook his knee, “Hey Buddy, let’s stay awake ok?”
I put on Baby Shark. Very loud. Started singing. He perked up. Then started nodding again. I started talking to him about Lions, Fish, Sharks, Mimi, Cappy, Nan, our dog. He stayed awake. I somehow made it to the ER and parked safely, got him out of his car seat without the usual “I do it Mommy.” I picked him up and said, “Huck, I’m going to carry you because we need to go fast, ok?” (he always wants to walk himself these days).
It was snowing. It was dark. I bundled my baby up and walk-ran to the ER, threw my mask on at the last minute, and got inside and in a calm voice, told the person at the desk taking temperatures and asking all the Covid questions what had happened, that I didn’t even know IF he’d eaten any or just scraped off the top part, or even how many, but it couldn’t have been more than 8 or 10. They sat us in the waiting room with 8 other people, all of whom were coughing, looked pale and sick and I thought for sure Huck and I were going to get the Corona Virus. I’d failed.
They brought us back in within moments and in a very short time a kind, young doctor assured me that Advil was not as bad as Tylenol, that this happens, that I shouldn’t blame myself, that he was going to be just fine, but that he should stay there for observation for a few hours. I just held my groggy son’s hand and silently thanked God/dess and started crying. Huck leaned into me and I kissed his blonde head and said, “I love you more than the moon and all the stars in the sky” and he put his hand against my cheek and looked at me with such love I almost burst into those stars in the galaxy, full of all the emotions all at once. Fear and joy and a spiraling sense that nothing else mattered but this moment, this hand on this cheek, this little boy’s smile.
We fail. We screw up. We forget to put things away. We say things we don’t mean. We try our hardest and still our kids get into the closets and put everything in their mouths. They run with scissors and they eat dirt and play-doh and scrape their knees and cry and we can’t stop them from falling. As hard as I try to be the best Mom I can be to my son, I will come up short. All parents do. It’s a given like death and taxes. But if I just drive, just concentrate on the road, just sit with my son while he watches Dory and not check my emails…if I just do One Thing and pay attention, I may have a shot.
p.s. Huck was fine. That cured him of the stomach flu. And I turned every single purse and bag in my room upside down and battened down the hatches.