"He feels hot."
"No, he feels hot."
"I just turned up the air conditioning, and he was lying on me, so it’s my body heat."
"No, it’s not that kind of hot."
"Stephanie, please. He’s fine."
I wasn’t buying it. I whisked Lucas away, up to our bedroom where I kept the thermometer. I stuck it in his ear. 97.8. I guess I was wrong. Still you feel hot honey belle. Maybe mommy is just crazy. We go back downstairs. I don’t tell Phil I’ve just taken his temperature. He thinks I’m neurotic as it is. Well, I am, but still.
You can’t freak out every time he…"
"Yes I can! Why can’t I?!" I’m his mother. I’m allowed to freak out. I’m allowed to be "all dramatic."
Later that night, come 3AM, Lucas is crying. He feels hot. Thermometer says 98. There’s just no way. I search the house for the rectal thermometer. 102.9. I want to smash the piece of shit ear thermometer against the wall. What a complete waste. I wonder how long he’s been suffering. I’d been out all day writing. I start to cry. I should be here. I should know this. I hate having to juggle things like this. I’m an extremes girl. I don’t like doing anything halfway. And that’s how I feel about my children. I feel like I’m doing it halfway. I feel guilty and inadequate.
After Tylenol and Motrin proved mostly ineffective, Phil and I discussed the options. What could it be? "Stephanie," he screamed at me, "you need to help diagnose him with me."
"It’s not my job to diagnose him! I don’t know what’s wrong with him. It can be anything!"
"Yes it is. You’re his mother!"
"I knew he had a fever. I gave him medicine. That’s being his mother!"
"No, you need to go through it all with me. BE MY PARTNER," he screams. "AND STOP CRYING!" I know he’s frustrated, feels he’s always the one to shoulder burden. And that’s true. He is. I cry more. "Stephanie, go through it. You’re his mother. Be his mother!!! Is he tracking? Is he listless? Is he moving his legs?"
I hate when this happens, when we spin into a stress spiral and the yelling starts. When he tells me to be Lucas’s mother. I feel like I’m not doing a good enough job as it is. And he used the wrong fucking word. I’m not a doctor. I can’t diagnose him. He wanted me to assess him, to make a mental note of his symptoms. Had he said, "Please let’s walk through this together, so we’re on the same page…"
Now, I could finish the above sentence a few ways… Had he said X, we could have avoided an argument. Had he said X, I would have understood and walked through it with him. Had he said X, I might have said, "don’t tell me what to fucking do!" It might have been a misunderstanding, but I understood, quite clearly, the subtext of his words: YOU FUCKING SUCK AS A MOM. So I cried, because maybe there was truth in it. But really, I don’t believe that. I know I’m a good mother. I’m just not Phil.
If I noticed anything else out of the ordinary, I’d be on the phone with a doctor or in the car on the way to the hospital. Or I would have pointed it out because realistically, I wouldn’t just whisk him off to the hospital without discussing everything first with Phil. Phil points out that Lucas has been grunting. I didn’t pay much attention to that, assuming he was constipated. I couldn’t get past the point that he had a fever.
The next day, yesterday, we decided to take him to the ER. Phil stayed home with Abigail.
"Is that Lucas?" they say as I walk in. We take our little room. The Home Shopping Network is on, this normal backdrop to these abnormal events. I’m reminded, as I pin Lucas down, staring into his wide eyes as he screams and cries, as he looks at me panicked and tortured as they draw blood from his foot, that people in this world are sitting on their sofas, at their dinner tables, clicking through television channels, ordering earrings from HSN for their mothers.
Lucas’s fever breaks. The x-rays of his chest and belly come back clear. He’s released from the hospital. We’re due to get on a plane tomorrow for New York. I don’t think it’s a good idea. While I want to see my family and friends, and sure, to go to the US OPEN, I don’t want to risk his health, even if the risk is slight. I don’t want to be in New York and for him to get sick, in a strange environment. I just don’t know. Today we’re going to see his neurosurgeon to discuss all the second opinions. Maybe he’ll have one on flying with a child who had a fever just a day ago. But maybe it won’t matter what he says. I feel like I’ve already made up my mind to stay with him, as Phil goes to New York with Abigail–which kind of breaks my heart. Because I’ll miss her too. I don’t want to be away from them, but I also cannot take care of two babies all by myself without any help and still get writing done. In fact, I can’t take care of just one baby all by myself, without any outside help, and still get work done. I guess the writing will have to wait.