Yesterday Aidan woke us up very loudly singing “The Monkey Cup Song,” a brilliant ode to his beloved plastic Paul Frank monkey cup composed by Harlan and me when Aidan was tiny. Recently, on a night when my song repertoire mysteriously ran dry, I pulled it out of my hat—and Aidan loved it. He asked me to sing it over and over and has since been singing it to himself. Yesterday, I don’t know how long he was singing, since the song was integrated into my dream. I was in a sort of guest-house in a foreign city, waiting for some men to vacate my room before I could get in and, in the meantime, making plans to see some friends—strangely, my New York friends I didn’t get a chance to see on my last visit—while I was there. There was a brief run-in with the owner of the house, a moment where I was nodding off at a picnic table and, when Aidan’s singing pierced my consciousness, I realized he was there with me. Finally, I emerged from the dream and, noticing that Harlan was still asleep beside me and it was almost 6:30, I decided to get my singing boy up.
I brought him into our bed, but he kept saying, “I want to kiss daddy” and “I want to hug daddy” and jumping on his sleeping dad, and asking for his cars and closing his eyes for two seconds, then throwing his arms passionately around my neck, so I told him to play in his room for a while and went back to bed. When he got ridiculously noisy and Harlan began to groan, I decided to give poor tired daddy a break and get up myself.
When I went into Aidan’s room and told him it was time to change his diaper, he stumbled toward the changing table, almost falling down on the way. He stood on the table as I changed him and again lurched forward and if I hadn’t caught him, he would have fallen off. He gripped the railing tightly coming down the stairs and then walked through the living room as if he were drunk, stumbling and reaching out for furniture for support. “I’m falling down,” he said, looking up at me. I became very nervous.
When Harlan made it downstairs, I showed him how Aidan was moving—as if he had completely lost his balance—and he became very nervous. He was afraid to leave him alone, so he read to him while I called our pediatrician’s office and had the doctor on call paged. Then I did puzzles with him while Harlan made oatmeal.
The doctor told me it sounded strange and recommended having him evaluated as soon as possible. So, Harlan dug the car out from under the ice and snow—a freezing and exhausting process that took over half an hour—while Aidan and I got bundled up, swallowed some oatmeal, read Mother Goose rhymes, packed up snacks, toys, and diapers, and set out for Children’s Hospital.
The whole time, what scant abdominal muscles I have left were tightened into hard knots. I of course imagined the worst. The last time I went to the hospital because something didn’t feel right, the worst possible scenario became reality, horrendously changing my life in an instant. I expected the same yesterday. I could not think of a reassuring explanation and instead imagined finding out that very morning that my son had a fatal brain tumor or a mystery infection that would ravage his tiny body for days before killing him. I saw myself howling like an animal, having to be restrained, knowing that I could not and would not live without him.
I spend a lot of time imagining horrible things happening to my son. I did all the time when he was first born, then it tapered off. It got bad again when we lost Nina, and then recently it started up again, I don’t really know why. Maybe because of the holidays, maybe because we’re creeping toward the anniversary of her death (even though it feels like yesterday). In any case, I can’t control my visions. I think I used to, at least subconsciously, believe if I could imagine it, it wouldn’t really happen. I was outsmarting death. But since we lost Nina, it’s more complicated than that. I don’t have any faith left. I take nothing for granted. Bad things happen to good people—and no one’s keeping score. There’s no reason to believe that multiple bad things couldn’t happen to the same good people. They probably will.
I spent a good part of yesterday terrified that my son was going to die.
At the hospital I held him in my lap and kissed him and repeatedly whispered into his soft scalp how much I loved him and prayed to a god I only believe in when I need to pray. We met two very nice doctors. The resident examined his heart, eyes, ears, throat and legs and told us he had an ear infection in his left ear and lured him down the hallway with stickers so he could see him walk. Then the attending physician also watched him run up and down the hallway and remarked how adorable he was. Aidan was a champ. He politely answered “yes” to questions like, “You’ve been coughing?” and “no” to others like, “Do your feet hurt?” and let the doctors poke and prod him without squirming. Harlan thinks he could tell how worried we were and wanted to cooperate.
The one positive angle I’d come up with before we went to the hospital was maybe he has an ear infection, can’t that affect balance? But the doctors thought the symptoms had more to do with the dose of cough medicine Harlan had given him in the middle of the night, which can sometimes cause people to go wobbly. If we use it at all (I’m totally medicine-phobic), we only give him half a dose at bedtime, so the coughing won’t keep him up, and its effects are gone by morning. So, it seemed a reasonable explanation.
I asked about tumors. The attending doctor said symptoms usually include headaches and nausea. I asked, “What about in the very early phases?” She said there usually is a headache at least. I asked if he should have a CT scan. The resident told me everything looked really good, so for a little guy like him, the costs of subjecting him to radiation outweigh the benefits.
After we’d been there for over an hour, Aidan was still having the occasional wobble and clinging to my hand and he looked exhausted, but he was walking almost normally, so the cough medicine hypothesis made sense. Seems the morning serenade was the drunken bellowing of a kid high on cold meds. They gave us a prescription for antibiotics to clear up the ear infection—Aidan loved it, it came in a syringe and tasted like bubble gum—and told us to follow up with his doctor this week. And Harlan and I made our way home, feeling as if we’d been beaten.
Aidan took a long nap and woke up distraught. He wanted food, he didn’t want food, he wanted water, he didn’t want water, he wanted to lie in my arms, he didn’t want me to touch him, he wanted to stay in bed, he wanted to go downstairs. He was inconsolable, and then all he wanted to do was lie in my arms like an infant. His cough was worse than ever. He developed a fever. I think the experience was traumatic for him and Harlan’s right: he could feel our anxiety.
I have no faith left. I take nothing for granted anymore. I love my son more than I love life and that makes me incredibly vulnerable. I have lost big chunks of myself over the last couple years and I have been struggling to get them back. Sometimes I think all I have to offer the world is my charming husband and my beautiful son. How on earth would I live without them?