I was eating my dinner after work when my two-year-old flopped down at my feet, all of a sudden. I didn’t pay much attention to it, he was bouncing around just mere moments ago. Perhaps he was resting.
Until he continued rolling there and whimpering, mummy, mummy. That was all he said. Mummy, mummy. I knew something was wrong.
I jumped down from my seat and cradled him. He laid in my arms, limp and listless, his lips turning purplish. To make matters worse, he was cold and clammy to the touch. I called to my helper to bring me the thermometer, its caustic beep telling me that Zac’s temperature was 35.4 degrees.
“Zac, are you okay? Any pain?” I asked as I hugged him. He didn’t move. Mummy, mummy, he whispered. That was all he could say.
Should I rush him to the hospital? Is it pneumonia from his cough and cold? Or is it the same bacterial infection that caused him to be hospitalised when he was an infant? Who could I call to help look after Aidan? What do I do?
I had no answers. I was alone, my husband on a business trip 13,000 miles and 15 hours away.
I changed both the boys and rushed all three of us to the GP near our flat. Along the way, Zac seemed to recover a little. Once at the clinic, he seemed almost back to normal, except his temperature still hovered around 35.5 degrees. The doctor examined him and said his stomach was churning badly, which had led to his body temperature dipping suddenly.
In short, it was nothing serious. Stomach bug.
As I walked slowly back home with the littles, I suddenly felt heavy. It’s been one plus week of solo parenting and I have dealt with gastroenteritis and lingering coughs and a viral infection. Plus, the boys have been taking turns to wake up and call for mummy every single night. I was tired. I wanted to cry, at the sheer weight of it all, but I realised that I was way past tears. I couldn’t cry. I was probably too exhausted to cry.
Once home, I tried to finish up my already-cold dinner. The boys were playing when Aidan discovered a pack of snacks – goodie bag from a birthday celebration in school – in Zac’s bag. With them being ill, I took the snacks away from him and told him they were not allowed to have any of these until they were well again.
The four-year-old went into complete meltdown mode. The screaming and crying went on and on, and as I hugged him to me, my mind started detaching from the scene in front of me.
If patience was a cliff, I thought, then I was just one tiptoe away from throwing myself off the edge.
But I couldn’t. Not with two small children hanging trustingly on to me and the security and love I offer. I had to rein myself in.
And so I held the screaming child in my arms and talked to him. Explained again and again why he couldn’t have the snacks. Told him I understood why he was sad and disappointed. But the screaming didn’t stop. And finally, I told him I would leave him to let it all out while I went for a shower, and he could talk to me when he was ready.
I carried him to his room and went out to settle the other little. By the time I went back to the room, Aidan was calm and reading his books.
Could we go and have a shower? I asked. He nodded. I picked him up, hugged him close and went to the bathroom. As we bathed, I explained to him again why I wasn’t letting him have the snacks. His eyes welled with tears, and he was on the verge of starting his meltdown again, and I found myself wanting to let go and dive down that cliff again.
Once again, I stopped. I simply couldn’t.
So I talked. I talked and I talked and he listened. I told him that mummy was tired because papa was away. I told him that I knew he really wanted to eat the biscuits and the sweets but he couldn’t because he was ill. I told him that it was the only way to get well. I told him that it made mummy sad to hear him cough. I told him that I understood his frustration but I had to get him well again.
And he calmed down again.
I put the boys to bed, hugging them close as I did. I breathed in their scents, and kissed their cheeks again and again.
Maybe I am writing this to talk about the importance of empathy, blah blah blah. Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel. Or what I should feel. Thankful? Certainly.
Maybe what I really want to tell you, and myself, is that there will be times so, so, so bad that you feel you cannot breathe. That you will feel so stretched in all directions that you cannot think. That the exhaustion will weigh down on your shoulders heavily. That thinking about all the work that is still undone will cause your heart to palpitate. That the need your children have for you can be so overwhelming at times.
It’s so hard.
But you have the strength and the will. You have the mental power to push past this hurdle. You will conquer and the bad times will pass.
You just have to believe.
I just have to believe.