We’re Still Alive

January 19, 2009

Up until last Sunday, things were going so well. In my head, I’d already started drafting a blog post about how I remember the 7-8 month age as being one of the best periods of Alex’s life, and now Patrick’s going through the stage. He’s developed enough that he’s no longer just a blob. Some simple things are now easier, like carrying Patrick around. He’ll hold his torso upright when you carry him, which makes the whole process a lot easier. And Patrick now has a pretty predictable routine, which involves a lot of sleep at night, and he’s just a happy, smiley kid when he’s awake. With Alex, this period lasted a brief month, so I was determined to enjoy it. Last Sunday, things were going so well. Molly & I even made arrangements with a babysitter to watch the two kids and go out to dinner. It was our first dinner out in over seven months.

Things changed when we got home from our dinner Sunday night. During dinner, we did have this feeling of foreboding. Patrick hadn’t been himself that day. When we got home, our fears were realized: Patrick was sick. He was running a 102-degree fever and was just unhappy.

Thus started a week of parenting with a sick kid. Two trips to the doctor, multiple days off work (especially for Molly, who took all of Friday off), stress-inducing arrangements with backup child care (Will she take as good care of Patrick as us? What if Patrick doesn’t like the backup nanny? What do you mean, the nanny can’t give Tylenol?). Patrick’s new, blissful sleep schedule was history. By Friday, everybody’s nerves were shot. (And did I mention Friday was Molly’s birthday?)

What made things worse is Patrick seemed to get better a couple of times over the course of the week. Each day we thought it might be the last one of him being sick, and we got our hopes up. He’d be off of Tylenol/Motrin for half a day, seem happy, then wham! Suddenly, he’d have a 102 fever again, and it seemed like we were back at square one.

My experience Tuesday night went beyond typical sick-child parenting. Patrick had just fallen asleep in his room, Molly was getting Alex ready for bed, and I was doing the dishes when suddenly Patrick started crying. I told Molly not to worry about it. I went in to Patrick’s room, confident that a little time with a pacifier and bouncing in a parent’s arms would calm him down so he could fall back to sleep. It had always worked before.

Not this time. For forty minutes, he screamed. He cried. He arched his back and tried to squirm out of my arms. He screamed some more. My child is really sick, I thought. He’s in pain. He has cancer. He’s dying. This isn’t normal.

After forty minutes, Molly had finished putting Alex to sleep and she came to relieve me. She took Patrick out of my arms and he calmed down right away. She looked at him, took him out of his room, and set him on the play mat in our living room. And sure enough, he was quiet and happy. He didn’t have cancer. His little body hadn’t been wracked with agony from some terminal illness. He just didn’t want to go to sleep, and he had been locked in a contest of wills with his father who kept trying to get him to calm down and shut his eyes.

Oh no, I thought. Maybe the blissful seven-month age was over before it started. I remember clearly what ended the golden era of Alex’s infancy: It was when he developed free will. Things were great when he could sit up, sleep well, hold his body up when we carried him – yet he couldn’t move on his own, and he was just happy being dragged around wherever we needed him to go. Bliss ended when he really cared that we kept him from exploring some new and dangerous corner of the room, and when he knew he really wanted that toy and we couldn’t swap it out with some other. Once Alex had free will, a new and complex era of parenting had begun.

Patrick had just spent forty minutes fighting with me because I was trying to get him to do something he didn’t want to do. Free will is here.

Time will tell if we’ve really crossed that threshold with Patrick. He certainly shows more determination each day to propel himself on our carpet and grab ahold of whatever has caught his eye. Or maybe his feistyness will recede along with his fever.

I’m happy to say that one week after Patrick’s fever first spiked, we seem to be back to normal. As I write this, both kids are sleeping, and they’ve been quiet since bedtime. With luck, we’ll be able to survive until the end of cold and flu season. At least everybody’s survived this past week.