I read children’s classic, Madeline, at Cael’s insistence more than a dozen times last week. Until Cael was overcome with fear.
“Mommy, I do not wike it anymore.” Cael said. “Pwease do not weed Mad-ah-wine again.”
“But you love it.” I protested. Besides, I identify with Mad-ah-wine’s firm sense of self, and I think Miss Clavel rocks.
“I can’t take it.” Cael reported. “There is a disast-oh.”
And it’s true. Cael can hardly take the suspense. He holds his breath every time Miss Clavel runs fast and faster. The fact that he knows how the story ends, with Mad-ah-wine’s safe recovery from appendix surgery, makes no nevermind in his head.
Cael feels the terror of Miss Clavel’s run, over and over.
Of course, he was also afraid last night of fish brain parasites (if anyone knows what fish brain parasites are, puh-lease tell me!), so I’m not always sure how to help him. It’s a scary thing, being 4 years old.
Well, more accurately, if you’re Cael, it’s a scary thing being 4 years old.
If you’re his twin brother, Cai, then being 4 years old should come with a No Fear t-shirt, a stunt plane, and a free, lifetime supply of bone splints.
The part of Mad-ah-wine’s story with which Cai most strongly identifies is:And she said, “Please children do — tell me what is troubling you?” And all the little girls cried, “Boohoo! We want to have our appendix out, too!”
Because Cai really, really misses being at the hospital. The fruitcake.
But I get Cael’s fears. I really do. I can’t tell you how many times, in the day or night, I’ve been afraid of a disaster, and I’ve run fast and faster. To my kids’ rooms to check their breathing. To the backyard when I hear painful cries. To the toilet bowl when a child is stuck inside it.
Only, this weekend, when we had a minor disaster, I was too far away to run to my son fast, much less faster.
Abby had a dance competition about an hour away from home in the big city.
So I was an hour away when I got the call from Greg.
Greg said, “Hey. Everything’s OK, everyone’s fine…”
Which is our family code. I knew the instant the word “OK” left Greg’s mouth that someone was at the hospital.
That’s the rule. If the situation isn’t life threatening, you have GOT to start the conversation by saying so. Because nothing’s worse than a convo that starts with, “I’m at the hospital. There was an accident…” and continues as a rambling mess… before the person calling finally says, “But it’s OK, everyone’s fine.” I go from stricken and breathless to an **exploding exhale!** to a tiny little increase in vocal volume followed by the words, “WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY SO IN THE FIRST PLACE?”
So now we do.
“Hey. Everything’s OK, everyone’s fine…”
And Greg continued, “But Cai needs stitches.”
And, even though I knew Cai would be OK, my stomach fell. My baby was hurt, and I was away.
I asked Greg if he was sure about the stitches. Greg replied admiringly, “Oh-ho YEAH. Does he NEED stitches!”
(Um. Note to husbands: I realize — I do — that there’s no winning way to call your wife and tell her that your son needs stitches. But might I oh-so-gently suggest that, if your wife asks if you’re sure, you reply with something calm and mild, like, maybe, “Well, I think he does. And I figure, better safe than sorry, so I’m taking him in.” Reassuring and less dire. Less dire is good. Just saying. To no husband in particular.)
When the call ended, I sat for a while.
Pieces of my heart were all over. One piece was dancing on a stage with glittery eyelashes and a sequined dress. Three pieces were at home with my cousin. (Thanks, Nathan!) And one little 34-pound piece was in the emergency room getting a zipper added to his forehead.
I considered jumping dance competition ship and racing to the hospital, but I also knew it was important for Cai to let his daddy be the hero. This Mommy too often wrests the care-giving reins from Daddy’s hands.
And I shouldn’t. I really shouldn’t.
But I questioned. I agonized. I wondered if I was doing the right thing. I texted Greg:
- Tell Cai I love him.
- Take pictures.
- Send me updates to remind me it’s OK I’m not there.
- How’s it going?
- Is Cai OK?
- Now that we’ve paid our deductible, how much is this going to cost? (Yeah, not every text was full of the same level of worry. Sue me.)
- How’s my baby?
- Tell him I love him.
So when I got home and saw my baby, I told him I was sorry I wasn’t there.
And Cai said, “Why?”
I hugged him, and answered, “Because I love you, and I’m sorry you were hurt.”
“You were afwaid I was hurt?” said Cai.
“I was sad you were already hurt, Cai Cai.” I clarified.
“I was NOT hurt,” Cai protested. “I was very, very bwave! I did GWEAT!”
See how indispensable I am? Poor baby, without his mama.
“I’m still sorry I wasn’t there, Cai. No more trips to the hospital for a while, OK?”
Cai looked at me like I’d lost my mind, and he furrowed his brow at me. Then he sighed in resignation, rolled his eyes, and said, “OK, Mom. I guess.”
So that was anxiety well spent.
But here’s the thing about being a mom.
On some level, it doesn’t matter which of my kids are full of fear and which overflow with bravado. And it doesn’t matter that I’m not there for everything. And it doesn’t matter that it hurts to acknowledge that.
Because, no matter the kid, no matter my location, no matter whether I get it right or screw it up six ways to Sunday… in the end, I am Miss Clavel.
And when I sense a disaster, I will always ache to run.
Fast and faster.