Original Artwork © Julie Cox, 2008
I woke one recent morning (as in, pre-dawn morning) to my toddler's cries. I went zombie-like to him, annoyed at being woken at this indecent hour. As I took him in my arms, I felt that adrenaline-rush sting of too-hot skin, and was brought to full alert status, like I'd had an espresso IV. Fever. I got the thermometer and the baby Tylenol. He had a temperature of 100.1. His little body was blazing hot, and his cries were pitiful little raspy things. That's what got me - how weak he sounded. Somehow, his feet were still cold, as they always are. I gave him some medicine, put him in between my husband and me and talked to him and patted his back, and he finally drifted off. By that time, of course, I was wide awake.
Laying there looking at my 15-month-old son I couldn't help but be afraid. Ever since he was conceived I'd had this idea that I was going to lose him. I don't think this feeling is predictive of anything. Rather, I think it is an indication of how very precious he is to me, how irreplaceable. Perhaps it is my twisted mind's way of forcing me to appreciate him, even while his older brother is being a pain in the butt and demanding the greater part of my active attention.
I am still shocked at how very individual they are. Even as infants, my sons let me know exactly who they were, from day one. The preschooler was a difficult baby; if he was awake, he was crying. And oh was he awake. He was a difficult toddler, screaming and dumping and still awake. As a preschooler, he sleeps a little better, but even through a parent's rose-colored glasses I can see that he is difficult. The problem is that he has the strongest will I or anyone in my family has ever seen. Seriously, it's made of titanium. He is endlessly curious, highly intelligent, energetic and brimming with talent. Someday those traits will serve him well. Right now it makes him ... well, a challenge, lovingly undertaken. I look forward to the day someone asks me, "Ms. Cox, did you ever suspect your son would become such a great person, the leader of the revolution?" And I will smile.
But my second son? From the very beginning he was just glad to be on the team. All smiles and sunshine, my baby boy slept like a hibernating bear and showered everyone around him with affection. This little Aquarius has a big heart. He laughs at everything, tolerates all manner of incomprehensible adult activity (like Disney World at four months old) and in general is just the happiest, chillest little guy ever. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed and pale as can be, he's just PRETTY. Well, he does have ears like open car doors. I can blame my dad for that. But I love his satellite dish ears and his kissable cheeks. They are uniquely him.
Let me bring us back around to the point, before this becomes a love letter to my children. All this wonderful uniqueness, this love and personality, has a flip side, and that is fear. If I didn't hold it at bay, refusing to think about it more than absolutely necessary, the fear of losing my children would eat me away. Perhaps I think about it with the baby more because he is more vulnerable, or perhaps because, after seeing my older son grow into such an intelligent and powerful personality, I have realized how amazingly unlike anyone else each child is. There isn't another one, anywhere in the world. It only takes a moment for something to go wrong, and for my world to be changed forever.
There's another reason for the fear, of course - to make us vigilant about the health of our children. It serves a purpose. Without it, we wouldn't see the danger everywhere. I go through life with filters over my eyes. I walk into a room and my brain immediately registers everything that is a potential hazard to children. And oh, they are legion. Choking-hazard-sized pebbles, sharp table corners at eye level, concrete steps, poisonous garden plants, a glass cup too close to the edge. And woe to the childless waiter who puts a burning-hot plate of food in front of me, easily within the baby's grasping range.
So I know there is a reason for the fear, a practical application, and that knowledge makes it easier to handle. It takes an active manipulation of these feelings to make them productive, of course, in the vein of changing what I can, and accepting what I cannot with grace. The kids are going to get hurt from time to time, unless I chose to keep them in a padded room. They're going to get sick, unless I keep them in a bubble. But then they would not experience life, and a certain amount of risk is necessary for any kind of happiness. In the words of Nemo's father, "I promised I'd never let anything happen to him!" Followed by Dory's observation, "That's a funny thing to promise. You can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him!" When one is a mother, Pixar movies seem very deep.
Not that it makes it easier when something does happen to them. We spent a day at the emergency room recently, having seven stitches put into his forehead. We try new things, go new places, meet new people and eat new food. Sometimes it backfires horribly. Sometimes the kids come down sick a day or two later, and I wonder which little tyke at McDonald's had the cold. But such is the price of admission to life.
In a few days, of course, my toddler's fever disappeared, and my preschooler got the stitches out of his head. Temporary stumbles on the road. I am slowly getting better at controlling the sometimes suffocating fear that something terrible will happen to one of my children, using what skill I possess in meditation and spiritual control to discern when that fear is appropriate and when it is a hindrance. I hope that it gets less as they get older, but I have a feeling there will be significant panic added in when I have to hand one of them the car keys. In the meantime, they get their shots, use their car seats and admirably tolerate my incessant clucking "That's not safe." My beautiful children, I will love them while I can, be that a short time or a lifetime, and what will be, will be.
Though sometimes that padded bubble room does look appealling ...
About the Author: Julie Cox is a new pagan writer and artist who lives with her two young children and husband in Texas. She carries degrees in both Art and Religion. To see more of Julie's artwork go to Shopping and Art gallery on our main menu.