I had been laid up with fever for the past five days, shivering and sweating through long nights, weak and irrational during shortened days. My son was sick, too, something any parent knows is perhaps the worst combination to happen. Being sick at the same time as your child is a real challenge. He was whiny, I was whiny. He was feverish, I was feverish. He wanted to be picked up and carried everywhere; I wanted to lay down, unmoving, with a cool cloth on my head.
That first day my daughter was most helpful, bringing me cold, wet wash cloths to gently rub over my hot forehead. It was soothing relief until the fever reducing medications—a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen—took effect and provided me a degree of relief. By mid afternoon Thursday I’d managed to get m to the stables to ride horses for a few hours so the boy and I could sleep.
The next day was no better, but we had friends coming for Easter weekend, and I had a house to clean, so I spent most of the day doing what usually took an hour, and managed to sleep for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. When I went to bed that night I was still feverish, hovering at 103. I had no appetite, and even the ribs and brisket I smoked all day on the Green Egg for our friends arrival were unpalatable to me. I picked at kale salad and went to bed by 9pm, leaving the other adults in the house to enjoy the cool evening on the deck.
Saturday I woke feeling much better. My fever had finally broken, though j’s was still in full swing, and his cough was terrible. All of us wandered downtown for a Spring/Easter celebration, which tired both me and j out more than I expected. When we got home I put him in his bed and I went to lay down myself while my wife took her friend away from all this depressing illness.
My nap would have been more restful if his had been, but less than an hour after I laid down he let out a desperate cry I knew well from my own youth, the cry of illness, the cry of, “Please, someone take this aching pain away.” It is a lesson hard won, that no one can take away the pain of illness. But there are those who can sit with you and comfort you, and that alone can provide some measure of relief. That is the job of the parent.
He was still lying down, trying to sleep, with his eyes closed, crying. His face was hot, but he’d only just taken some medication so there was nothing to do, really. I climbed into bed with him. It was all I could do to lift my feet over the bed rail. I put my head on the pillow next to him and put my hand on his chest. He opened his eyes for a second, smiled. He was glad to see me. Then he fell back to sleep. I closed my eyes.
My phone beeped with a notification. There was a photo of our camping trailer, which we named Big Tuna, and which I picked up on this day one year ago. The caption I’d posted was, “It is a big day in our house.”
But the caption hadn’t referred to the trailer. While waiting in the dealership garage for the salesman to sort out a problem with the mattress I had gotten a call from our social worker. She had a referral for us. There was a little boy in China who was waiting for us. Suddenly, the trailer, the mattress, none of it mattered anymore. We were going to have a boy.
I put my phone down and looked at my son. His eyes were closed, his mouth opened in a small circle, his red lips pursed like he was ready to drink from a straw. His soft, round cheeks were like balls of cotton. He reached out and his hand fell into mine. I wondered what he would be like in two years, in five years, in ten. Would he talk more? Would he still be as loving, as sweet, as active? Would he want to run with his old man? Would he wonder about his mysterious birth on the other side of the world, a birth that we know nothing about (unlike our daughter, he was a foundling, abandoned at a bus stop)?
The Epiphany Comes
In that moment, watching him sleep, I finally fell in love with him. It was a moment I had been looking forward to for ten months, the moment when I felt my heart explode with love for the little boy who will call me daddy for the rest of his life. I began to cry then, and even in my fever I couldn’t stop. My head ached and my chest hurt and my body was weak but I knew, right then, that this boy, this precious little child, was my own son, and I would always be there for him. He opened his eyes then, and he began to cry. I put my hand on his cheek and I wiped away his tears and I whispered, “It’s all right. Daddy’s here. I’ll always be here. No matter how close you are, or how far away, I’ll always be right here by your side. Don’t ever forget that.”
He turned to me, and I waited for his reaction, for him to squeal with delight, to put his arms around me. He pushed out his lower lip, began to cry again, and whimpered, “Mommy!”