It is 11: 28 p.m. We should all be asleep. Instead my toes are damp and chilled from standing barefoot on the front porch.
23 minutes ago Eleanor fell out of bed and hit the floor hard enough that it rattled a lamp, woke me up, and gave her a bloody nose. She never does things halfway.
But it wasn’t the bonk or the blood that grabbed my attention. It was her breathing. And the moment I heard that sound, my heart paused. Not out of fear or compassion. Oh, no. I went straight to you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me. Now she’ll end up staying home from school.
Not a very motherly moment, was it?
I was ready for times to change. Cole had come down with a vicious crud mid last week, and had been in bed, and needy, ever since. But this evening he had seemed to rally, ever so slightly. I had been so hopeful. So ready. So relieved at the thought of returning to our regular schedule.
To the return of me.
Instead, still half asleep, my husband and I responded to the raspy wheeze of croup with the well-practiced drill. Get outside in the cool, moist air.
Times have changed.
A few years ago we would be listening. Exchanging glances. Call the doc? Head to the E.R.? Now her trachea is wider and the threat from the sound of a barking seal is gone. Our role is to simply sooth and comfort.
In the doorway our son appears. “Are you okay? Ella? Will you be alright? I love you.” An unexpected sweetness to the moment. Our bedraggled band of four, huddled together, standing in our mismatched robes. Listening to the frog chorus and the endless drizzle of rain.
11:42 p.m. Tucking her back in bed. So close to escape. But not being able to breathe easily scares her. So it looks like the two of us are in this together tonight. Next is a request for the red ladybug. I search by Braille for the nightlight. An old ritual, mostly forgotten. Reserved now for emotional emergencies.
The ladybug shines its faint red stars, casting shadows on my college nights. Evenings spent huddled in the dark during astronomy class night labs. Our flashlights wrapped in red cellophane to keep our pupils from contracting- allowing us to see the subtle patterns of constellations.
11: 49 p.m. The dog peers up at me in confusion. I know, I silently tell her. I’m not where I’m supposed to be. And I resent where we are. Where I am. “Stress”, says Eckhart Tolle, “is caused by being ‘here’ but wanting to be ‘there’.” Aren’t we there yet?
11:53 p.m. and I am sitting in the reddish dark, scribbling tomorrow’s new-to-do list: Notify. Reschedule. Cancel. Rearrange. All the while fielding questions about Quidditch penalties.
11:57 p.m. I shift in her bed and hear the faint tinkle of a baby’s rattle. This weekend while looking at pictures, Eleanor spotted her silver rattle. And wanted it. Immediately. My eyes grew wide with a panicky glance to my husband. Where could that thing possibly be? He found it. Good man.
The raspiness has left her breath. Yet her legs are still restless under the sheets. My sleep will be fitful at best, curving myself around her body in an awkward L. Wedged between a stuffed animal elephant and an eight year-old.
12:09 a.m. We should be asleep. My feet are still cold. She reaches for my hand. “Just making sure you are still here, Mom.” I am. Right here. Right, I realize, where I want to be.