He curled up in the biggest chair, with the biggest stuffed animal, and looked very small indeed. I “set him up” as we call it, with a glass of water and an empty ice cream bucket, just in case. His face and lips were so pale that his freckles stood out like sentinels.
“Aww, poor kid,” I said, handing him a comic book. “Is there anything you want?"
Hmm. Not so sure that’s a good idea, but lest his brother and sisters get it all, I brought him a half piece.
With all the rush and bustle of bus-boarding, I didn’t pay much attention to him. The last crumbs of a bagel were disappearing off his plate as I finally turned back to see how he was doing.
I look at sick kids with just a little bit of a woozy feeling in the pit of my stomach. When they were all small, one cold virus entering the family could spell out weeks of no sleep for Doug and me. The two with the weak immune systems would catch everything, and not get over any of it without antibiotics. One of the babies had bronchitis so many times her first year, that the doctor refused to prescribe any more antibiotics for her. That was one long year. Doug moved a rocking chair into our small bathroom, propped me up with pillows, and that’s where I slept with the baby, for weeks at a time. Throughout the night, we’d turn on the hot shower to humidify the dry winter air, making it easier for her to breathe. She was sick most of her first year. And she’s not the one we had to hang a sign on the front door for, saying “No Visitors, Please, Sick Baby”
We all know that germs can run rampant through institutions like daycares and schools. Same goes for big families. I have a picture of six of us, lying on the living room floor, on couches, on chairs, each with our own bucket. I will not be posting that one online. If there was ever one single germ cell of the flu, or hand, foot and mouth disease in a public place like the science museum, one of my kids would find it and bring it home. I’ve had three kids at once, curled up in my lap, throwing up at intervals. Most viruses last only a few days or a week, but multiply that by nine. You get the idea. Those were (and are still?) glorious days…
But today it’s just a headache…
“Can I get you anything?” I ask again.
“Yes. Mom, can I have my paper airplanes and book that I got for my birthday?”
His little sister and I collect all the paper airplanes we can find in his room, a small stack of unused paper, and the book. Soon he looks happier, earnestly folding paper airplanes called “The Phantom Phoenix”, “First Fire”, and “Nighthawk”.
Then the air races begin.
When I next walk into the room, he and his sister are both standing on the arms of chairs, on opposite sides of the room, laughing and firing paper airplanes at each other. It’s going to be a good day.
And I’m guessing he won’t need a bucket.