After the Turkey

Sunday morning.  Semi-asleep, reveling in it all:  We’d just completed a wonderful Thanksgiving and birthday event with our two grown children, who had stayed at a nearby hotel.  (Family unity tip:  Space, privacy and a sufficient number of bathrooms can contribute to a good time for all.)

Both kids were flying back to their respective residences in California and Texas that morning and we’d already said our good-byes.  I turned over to sleep some more.

Not so fast, cowgirl.  My husband tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear.  Our daughter, it turned out, had been up, sick, the entire night and had missed her early-morning flight.  She was in the hotel room, still weak and nauseated.

(Funny how these things happen, when your kids are grown and self-sufficient and you think you’ve completed the daily responsibilities of parenting.  I should have known better.  Having children changes your life forever.  Otherwise, why do I still spin around when a high voice pipes “Mommy!” in the grocery store?  I’m pretty sure I’ll still be doing it in the nursing home.)

So, my husband and I spent the day shuttling between our apartment and the nearby hotel.  Our son had already left for the airport.  “Get out of here quick,” I’d told him.  “We don’t need two sick kids right now.”

We cleaned up the hotel room.  We brought orange juice and crackers to the invalid.  We took her temperature.  We let her sleep and sleep.

We also kept a little physical distance, believe me.  We might be doting parents, but we’re not idiots.  We still had stark memories of our Pink Eye Experience, which was even worse than our Lice Experience:  Both kids had quickly rebounded from the illness, with the resilience of extreme youth.  My husband and I, far less youthful and resilient, had spent two weeks looking like Mr. Magoo, with dark glasses to camouflage our crusty, oozing, tortured eyes, which often fused shut overnight.  So, we didn’t want to court a stomach virus if we could avoid it.

Our daughter progressed from looking near-dead to passable to almost normal over the course of the day.  I’d forgotten how primal it is to take care of a sick child, though — how it brings you back to those powerful urges to hover and protect and banish any threats.  It resurges, in full force, then, if you’re lucky, it’s time to let it go once again.

I know how to let go, since I’ve practiced it so frequently over the past decade.  You shut your eyes and trust in a cruel and indifferent universe.  You don’t have a choice.  You just let go once again.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite posts about they also serve who only stand and criticize

8 comments… add one
  • “You shut your eyes and trust in a cruel and indifferent universe.”
    Interesting way of putting it. I didn’t realize the turning at “mommy!” would go on so long. Yikes. Glad your daughter is improved and that no one else (yet) caught the bug.

  • Oh!  It doesn’t end, as Ruth writes so eloquently.  The letting go is hard. You do it because it’s necessary, but, even over the miles, that invisible connection created by motherhood yanks at you from time to time …

  • Winston Link

    Big Weekend Party!   Food and Merriment for All!
    And with the coming of dawn, a sick child, alas.
    What?  No thought of  food poisoning?  No guilt-trip for Nursey?
    My, what only three months in the asphalt jungle can do to people.
    P.S. Glad you had family and good times for the holiday/birthday!

  • Oh, so true.  You nailed it, Ruth.  I’m sorry about your daughter’s illness.  It’s often rougher on the parents.

  • “Having children changes your life forever.”  Amen. I totally connected to this post, Ruth. I would do the same and feel the same if I were in your shoes. Glad to know she’s on the mend but in the moment, it’s hard, especially when you feel like the nitty gritty parenting stuff is over. Not. As my grandmother always said, “when they are little they are on your hands and when they are grown, they are on your heart.”

  • Whenever I hear a baby cry in a store or wherever, it’s like it plucks some invisible string inside me and I react to it.  I’m sorry she was sick but glad you were able to nurse her back to health. I always feel so conflicted when they are sick – I want to hug them and make it all better but like you I don’t want to infect myself.

  • Steve Link

    Isn’t it a blessing to have adult children who actually WANT to be with you on a holiday?  You know, not all of our friends in our age group are so blessed.

    Yes, the parenting never ends; even as he approached his end, full of days, my father found an occasion to remind me that he was, in fact, still the daddy.

    We, too, were blessed with both our kids’ presence for Thanksgiving, one with the spouse of a year and the other with a friend in tow.  As we held hands to give thanks  (you know we’re a prayin’ family), I had to pause a long time (long enough that I think some at the table were becoming uncomfortable) as I wrestled with the reality that, with my dad’s passing this year, I was now not just the parent, but the pater familias.  Wow.  Who’d have thought it?

    Everybody had a great time over four days–we laughed and played games and had to make a couple of beer runs.  I am thankful nobody got sick; we have that T-shirt.

  • Dino Link

    That realization that parenthood never ends, at least the “in your gut” certainty of it, was slow in coming but inevitable. When I hear a young couple talking about having children, I like to put on a wise old look, lean in, and advise them to just get a dog instead. My wife hates this but just rolls her eyes as if to say, ignore him and he’ll go away.

Leave a Comment