Disappointing Elmo


He looks so innocent; he makes you want to protect him. Last night, I failed him. I had the bucket as close to my little guy as it could get, but he still managed to throw up all over Elmo.

Now, I can hear him (Elmo, not my little guy), the *thunk, thunk, thunk* of his hard, plastic eyeballs clanking against the dryer.

The kiddo is better today. He just high-fived his own foot, because he’s four and weird, like a four year old. The day was filled with bland food but lots of giggles, goofiness and smiles. But if I feel like I failed Elmo last night, it’s nothing to how I failed my kiddo.

Nobody ever warns you about how terrifying it is to be a parent. Maybe they know that doing so would result in the end of the human race. Or maybe they do tell you, but there are just no words convincing enough to convey the straight-frigid panicky terror that accompanies having a kid.

There is science behind that terror, the love hormone oxytocin, the genetic drive to carry on the lineage, the chemical reactions that lead to this ferocious protective fear. But I can’t really accept that this is science. It is magic, possibly dark sorcery, and it feels too good and bad to care or even try to understand it. Those little chubby cheeks and those trusting eyes, that laugh, those hugs… they have me under a soul-deep spell.

When something bypasses my vigilance, no matter how minor, it feels like failing. That threatening terror when it mixes with thick, late darkness, is crazy-making. The deep chill night makes even a cold or a tummy ache seem treacherous. Last night was no big deal (knock wood — and you know I did). By two it had worked itself out, and he was sleeping soundly.

The time before that, it was a virus that caused a breathing problem; it was a trip to the emergency room, then all night watching, and putting medicine in his nebulizer and gripping his hand maybe too firmly. It was being too tired to think and to terrified to sleep. It was a night of constantly checking, bargaining and fighting blackness. That night was a month long. Never has the sun been so slow or so welcome.

That night gave birth to this paragraph which made its way into my work in progress:

“It usually happened after dark, during a night that decided to be bleak and relentless. Some nights were like that. They were greedy and parasitic. They clawed at the hands of clocks dragging them backward, devouring minutes or even hours that belonged to the daytime. She had been trapped in some acrid, poisonous, predawn hours for so long that when the morning finally broke, she was sure it was just part of another cruel dream.”

My character and I understood each other so well after that night. Neither of us was thrilled to.

Tonight (knock wood — and you know I did), my son sleeps soundly, and once Elmo stops clanking around the dryer, he will be none the worse for the wear. And tonight I say a prayer, whisper a spell, and send a bright light to any parent who is trapped in a terrible night. May dawn be prompt and bring joyous relief.

Snot Police

We all know kids are leaky, germy little petri dishes, and in a daycare there are dozens of little “patient zeros” for every kind of bug, cold, flu and virus in existence. Not only is your kid going to get sick, but he is going to be a carrier of all that crap and cause you to get sick. Without developing debilitating, germ-related OCD, there is almost no way to avoid it.

I know there are lots of people who get great peace of mind from a strict regimen of hand santizer, twice-hourly hand scrubbing and avoiding physical contact with anything or anybody. And maybe that works for them. If they actually avoid getting sick, more power to them.

I just don’t have that kind of stamina. I play the numbers. The way I figure it, if I allow myself to experience emotional anguish over the thought of human contact, and spend a significant amount of time battling situations that could possibly lead to exposure to sickness, I’m letting the germs win, anyway.

We wash our hands regularly, maintain clean eating surfaces, try to avoid the most peaked looking kiddos, wipe down shopping carts and take vitamin c.

I’m not being cavalier, this is my prevention plan for two parents with office jobs in suburbia USA. If we lived in a plague infested area or one of worked in a biological waste dump, I’d like to think I’d handle things differently.

As it is, I understand that my kid is not always going to be eating food off of surfaces designed for food service. I also understand that he, as a boy, will go from washing his hands to (for example) touching the cats butt in the blink of an eye, and I’m not always going to catch him. Sure, I’ve considered loading a squirt gun with Purell and hosing him down every few minutes, but I’m doing what I can to keep him from being weird.

His school, THE source of all of his illnesses, has a very strict policy for sick kids. Which is HILARIOUS because, did I mention it is the source of all of his illnesses. My husband and I both work in small offices, and we have absolutely no social life. Given that we don’t regularly come into contact with the drool of our colleagues or people on the street, we have to assume, when one of us comes down with something, that little drippy red-eyed kid in Chris’s class is the source. But somehow we end up being the criminals if we try to send our guy in with a runny nose. Fevers, I get. Spots, sure, but having a runny nose? Mucous is like a toddler’s career.

Never in my life, could I imagine that I would have lengthy, heated negotiations about the consistency and color of snot, given my chosen profession as a business writer.

Your son has a runny nose

Yeah, he got it when the other 7 kids in his class has a runny nose.

Well, I looked at it, and it’s cloudy.

You looked at…? Um….I thought it just couldn’t be green.

It’s green-ish.

So what, now I have to hold a paint-chip up to my kid’s mucous in the morning? Most of the times, it’s not even running when I drop him off. I don’t know how to predict what’s going to come out of there during the day, heck I’m exhausted from just making sure things don’t go IN there. I didn’t even know this was something I was going to have to think about. Now, I have to be all tactical, so I can avoid censure by the Snotzis.

If I give him nose drops and Triaminic an hour before school, that should stop the running until after lunch. Best case scenario, I only have to take a half day.