"My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes." That's a sentence I read in a book once, and I say it over to comfort myself whenever I'm disappointed in anything.
I remember how intense the relief was the first time I picked up a pen, grabbed some paper, and started writing out my feelings after the dramatic revelation of my ex-husband’s infidelity. For two days, I had cycled through phases of numbness and unbearable pain, waking up each morning with tears streaming down my face, before finally the analytical part of my brain clicked on: as the ballpoint pen scratched over the paper, I could feel that doubling of myself as I stepped away from my pain, created the distance that would allow me to solve the puzzle of when and how my marriage had gone astray. I became a detective, combing through old emails, reinterpreting three years of ambiguous remarks and mysterious fits of anger in light of this new information. So much that had been confusing now made sense; so much was falling into place.
Words have always been my refuge. I have never been one to spill my emotions onto the page in free verse; instead I process things analytically – I develop theories and solve conundrums, and there is something comforting, in dark moments, in such cool analysis.
And yet I have had no words – no words at all – to help me this week with a little boy who spends hours of each day clutching his ear in agony and moaning, "Oh, it hurts! Oh, it hurts!" This isn’t the worst thing ever to happen to me – it’s not even the worst thing ever to happen to Bub – but it is unusual in its brain-paralyzing effect. I’ve been stumbling around, feeling disoriented, subject to occasional symptoms of anxiety: a racing heart, a heaviness in my chest, trembling hands.
It has been a relief, each day, to spend an hour with a group of seventeen-year-olds, hashing out the intricacies of the Shakespearean sonnet.
It has been a sudden lurch each afternoon, to hear Bub’s quiet groans even before I see him curled up miserably on the couch at his home-care.
There have been moments of stillness and comfort, as the boy and I lie down on the floor, side by side, tucked in with doggy and blankie and sharing the occasional smile at the antics of that dastardly penguin on Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers. In such moments, there is no room for self-doubt – I know that I am his mother, that I am all he needs.
There have been many more moments when he has called for me and I’ve had to tell him I could not go to him. Moments when holding him has meant refusing my daughter’s pleas for a hug and a cuddle.
Bub’s ear is thick with pus and earwax, a fluid that oozes into his pillow and crusts his cheek. This, my mother tells me and Google confirms, is an indication that he has ruptured an eardrum. No wonder his cry has escalated from "Oh, it hurts!" to "It’s an Ear Hurt!"
He never whines.
I put off the antibiotics for two full days, like all the recent studies say you’re supposed to, and in that time, the infection jumped from one ear to the other and burst his eardrum. He has been running a fever almost nonstop for four days, even while dosed with Tempra and Advil. The macaroni and cheese he ate for lunch today was the first solid food he has touched since Monday morning.
I am tempted to delete these embarrassingly mundane details. Everyone gets ear infections; the only reason I’m even writing about this at all is that I’ve been absurdly spoiled with healthy, robust children. I know there are children who are in pain every day. That knowledge weighs heavily on me today; it is astonishing, strange.
I have no conclusion, here, no insight. I have a little boy who is on the mend, who is in less pain today than he was yesterday. And since I’m Canadian I’m having pot roast tonight instead of turkey and cranberries. But I’m giving thanks anyway, and I’m a little more aware than usual of how much I have to be thankful for.