On one level I can attest to the fact that you can become accustomed to your child completely terrifying you. On the other, I promise that you never become ok with it. You become okay at hiding the fact that you are terrified. You become ok at dealing with the terror…with the adrenaline rushing through your body afterward…with the feeling of seeing danger lurking in all kinds of places.
It isn’t that you are ok with it–it is just that there have been enough times that you’ve looked around a room and realized that something needed to be done and no one else was going to do it–whether it is speaking up for you kid in a IEP meeting or questioning a doctor or suctioning your kids airway or responding to a seizure.
It’s all you…
I was in such a room this weekend–the locked family bathroom of our local Target alone with Ez.
I’ll jump to the end and say Ez is totally fine. I am totally fine. Everything turns out just fine. But I also feel like I should tell the story. Not to be dramatic or hyperbolic–to be just plain old real. This is the way our Sunday went:
My mom was over, and we decided that, perhaps, a trip out of the house would be a good idea…sometimes such a trip is just the thing she needs after being sick and cooped up. So we went to Target. Ezzy likes it there, and I could grab a few odds and ends for the house (read: milk for my horrendous latte addiction).
About halfway through the store Ez was getting grumpier and I was dragging. Mom suggested grabbing a coffee at the Starbucks in the front of the store (that latte addiction? Obviously genetic). By the time our drinks were ready, Ez had begun to completely melt down.
Muppets weren’t working, movement wasn’t working…so I asked her if she needed to pee.
Through her tears she says her new favorite “word”: uh-huh
Ez is a big girl. She’s four. She does not want to use her diaper. I am committed to helping her use the potty, especially when she communicates so clearly about it, even though it isn’t always easy to actually orchestrate. (Remember description of what this is like in a public restroom? …like wrangling a small wiggling crocodile that wants to dive into the toilet, touch everything disgusting, and will bite your fingers to get you to let go–all while crouching over a dirty bathroom floor).
So I tell her, “Maman will take you to the potty, let’s go.”
We find the separate family restroom vacant and head in–here I can maneuver her chair more easily than in the stalls. And I do the natural thing in the world…and lock the door behind me.
Ez is crying still, but more quietly. I am certain I am about to fix the problem.
I get her out of her chair and seated side-saddle on the toilet. I am holding her up, under her arms, crouching next to her. She is still crying. And then she starts coughing. She doubles over and cannot clear whatever she is coughing up. She is still crying…or she would be if she could take a breath.
Her face is bent over close to her knees, so I can’t see her easily. But I can tell she is not ok. Her color is changing toward that familiar blue tinge. I tilt her sideways onto my shoulder and swipe a cloth across the inside of her mouth and pull out a bunch of secretions.
Eventually she passes out. I am not certain if it was a typical breath-hold pass-out or what it was. But she came back around quickly and resumed crying (which is good, because it means she is breathing). I can tell at this point that she is certainly ok–unhappy, but ok for the moment.
Around this point someone tries to get into the bathroom–first a tiny knock and then an attempt to open the door. Somewhere in the back of my head I realize that I can tell by the height of the knock that it is likely a child…I realize that the door is locked and that it would be hard for someone to come in and help me, should I need help. I also realize I’m shaking.
It all happened so quickly that I never even lifted her off the potty. So, once I recover myself, I get her cleaned up and settled back in her chair.
I can feel the rush of adrenaline–my blood pressure is up, and I feel light-headed and irrationally angry at the world.
Ezzy’s still crying when I open the bathroom door to a pretty surprised looking eight or nine-year-old girl…her father, a few feet behind hers looks me and Ez over with vague confusion and concern. I think, “Oh god, if you only knew…” and try to size up whether he’d have been able to help us if i’d have called for help from behind that door.
I guess the point I am driving home is that stuff like this happens to us all the time. It actually wasn’t an emergency…it came close to becoming one, but it wasn’t one. We have a lot of these moments…where we nose up to an emergency, and then, instead, take a left turn and go about our day. And I feel like these are the moments that I never bother writing about because it isn’t exactly a story. In fact it is almost a non-story, or perhaps more precisely an “almost story”…because I can easily imagine a different course of events here. A course of events that makes this a harrowing story, one with me shouting for help from behind a locked door, where an ambulance gets called.
Back in my doctorate days I remember reading something about how this is the purpose of nightmares–for our bodies to practice age-old fight or flight responses to various dangers. Back when we lived in caves our dreams of running away from vicious animals were quite literal. Our modern minds are confused, dreaming some combination of ancient and complex contemporary threats. My mind runs these practice responses day and night…my dreams at night are filled with forgotten pulsox probes, trying to find compounded onfi in post-apocalyptic scenes…and the occasional paradise dreams disrupted by the deep fear that I cannot find my daughter. My day dreams are occupied by a series of what if’s and imagined steps to my possible responses.
It is my job to imagine these scenarios so that I can react if and when they happen–to prepare for anything, everything that might come up at home, in public, in the car, locked in a restroom…Because this is, potentially, every day. Every time.
This is the only way to feel less frightened and vulnerable when I’m with Ez.