Our youngest is sick for the second time since Christmas. The first time was a brief illness of fever and sore throat, and it was gone in a few days. This time, he has the croupy cough that has been the bane of both of my children since toddlerhood. When I was a child, I had annual bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia along with asthma, so I'm sure that my genetics don't help their situation.
Children get sick. It is the nature of things. It cannot be helped. Our son is eight now, out of the woods for the really scary febrile illnesses of infancy and toddlerhood. And yet, I still have panic attacks in the middle of the night as my mind turns against me and sends a relentless littany of worst case scenarios scrolling behind my sleepless eyes.
I try and calm myself. I use progressive relaxation, breathing techniques, prayer, positive self talk, grounding exercises. I take tinctures of passionflower, motherwort, milky oats. I have all of the skills to regulate my nervous system, and to cope with this anxiety. And it still takes my racing mind hours to release its grip and allow sleep to return.
My child is sick, but sleeping. He is afebrile. He is not coughing at the moment. And I am still in the grips of terror. My mind, which is so quick to learn and study, to retain information of all kinds, is also quick to turn on me and make me a captive to imagined terror.
As mothers and caregivers, we bear the weight of these imagined terrors in a new isolation that has not been the experience of hominids throughout time. Historically, children were raised in community, among cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors. The burdens of care were shared, and the caregivers were also cared for by the community.
Today, we are more isolated than ever. My friends check on me, ask me if I need anything, offer to bring soup and medicines. I feel their love, and it is a comfort, and I am still shackled to the isolation and individualism of modern motherhood. I don't even wake my husband during the worst of my anxiety. I don't want to burden him. I know this is something I will talk about with my therapist, and I am grateful for her support, and yet this isolation feels insurmountable.
During the day, while still anxious, I am distracted with the tasks of caregiving. I have an outlet for my anxieties, and real time feedback from my son about how he is doing. It is still uncomfortable, but not overwhelming. Not like the nights, which are agonizing. I think of the parents of children with chronic and severe illness. I think of the parents of children in Gaza and warzones all over the world. I think of the frailty of human life, and the resilience. I think of our common bonds of love and the desire to protect our children. In my life, over and over again, suffering has been a door to interconnectedness. While I lay in the throes of a migraine, I feel the suffering of all those in pain, trapped with no way out, all over the world. While I hold vigil over my sick child, I do so with throngs of mothers, fathers, grandparents holding their own vigils all over the world.
Even if we don't have the integrated community of care that our distant ancestors enjoyed, we remain interconnected in ways that reveal our common hopes, struggles, needs and desires. The modern propaganda machine has steeped us in fear. Fear of each other, fear of illness, fear in all of its many forms and guises. This fear creates even more isolation and alienation, but that is truly illusion. We are so deeply bonded in our humanity.
As I breathe through my panic tonight, worrying about pneumonia, antibiotics, fevers, asthma attacks....I will also bring parents of all children into my prayers as we struggle together to protect our children from a world that seems more and more complicated every day. I often pray my rosary in these moments of terror, praying that the Mother of us All will bring comfort, healing, peace, strength, and the memory that we all belong to each other. All children are our children. May we remember.