Our two boys came home with some kind of bug this week, leading to a couple days home from school and confined to our sick house. A visit to the doctor yielded a “deep chest cold” diagnosis, for which we were grateful [no H1N1], but it was still miserable for them to deal with. After multiple games of Sequence, dozens of stories and a few math worksheets, we packed up our makeshift homeschool and went back to life as usual today.
Having sick kids, even ones that aren’t terribly ill, always gives me pause to think about those whose health is in constant jeopardy. Those who don’t have access to the kind of medicine, local doctors, and comforts of chicken noodle soup and fresh water. This week reminded me of something I wrote many months ago, in August 2008; I’m republishing it here because it still says what my heart feels.
It was 5:32 am when I first looked at the digital clock on my night stand, the red numbers a stark contrast from the early light of dawn beginning to bleed through our bedroom windows. Our youngest son M, sleeping on a blow-up mattress on the floor next to our bed to accommodate overnight guests, had awakened coughing. It seemed to be one of those rattling coughs one is accustomed to hearing in February, so I lay there listening for a cry or a whimper before getting up, hoping, of course, that it would pass and I could drift back into a blissful sleep. Not to be!
Earlier in the week I had taken M in to see our family physician about his croup returning. Croup, with our boys, has typically been a change-of-seasons battle, hitting us in the spring or fall in the middle of the night. The barking cough and asthma-like breathing scare both us and the kids as their crying agitates them further, making it yet more difficult to breathe. As it’s only the end of August, my husband and I were a bit surprised to be woken up–twice in one week–by the familiar and unwelcome sound of this child-barking, but I guess when the leaves start to change, God decides to begin the autumn dance whether we’re ready for it or not.
Because M had just been to the doctor and because a quick drink and walk with mom seemed to calm him down, I knew I could lay him back down without any worries. I gently lowered him back to our lovely fake red velour blow-up bed and snuggled him like a caterpillar in his $10 youth-sized sleeping bag. In the dark I combed his hair over with my fingers, stopping to notice the smooth skin of his forehead and the quiet hum of his new sleep. While I don’t really like our kids sleeping in the same room with us, I will admit that this was one of those moments that pours your heart to overflowing.
I tripped back into my own bed and thought I would easily return to a coma-like sleep, but instead, found my head busy with thoughts. What would it be like, I wondered, if our whole family had to sleep in our bedroom? What if [a’ la V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic] we were forced to live in our bedroom? I pictured myself washing dishes in the master bathroom-turned-kitchen. I wondered if we would set up 3 air mattresses next to our bed and let all the kids sleep by us? What about…romance?? No, I decided. The kids would have to sleep in our closet.
As absurd as my ponderings may seem, I quickly thought of the millions of families who do have to share one room with their families–LARGE FAMILIES! Families whose bedroom doubles as a living room, separated from the kitchen by just a turn of the body. I thought of how differently this night would have played out if I were a mother in a remote village, sleeping on a woven mat laid upon a patch of earth somewhere under an African sky. I thought of how many mothers wake up to the sound of a cough they can’t treat; whose children cry out for water and receive something akin to dishwater remains, the color of tea and milk stirred together in a British coffee house. How do those mothers return to their slumber? How do those mothers cradle their children, shush them when they’re crying, knowing that the aching they feel will still be felt tomorrow?
In that sliver of time, I felt at once grateful and despairing. How is it, Lord, that I am so blessed? To have doctors and medicine, to have a home, to be safe, to feel secure, to know that my every need is met in abundance? And at the same time, How is it, Lord, that so many others, who love their children as deeply as I, do not have water for their children? Cannot go to a doctor or purchase a bottle of cough syrup? How is it that they carry on? How do they live under a banner of hope when the struggle has been the same for generations?
In twenty minutes time I had allowed my heart to roam the world. It returned to my chest with no answers. The numbers on my bedside clock clicked over: 5:53 am. Dog under my bed. Child next to my bed. Husband next to me. Blessings all around.