In the middle of the night, I heard my daughter cough in her sleep and jumped out of bed. She had only coughed once, but that's all it took for my heart to race and a cold sweat to break out. I rushed to open the door and fly down the hallway to her bedside, tracking in my head where my car keys, tennis shoes, and charged cell phone were. Could I call Jake's aide to come over at nearly three in the morning? Would Descartes and I both go the hospital? Should I call my parents now and let them know, so they can make plans to fly up, or should I wait for the prognosis from the hospital staff? Will we go to Stanford, or the closer, smaller hospital? What is the name of the one drug that helps a little bit in this case? How will I live without her? I cannot imagine our lives without her. Is my daughter wearing any pajamas?
I put my hand on her stomach and her forehead and I gasped, or choked on bile, or something that made me stop all of the decision trees in my head. She didn't have a fever. Cool soft skin on her little tummy and an unfurrowed brow, peaceful and healthy, and breathing quietly. Sleeping, without pajamas, through all of my worst nightmares.
Chances are slim that we were really exposed when we stayed one night at Curry Village while Jake was at his own camp. I know that the virus is very rare, but we are still in the window where we need to keep an eye on ourselves. Once it gets to the lungs the prognosis is not good, but for the night we were all still symptom free. Nope. No hantavirus tonight.
Just try to go back to sleep after that.
And as I lay there in bed trying to will myself to rest, I sadly realized that I am always preparing for the worst. How much of my brain, I wondered, is spent doing all of that thinking behind my everyday thoughts, like an operating system that is taking up too much memory doing background tasks that don't seem to help my speed or accuracy in other parts of my life.
Does it make me a pessimist that I expected to find her in need of emergency attention? Does it make me pragmatic? Cynical?
I am filled with hope for my family, for my children, and our future, and I fully expect that we have so many bright, bright days ahead of us, but I am always equally preparing for every single bad thing to befall us. And perhaps that's what made me sad as I failed over and over to clear my mind; I think there are equal parts expecting joy and disaster... they are equal.
What is life like for people who are not on guard all the time? And was I always this way, or is this one of the 'skills' that I have picked up because without it we would already have lost Jake to an open gate or a knife in the sink or a car door left without the child lock on?
And, it just added a need for increased vigilance for me.
That's the crux of it. Parenting is like that, with any child. We can't wait for those little babies to crawl, and the minute they do the floor needs to be clear of Legos, and marbles, and dog food, and maybe should be cleaned, but not with harsh chemicals. Their first steps and we install gates and put away glassware, and store the marble coffee table in the garage for a few years.
If we had experienced typical development at our house, perhaps I would have calmly proceeded from one level to the next, then relaxed as new dangers appear, and previous ones become less problematic. But that's not how it rolled out at our house. Jake has always grown in bursts of knowledge and ability. He didn't crawl until he was five or six, but his first steps at age four came not one at a time.. instead he walked across the entire living room as if he had done it every day for years. He went from needing to be lifted into the car to scampering up on his own, seemingly overnight.
I am ever hopeful that he will learn the next thing that changes his life. We work to help him gain any skill he wants to develop, but I never know if today will be the day he masters the task. There is no practicing, it always seems that a switch is clicked on, and if I am not prepared for every skill to show up, every day, the consequences are grave. So each day I am equally filled with hope, and a bit of excitement waiting to see what he will be able to do next, and I am fearful that I will not have adequately prepared his environment to keep him safe.
I wish I could just revel a bit more, and worry a bit less. I want to believe my husband when he reminds me that we were not anywhere near the tent cabins those other people stayed in. I want my children's growth to be celebrated without a new list of concerns popping up in my head.
I'm going to try to tip the scale a little bit more to the 'expect joy' side, and clean out the part of my brain that is on guard all the time. I know I won't be able to let it all go, and I wouldn't want to, but perhaps I will take the advice I always give others:
It will all be okay, or it won't. And worrying about it won't change a thing.