A few weeks ago, Sarah, 21-one-months, had a cough. It was subtle at first. She had no other symptoms. There was no fever, barely a runny nose and she was sleeping well. That second week, though, when she did cough, people took notice. It was becoming increasingly loud and bark-like.
Our lives are hectic. Both parents working, running older children to all their practices and activities, summer road-tripping to family and friends; our schedule leaves little time to stop and pay attention. One night when I got home from work, though, there was no more denying we had a problem. Sarah was not herself. She had become moody, fussy and inconsolable. She wouldn’t eat much and my husband confirmed she hadn’t had much of an appetite all day.
“I’m taking her in tomorrow,” I said finally. Good thing I did. She had a raging sinus infection and was in need of antibiotics. Guiltily, I thought back over the past few chaotic weeks. There was the time at the gym when the caretaker in the playroom told me about her cough with concern and I reasoned that she must have allergies. There was her behavior at the family reunion the previous weekend, when I kept making excuses about her being tired from the long drive. There was the fact that she had refused cheese, her favorite food, a few times recently.
With shame, I thought about how many times I’ve been asked by people recently, what it’s like to parent a child later in life.
“Aren’t you so much more relaxed at this age?” they would say, or, “I bet you really have time to just enjoy her.”
Unfortunately, those things are not true. When I had my first two within 19 months of each other in my thirties, being a mom was all I did. I didn’t work outside the home. I didn’t volunteer in the community. We weren’t business owners. I didn’t have two preteens with full schedules. I raised babies, and then toddlers, at home.
Sharing my guilt over letting her symptoms go unnoticed with friends, I found some comfort.
“No,” one friend said. “I win the ‘Worst Mom of the Year Award!’” She reminded me of last year when her preteen son’s nose was sore and slightly swollen. Concerned, she took him to the pediatrician only to be told he had a pimple. “A zit,” she exclaimed. “Can you imagine how embarrassed I was?” So much so that when he bent his finger back a week later playing ball, she told him it was nothing. “Here’s some ice,” she said. “You’ll be fine.” Several days later her husband insisted he go to the doctor. He required surgery for a broken finger.
“I’m sorry, but I win,” another friend interrupted. “Don’t you remember what happened when my daughter was in kindergarten?” She retold the story of her daughter coming home from the first few days of school looking odd. She would walk in the door from the bus stop with one eye lazily wandering off to the side. She asked her daughter why she was doing that. Did her daughter think that was funny? When she didn’t stop making ‘the silly face,’ my friend sent her child to her room, two days in a row. On the third day she had a call from her teacher.
“Your daughter is having trouble seeing the chalkboard,” she told her. “I think she needs her eyes checked.” This child had never shown these signs before. She had passed every eye exam at the pediatrician’s office. It turns out that somehow she had functioned with extremely poor vision, her eyes only giving out when put to the test of a rigorous full day of learning.
The stories continued. There was the mother who thought nothing of her child’s desperate complaints about an itchy scalp that went on for weeks, telling her to use dandruff shampoo. It was an older cousin braiding her hair who finally yelled, “lice!”
Yet another mother recalled the family vacation when her seven-year-old vomited once every day but then ate three full meals and seemed fine.
“No one wants to have to find a walk-in clinic in a different state,” she reasoned. Finally back at home, her pediatrician informed her that some children, like her daughter, vomit from severe ear infections.
It seems the “Mother’s Hall of Shame” is full of women who are raising completely typical, well-adjusted, mostly-happy and generally-healthy kids.