Lulu is sick. She is almost 8 months old and this is her first time with a fever or anything more significant than congestion. She is fussy and uncomfortable and crying these huge tears we seldom see coming from her sweet, little, almond-brown eyes. She is full of drool and snot. She is farting and gagging. She doesn’t want to eat a whole lot. She alternates between exhaustion and screaming. She seems to be in a fair bit of some type of pain she cannot speak.
I want to acknowledge some of the wonderful stuff that has occurred in the past 48 hours. My daughter was sick and I was here to take care of her… sober. I responded to her pain and upset. I took her temperature and changed her diapers and put dry clothes on her and made her bottles and gave her baths and rocked her and shushed in her ear and sang to her. I stayed awake in the middle of the night and let her sleep on my chest as I sat in a chair because upright was the only position where she seemed comfortable. I put her in bed with me and rubbed her back and woke up at every sound. To most parents, these probably sound like pretty obvious things to do for a sick child. For me, this is a big deal because more than just doing these things, I was present and aware and tuned in to Lulu.I had the capacity to provide care, security and love to my child. In the midst of the fever and the poopy diapers and the no sleep, I was able to look at her and feel this enormous gratitude for this amazing little being that I get the privilege to take care of for as long as the Universe lets me. I have a generally healthy and thriving infant and I must be one of the luckiest people on the planet.
I can’t help but think about what taking care of Lulu with a fever would look like if I were still drinking. My drinking wasn’t always out of control, but I couldn’t control my drinking and therefore could never predict with much accuracy how a night of drinking would end. What state would I have been in when Lulu awoke in pain in the middle of the night? What would my embrace have looked like and smelled like and felt like at 2:00 am? How much comfort does a drunk parent really provide to a sick child? Would I have been able to take a rectal temp? Would she have been safe sleeping in bed with me? My sane husband most likely would have taken charge and let me sleep off my drunk.
The ensuing guilt, remorse and shame the next day would have been unbearable. My own self-loathing would eat away at my relationship with Lulu as I watched her depend on her father for the security I was too unstable to provide. I’m sure I would vow to be a better parent. Around 5:00 pm, I would get the itch to drink and start excusing my behavior of the night before. No defense against the first drink I swore I wouldn’t have, I would pour myself a glass of red wine while taking care of her. I would feel the war in my chest between the instinct run wild to drink more and the pressing matter of the sick infant at hand. Things would start to feel unmanageable. Her cries would elicit irritation rather than sympathy. I would get a rising up of anxiety in my chest because this baby was really cutting into some much needed drinking at the end of a long day of taking care of said baby. I would probably let Jim take care of her and promise myself that next time I would do better.
My skin crawls just thinking of how alcohol warps my thoughts, feelings and attachments. Alcohol would rob me of the experience of completely loving my baby through her first fever… which I have a feeling is bringing her first tooth right along with it.