This is part of a series of blog posts under the title Fatherhood Diaries.
The baby is sick. He has fever, diarrhoea and a runny nose. This is more-or-less constant, a very predictable side-effect of him attending nursery since he was five months old. Apparently viruses have the time of their life at nurseries and kindergartens and there is nothing one can do about it. We got better at managing the practicalities, which are familiar to any parent who ever dealt with a simultaneous poopstorm, vomiting and high fever. Emotions are harder to manage though. It is always upsetting at varying degrees, depending on the situation, to see the little fellow unwell. And the more he grows the more upsetting it gets.
I expected it to be the other way around. The more times one manages such symptoms, the easier it should be. But the baby is not the same person every time. He is growing fast, running around and starting to utter his first words. As time goes by, he has more to offer to the party. Whereas in the beginning when he was a newborn our attachment was mostly biologically-driven, an affair of instinct governed by a primordial urge to protect him, nowadays our relationship has developed, evolved, largely in response to his own development. Now he gives hugs, demands our attention in ways that are ridiculously cute albeit occasionally overwhelming, laughs and gets excited when we play with him, and is able to show love and affection in non-verbal ways that are louder than words.
The instinct to protect him is there, lurking at the background of all of our decision making. Whereas I believe that parents who claim that their babies define their whole being are either full of shit or sad people indeed, I cannot shy away from the fact that the well-being of the baby is at the very top of our considerations when making decisions. Obviously by being sick his well-being is compromised, which means that our instinctual reaction is to take corrective measures to restore the situation at an acceptable level. But these measures need time to take effect, days, maybe weeks. In the short term we are there, helpless, watching a tired, exhausted baby who is otherwise very active and playful, without being able to offer immediate relief.
Sickness is a very personal matter. I don’t think it is possible to empathise with someone who is sick. To support and offer assistance, yes. To relate due to similar experiences, maybe. But it’s not possible to put oneself in the shoes of the sick person at the time of his or her illness. In this sense, sickness is a very lonely affair. And the idea that the baby is at it alone drives me bonkers. But he is not alone despite the lonely process of getting over the disease. We are with him, providing all the care that we can and all the medication advised by the pediatrician. We remain, however, unable to immediately reverse this rather unfortunate situation.
I’m perfectly aware that such is the experience of child rearing; that viruses will come and go and that the baby, who is thankfully a healthy child, will keep on growing to become an irritating teenager. Nevertheless, the other day I could not put the dark thoughts at bay. On Sunday, I went for a solo bicycle ride, hoping that it would clear my mind. This time of the year the fields across the rural roads I typically ride are dressed in a vibrant green colour, a true marvel to witness. Alas, my brain went in overdrive for the full two hours of the ride. I kept thinking that I could not possibly manage if something went wrong with the baby, though I work in a field where I frequently witness the amazing resilience that people have and how the instinct of survival kicks in to enable people to keep going despite traumas that seem insurmountable to the rest of us. The dark thoughts went on — how devastating would it be for the baby and my wife if something were to happen to me, or worse, to her. Useless, counterproductive thoughts that have no utility whatsoever. But I don’t think I’m the only one in having them.
This urge to keep the baby safe, and in extend the two of us who need to be available for him, has slowly creeped in my decision-making without me noticing. Decisions that I would make without factoring my security — yes, it’s still a great idea to ride my bicycle for five hours to the top of a mountain and back just by myself — now are very discreetly filtered through this what-if scenario. I’m not sure this is entirely healthy, but I don’t suppose I’m giving it more credence than the next parent or more than I should.
Whilst writing this the baby is slowly recovering. In a few days he will be back to normal. During the recovery he wants to be constantly held by us. This also works the other way around. Holding him in our hands, hugging him, sleeping with him at night (to monitor his ever increasing temperature) and being with him, is the only way for us to offer short-term support, to cheer for him in his fight with this nasty virus.