I’ve been making lots of declarations lately (I’m not an adult! I AM an adult!) and here’s another: I had not seriously been tested as a mother until recently. I know, I know, you think I’m exaggerating. You’re thinking, how could that be? You have baby twins! Surely, you’re forgetting the trials of the 13-and-a-half months past! Double breast-feeding? Mastitis? Sleep training? Or the month where Avi and Maya got all of their teeth at once?
But really, that was nothing.
Somehow, we had made our way through the first year of Avi and Maya’s lives with nary a fever to bring them down. They had their share of colds and coughs and bouts of constipation and general garden-variety fussiness, but never fever.
Then, last Wednesday, my babysitter called to say that Avi seemed really hot and was making this weird sound, like a little sigh, every few seconds. She said she just didn’t seem like herself. I rushed home. Sure enough, Avi had a temperature of 103 and not two hours later, Maya was burning up.
The pediatrician said to watch the fever. Three days of high temps would warrant a visit to the office. Until then, try and keep them hydrated. This, of course, was about as easy as getting them to drive themselves to my parents’ house for a sleepover, which is to say, impossible. They didn’t want to drink. They just wanted to cry. And I understood them. Who doesn’t hate being sick? Who doesn’t just want to throw herself onto her playmate and sob into the foam tiles?
As the night progressed, things devolved. The girls went from limp and weepy to hysterical and inconsolable. They shivered and turned blue after the bath, cried through their nighttime bottles and don’t ask about what bedtime was like (Not. Good.)
We don’t practice co-sleeping, but that night Maya slept on top of me, head nestled into my neck, feverish body burning against my t-shirt, drool pooling in and around my collar bone. Avi stayed mostly asleep in her crib, but woke to cough and whimper every hour. Someone suggested kindly that it “must have felt good” to be needed that much. It did NOT feel good. I felt awful for Maya, and sad that Avi was alone in the other room, sleeping and unaware that her sister was being treated to a 3 a.m. snuggle. I wanted to sleep splayed out, pushing Jon to the far reaches of the bed, as I normally do. Instead, I stared at the tin ceiling and wondered how long this would last.
Thursday wasn’t much better. They woke up crying. They didn’t want milk. They didn’t want breakfast. They didn’t want to play. But they did want me. They needed me and only me. My mother-in-law came to offer relief, but they crawled out of her lap and into mine. They pulled on my pant leg and followed me out of the room, screaming. If I dared to stretch my legs, walk over to the bookshelf or answer my phone, they broke down.
I felt crazy. I felt helpless. I felt all of those things that moms and dads feel when their kids are sick, and I was sure I felt it even more, because I had two who were both sick at the same time. I took them out for a walk. I sang, I danced; I even put on a baby genius DVD thingy (the horror! I resorted to television!). Finally, I laid myself down on the floor and let them throw themselves on top of me, let them climb up my legs, let them push against my belly, let their little sticky hands and their drool and mucus-covered faces press against my own face. I closed my eyes and gave myself over to them. And while I knew I was nursing them back to health, and while I believed that I was doing this well, and while I knew that ultimately they would be happy and healthy again, I felt very, very sorry for myself and wanted to run far, far away.
By Saturday morning, things seemed to be improving. The fevers had broken and now the girls were left with runny noses and little coughs, but their moods were much better. Somehow, while Jon read to them about the dancing giraffe and everyone seemed happily occupied, I snuck out for a jog.
I didn’t feel like exercising. I felt like laying down on a beach somewhere, alone. I felt like being lazy, falling in and out of sleep like you do when you’re on a beach, waking only to take a sip of your frozen drink or re-read a page of the novel that’s fallen into the sand near your lounge chair. But there I was, jogging, and as I did so, slowly energized by the fresh air and the moment alone and the music I listened to on my headset. I felt tired, but I also felt the frustrations of the last few days start to shed.
Those of you who know the 5k loop in Prospect Park know that there are small and occasional hills. And those of you who jog as infrequently as I do, know that regardless of how low and occasional those hills are, when you are jogging and they pop up, you suddenly realize how you are extraordinarily out of shape.
As I approached the first hill somewhere around Flatbush Avenue I slowed my jog to a virtual walk and cursed my lack of stamina, my feel-good vibes falling away as quickly as they had returned. And just then, up from behind me pedaled a young woman riding a strange-looking bike, a low-slung thing with wide handlebars and a huge basket. Steadily, she pushed up the hill until she was next to me. And then in an instant she had handily breezed past me. As she rolled past, I turned to look at her. First I saw her face, which looked calm. Then I saw her legs, which were prosthetic. And then I saw myself, huffing and puffing and frustrated by nothing important at all, and I started to cry.
I cried up the rest of the hill as Kanye blasted through my headphones. I cried as I jogged past the Third Street playground. I cried as I jogged up next to a group of new moms of twins, out for a stroll with their twin bassinet strollers, all of them in sweatpants, all of them undoubtedly exchanging tales of sleepless nights and breastfeeding challenges. I cried my way out of the park and back onto the avenue that headed home, and I cried up my block and over to my front door.
Outside my apartment, I wiped my cheeks and tied my shoelaces. I sat on the stoop and caught my breath. From the open bay window I heard Jon’s voice murmuring quietly to the girls. Inside were my two miracles. They were given to me without condition. Any challenges they posed were surmountable. I might forget this sometimes–I have already forgotten this 10 times since last Saturday. I don’t know what I did to deserve them or to deserve the patient and gentle husband who gave them to me. But when I can, I’m going to try and remember that girl on the bike and I’m going to try and be half as brave as her. If I can manage that, it’ll all be okay.