(written last year, but remembered this week when Ariel got a cold)
El Niño emailed from Spain last week. This is our latest nickname for our son on account of his major in Spanish literature, and on account of the occasional resemblance between a strapping college boy and a periodic global weather system that disturbs the planet.
This time the storm was viral.
“I woke up yesterday very cold and with fever and stomach cramps,” he wrote Monday morning. “My fever broke last night and today it’s just the stomach cramps that’s got me pissed with life. I can’t keep water in me. I’m going to the doctor.”
This is how it is when you’re the mom of a child who loves to travel. He gets you out of your cubicle; he gets you to other parts of the world and your head. But the truth is your pitch rises, just a wee bit, from the effort to disguise your anxiety when that child gets sick far from home. You can’t make the chicken soup, the chamomile tea, the dry toast. You can’t quite remember, out of context, the advice your own mother gave you (Bananas are binding? An “A” for applesauce?) when your stomach went off when you were young. You’re off your mom game.
You go on faith; he’s an adult after all. He’s across the world. You can’t protect him from everything. You remember for maybe the millionth time the adage that Parenting is About Letting Go, and you remember for infinity-plus-one that you’re entwined for, like, ever.
So you make the metaphoric cup of chamomile tea to calm his choppy stomach (like Peter Rabbit’s mom did), and you squeeze in a little symbolic lemon and drizzle some hypothetical honey, and you pass it across the coffee table, I mean ocean, to the boy sprawled on the couch under the fuzzy red blankie watching a video with Misty curled at his feet, the cat who already comfortably sprawls the territory between the actual and the mythic, and you wait and believe….
“I have a virus and my body will kill it on its own, the doctors say,” El Niño wrote on Tuesday. “They gave me some meds to treat the symptoms and they are helping a lot. I still feel weak and without energy, and my body still isn’t down with H2O, but I’m getting better.”
When he forgets to log onto Skype at the time you’d arranged on Wednesday, you smile, recognizing this as a sign that he’s getting back to normal.
You tell yourself you weren’t really that worried, and you mean it, pretty much. You remember this is the kid you saw kiss the bottom of his own bare foot when he stepped on a thorn as a little boy, and you know this is how it’s supposed to be: moms take care of kids; they become adults who take care of themselves. You tell yourself, once again, that parenthood means letting go, and you basically mean it. As for the roiling swells of protectiveness you feel inside, that can be your own little secret.