A snooty teenager, I would always point out the futility of my mother’s attempts to cushion my impact from those crashes – none of which, luckily, ever came to pass. “You’d probably be better off keeping your hands on the steering wheel,” I’d offer, knowing everything there is to know in the world.
As a human responsible only for the care and wellbeing of herself, that teenage version of me couldn’t have known then that even if futile, a mother will be driven to shield her child from harm.
I first understood this while cradling a newborn in the crook of my arm. That baby was so vulnerable, so in need of sheltering from the world’s raw affront, that it was frightening. I eagerly awaited a future in which she was no longer as breakable, no longer a delicate butterfly’s breath on the nape of my neck and instead, a sturdy fullness within the circle of my embrace.
So it’s difficult to accept that she’ll always be breakable.
It started as a cold. Nothing to worry about, my logical mind told me. But my motherly instinct whispered that it just didn’t feel right, as the illness moved into her chest and has stubbornly remained. If Elle hadn’t wound up in the ER, and later, on a Flight for Life to Children’s Hospital last winter following similar circumstances, I may not have lain awake so many nights this week, listening fearfully for the slightest interruption in the cadence of her breath. But even without that piercing memory spinning on a merry-go-round in my head, intuition’s whisper still would have kept me from sleeping soundly.
Recent trips to the pediatrician have given us a diagnosis for this rattle in her lungs, as well as a potential answer to the question we’ve been asking ourselves since that night last February when an ordinary case of the flu morphed into a battle for my daughter’s life. Asthma is a fairly common ailment, one that, when well controlled, typically allows for normalcy and wellness.
As strange as it may sound, I am grateful for this diagnosis, because it gives Elle’s father and I a plan of attack; a linear, logical means of stopping that elusive predator in its tracks before it paws menacingly at our child.
My growing knowledge of the disease of asthma, coupled with a program of medication and continued assessments from our doctor, has allowed me to rest more easily. It’s my Go-Go-Gadget Arm shooting out to shield my daughter from a potential hazard on the road ahead. But it hasn’t erased that far-off whisper. Nor has it reduced the urge to swoop her back up under my wing at the slightest indication of danger, therein shielding her from the potential of injury and illness lurking beyond the secure boundaries of my protection. But my wingspan is woefully small, and ultimately my protection ineffective in defending her from every attack.
Healing is a long process. Elle’s scars remain, embedded deep in her lungs where we can’t see them, but they don’t seem to bother her. She runs around, happily, the chronic wheeze of her exhales of no more import to her than the dismal news reports her father and I listen to on CNN.
But the scars that live deep in my chest, angry red slashes scraped into the walls of my ribcage by the emotional assault of Elle’s tenuous fight to breathe last winter, still throb furiously sometimes at night, when I listen to the rough rasp of my sleeping daughter’s breath.
That overwhelming urge to protect your child never goes away. Perhaps it just becomes more complicated, because no longer is protecting your child simply a matter of cradling them in the haven of your watchful care. They must go out into the world, alone, where they must inevitably confront the beast.
This realization is a jagged pill for a mother to swallow. And, yet, that bitter medicine has its purpose. I simply cannot take my children for granted. I must accept the joys they share with me daily, with all the fullness and wholeness of my being, and consciously acknowledge the gift that is their every moment in my presence.