It is 11:00pm. I am awake. My son has been coughing so hard he gags a bit at the end, and it frightens me.
It is midnight. I am awake. I managed to sit him up and dose him with the only thing that helps, for a while - honey. He is four years old, so this is not our first rodeo. That doesn’t make it easier to hold his little body as the coughs wrack it.
It is 1:00am. I am awake. He’s now coughing only every 15 minutes or so, and so I start to drift. I miss my grandmother. She died four days ago. I’m sure that’s contributing to my wakefulness - the reminder of mortality making me kiss his sweaty little brow even though a part of me wants to shove him over to the other side of the bed and just sleep.
It is 1:30am. The coughing is more gentle now, and he feels cooler. I think of him, and of all the times he’s been ill in his four little years. Nearly five now, really. I think of my daughter and my husband, and hope he’s faring better - she was pretty congested but not coughing. I think of my grandma. I think of the fact that I’m lying here with him, awake, like I have before. I think that I never really tell anyone about this. This part of motherhood. It’s a secret. It’s like when I tell people my grandmother and I were “close” and I’m “a little down”.
When I say motherhood is “hard”, it doesn’t cover it. It’s true, but it’s not the whole truth. How many times have I not told the whole truth? Every time I open my mouth, probably. What I say is true, but it can’t cover the whole of it. It doesn’t cover how terrified you get that maybe that cold is something more. It doesn’t cover how irritated you get because they just can’t seem to listen to you. Nobody listens. Nobody hears.
If you tell a pregnant woman that it’s easier to take care of that baby in her belly than it will be when the baby is out, she acts like you’re being mean, or crazy. It’s just the truth. We all talk about how motherhood is wonderful, or difficult, or it changes you. We don’t really talk about how terrifying it is. How every time you hear of something bad happening to a child, just for a moment that child is YOURS. That is your own child, and you feel that pain with all your heart. How every time your child complains of a belly ache, you worry that it’s something more. How every time you make a choice, you don’t know if it’s the right one or if that one little thing you just did will forever mess up your children. Maybe you just knocked them off the path to change the world for the better onto the path to murder thousands. You just don’t know - and though sometimes you learn that a choice was wrong in time to change it and do better in the future, sometimes you just never know. How scary is that?
Motherhood isn’t just hard, or fantastic. It’s so scary simply the idea of being a mother (or a parent, really) should have you shaking in your boots. But maybe you’ll make the right choices, or the bad choices you make won’t matter or can be corrected. Maybe. Maybe my children will turn out okay in spite of me. Maybe he’ll get over this cough, and we won’t have to go to the doctor (which is a whole different kettle of fish - every time you take them in amongst those sick children are you risking them catching something worse than what they already have?)
Maybe I’ll learn to tell the whole truth. Not to just give cheerful platitudes. Maybe the next time someone asks me, I won’t say “great, how are you?” Maybe I’ll say I’m sad, and I’m scared, and I’m happy, and I’m content, and I’m frustrated, and I’m so afraid I’m a terrible mother and a terrible wife. But I'm doing my best anyway. Maybe it's good enough. And how are you? Because I actually want to know. The truth, this time. Please.