I trim the crusts off the sandwich and jam it into his lunchbox. We’re out of red grapes. I make do with an apple. But an apple is different. Different is hard and hard things are already in the plans for the day. I see the panic in his eyes.
“It’s okay, buddy. Got your snow pants? It’s time to go.”
His medicine. I rush to the cupboard and grab the orange bottles to cobble together his daily cocktail of low-intensity chemo and high-powered vitamins.
He wraps his scarf around his neck and I trip over a discarded lightsaber as I dole out the pills.
“Are we late? Mom, are we late?!”
He bites his nails. His quick breaths follow me as I splash coffee in a travel mug and throw my arms into the cushions of my coat. I bark orders to grab his hat and lace his boots.
We’re late. I remember what I’ve forgotten. I kick the footie pajamas left on the floor and navigate the morning mess, toward the cupboard. Where is it?
I reach over my head, running my fingers over the bottles to search for the missing tube. It’s somewhere, maybe on the highest shelf. I heave myself on the cluttered counter and peer into our in-home pharmacy, reminders of bodies broken and healed. I land on what I need and climb down.
“Take off your coat, bud.”
I sigh. He looks at me, inquisitive. He unravels his scarf, his coat. I push up his shirtsleeve and pull him close, feeling for veins in the crook of his right arm. Then the left. I’m no nurse but it feels like an easier stick, so I choose this one.
Numbing cream. The clock ticks and I twist the tube’s cap. It’s stuck. I twist. And twist. It won’t budge. I want to shout. He’s watching me and the rims of my eyes start to pool. I push the feelings down and pull the cap up. Nothing happens. I fumble into a drawer and grab some kitchen scissors. I’m improvising now and snip a corner of the tube, squeezing a soft mountain into the crook of his arm. I place a plastic cover on top.
“Why did you do that, Mom?”
I look into his deep eyes and soak in the beautiful being in front of me. My son. I layer on his snow gear.
“I guess I want you to hurt a little less.”
My words float into the air before settling heavy on my chest. I ache to bear the pain of each needle that will sting him. I remember what I tell him when his anxiety bubbles over. I repeat what I’ll tell him when we find ourselves sitting on the paper-covered exam table, waiting for more labs, more specialists.
“Breathe. We are here. Together. Breathe. Breathe.”
I’m raising four children, two of whom live bravely with special medical and developmental needs. Mothers like me often hear, “You’re superwoman,” but we’re no heroes. I’m certainly not. I am a full-human who often aches for some numbing cream of her own.
What removes the sting when the doctor tells you to sit down?
My attempts to make it hurt a little less come in many forms: Pushing my cart through Target, picking a fight with my husband, pouring a glass of wine. Just an innocent application of a little numbing cream on my heart.
There’s nothing to slather on that absolves the questions that arise late at night. Will he talk? Will she walk? Will I outlive them? Why can’t I make this better?
But I’d trade all the numbing cream in the world for the ability to take on my children’s pain. I pray that I could substitute my suffering for theirs, but I’m their mother. Not their savior.
I’m an aching mom doing her best to make things hurt a little less.
Be still. I sense an invitation to stop running. My lungs are tired and I struggle to breathe.
Our feet dangle from the exam table. He rests his head on my shoulder, sliding his fingers into mine. The nurse consults her clipboard, informing us he’s now 53 inches tall. My son will outgrow me soon. He scoots closer—still small enough to need me. I wonder if he knows how much I need him.
She balances a syringe and handful of empty vials. It’s not our first go at this, and it’s certainly not the last. It’s simply maintenance work.
“Just a few labs.”
She wraps the band around his arm. He squirms. I hope the cream works.
She wiggles the needle. He whimpers. I tell him to look at the clock. We watch the red dial tick by.
“Breathe. We are here. Together. Breathe. Breathe.”
It’s not working. At least not the way I wish it would. I try, but I can’t absolve my children’s pain and suffering.
But I can offer presence. Myself. Strokes of their hair, whispers in their ear. I can hold small aching bodies tight in the darkness of the night, reminding them I’m near.
A little cream dulls the sting, but a mother’s touch, her voice? Can we grasp the healing power we wield when we surrender?
I push my late-night fears on a God who took away the sting of death. Who promises to be present in not only my children’s suffering, but in my own afflictions, too. I fight through tears to see that I can hand over my cheap numbing attempts and I can give up my ache to bear their pain, because He already has.
I sense His presence in the still of the night and in the bustle of day.
I can breathe.
Guest post written by Kayla Craig. Kayla is a full-time journalist turned work-at-home mom to four young kids via birth and adoption. She'll always find room for one more new friend at the table or old book on the shelf. Kayla and her husband chase their children around Des Moines, Iowa, leaving trails of crushed Cheerios wherever they go. Kayla works with local moms as project coordinator for Des Moines Moms Blog and twice a month, she trades her keyboard for a mic as a co-host for Upside Down Podcast.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.