Nico got sick recently, temperatures of 102 and 103 at night, lethargy, lots of sad faces and whimpering. It was the week after Marta got back from a trip to Puerto Rico and right before I went on a trip to Austin. We spent a lot of time in bed with an ear thermometer and Google on hand.
Babies, as you might already know, have slightly higher temperatures than the rest of us. They can also get hotter than the rest of us when they’re fighting off an illness. So when you are a new parent and you freak out because your one-year-old has a temperature of 103, there are lots of sites on the internet there to calm you. Don’t worry, they tell you. Only call your doctor if the temperature reaches 103 or lasts for more than a day. Only give Tylenol or Ibuprofen if it gets up to 104.
“But what if it gets higher than that?” Marta asked once Nico’s temperature had, indeed, reached 104. “When is it just too high?”
I tried to find an answer to this with Google’s help. All I could find was one article explaining that if Nico has febrile seizures–that is seizures brought on by a sudden spike in temperature–we shouldn’t worry. And then another article that briefly mentioned that brain damage only occurs once the body reaches 108.
I told Marta this and she told me that thinking about brain damage and seizures was not helping her at that moment in time. She was, as those of you who know both of our personalities can guess, more stressed out about the situation than I was.
I felt bad for Nico. But–and I know this is going to sound sort of awful–I actually found the experience of caring for her while she was sick kind of relaxing. Even fun. She was so sick that she just lay there and either slept or wanted to cuddle. I, in turn, could lay there with her and read her the novel I was currently in the thick of and didn’t want to put down. There was none of the normal chasing her around the house, worrying that she was going to eat that bottle cap or close her fingers in that drawer. She was immobilized and, frankly, a lot easier to handle.
This makes me sound like a Munchhausen-by-proxy mom whose in it not for the attention but out of pure laziness. I know. But, I assure you I would never make up a disease for Nico or even encourage her to get ill. When she is ill, though, I have to admit there are advantages.
Marta, on the other hand, almost physically aches every time Nico is injured or ill. She worries about everything from the trail of mosquito bites now tracing Nico’s forehead (it finally rained in Lubbock and that means we now have mosquitoes like the rest of the country) to a slight rise in her temperature. Her worrying has really helped in some instances. When Nico was just two months old, as some of you might remember, Marta got concerned about a bulge we saw from time to time near Nico’s groin. I said it was probably nothing. Marta insisted we go to the doctor. Turns out it was a hernia and needed to be operated on immediately.
But I like to think that my not-worrying approach also has a place in our family. I was right, for instance, when I predicted that Nico would be well in three days, that she wasn’t seriously ill when she had those high temperatures but that she was just fighting off something. In that instance, my not-worrying approach was the least taxing and most efficient way of handling the situation, if I do say so myself.
But when we are in the thick of things, it’s often hard for Marta and me to negotiate whose approach is the most helpful. Is it better if we listen to me, and just kick back, read our novel, and tend to our sickly daughter when she wakes up and needs water, food, etc? Or is it better that we start to worry a bit that something might actually be wrong with her, that we do some research, that we even go to the doctor?
What we try to do in an ideal world is have respect for each other and our respective ways of dealing with the situation. I try not to call Marta a worry wart or a freak and I ask her not to call me a heartless, lazy mom. Instead, I try to remember that her worrying is helpful to some degree and she tries (I think) to remember that my laissez-faire approach to parenting also has its benefits.
We don’t always remember to be so fair-minded, of course. But we’re getting better. And Nico’s gotten better too.
Here she is just a few days ago, when her only ailment was that trail of mosquito bites, which you might be able to see below the shadow of her elegant new fedora.