Among the items consistently left off of the Things that will forever change after you become a parent list: A kind of helplessness that steals your very breath
I feel restless, my hands desperate to help, I search her face for some sign, some indication of what I can do, but there is nothing. I sit with her, those wide blue eyes, glassy and still, her cheeks burning with fever, the delicate skin marred by flurries of angry looking rash. Her soft ringlets lay flat, sticking in clammy swirls along her brow. She has no appetite to speak of, crying softly and then, worse, slipping into silence and drifting far away, unable to sleep, but too weary to play.
We are trapped, she and I, each wanting to escape this day, with its gloomy sky, but we cannot. Avery sleeps in her crib, her little arm, dimpled elbow high in the air, cradle her baby doll, offering a kind of comfort and safety I cannot for Briar. I smile despite my heavy heart as Avery wiggles her bottom and looses a dreamy giggle from her perfect little mouth. Briar whimpers,
“What is it baby, what’cha need?”
“Can you cuddle with me?”
“Of course I can baby girl, of course I can.” I cannot clamber into her bed fast enough. I wrap my arm around her as she snakes her own beneath my neck, I kiss her face. It only lasts a moment before she turns, quietly sobbing.
“So hot mama. I’m so hot.” She kicks the covers off and pushes her pillow away. My brow furrows and I wish for the wisdom to understand what to do.
“Mama, will you cuddle with me? Can you hold me like a baby?”
I nod, choking back the tears that threaten to fall. This is but a glimmer of what is ahead, of broken hearts and dashed hopes, of gang ups on the play ground and missed chances on the field, of times that I can do no more than stand near, ready to catch her, to answer a cry for help, but mostly to let her find her way. Helplessness. I realize it is part of the bargain, the price to be paid for the superpower of magically fixing ripped pages, of turning mistakes into even-betters, but that is little solace today. I try to cuddle from a distance, letting her know I am within her reach, but she cannot be still.
Avery moans in the other room. The phone rings. My tears fall in earnest as I absentmindedly rub Briar’s back, the bumps of her spine seeming more pronounced than usual, more fragile, and then,
“Mama, I love you. Thank you for taking care of me.”
“Of course baby, it’s my favorite thing to do.”
And then she closed her eyes. She was asleep. I sat watching her sleep, the rhythm of her breathing even, the color on her face mellowing with the rise and fall of her chest. I closed my eyes as the panic that had gripped me all morning loosened its grip ever so slightly, and I said thanks.