The older I get, the more I realize everything is but a hair’s breadth from this moment—
peril, bliss, understanding, balance.

A morning of dropped razors, unfilled toilet paper rolls, and empty coffee containers can set the tone of my entire day.

Afternoons stacked with barely veiled nastiness in my inbox, back-to-back red lights on the way to the bus, and meat I forgot to defrost can leave me staggering to bedtime. The tiniest shift in my thinking and I can set the course for things happening a certain way, or at least for how I ultimately respond to things.

After the experience with Finley’s unexplained skin rash and fever this summer, about which I nearly lost my mind, I would have expected last week’s medical head scratcher to have hit me differently. A blossom of color appeared on Avery’s foot. Our first thought was that it was red from a stubbed toe; then when it began to itch, we applied cortizone cream. Days passed and it got worse. She had no real symptoms of anything, panic seemed reasonable given the worsening appearance, but it didn’t come. Sean and I talked, I calmly took her to the hospital.

There we were, plunked down on a sterile bed in the ER, machines pumping and whirring on all sides, the hallways teeming with people. Avery’s eyes filled with water, “I don’t want to see the dying people, mama. I don’t want shots or to be under these machines.” Scanning the room and hearing the sounds through her ears I became overwhelmed. Panic bubbled, not for this moment, but for all the moments that could come at any time. I worried about the hospital room not being in the ER, but in another corridor, the walls meant to be ours for more than an evening. My ears rang with the people in the waiting room who answered, “None,” to the question of, “Insurance?” and it hit me how quickly fortunes can change and make that our answer as well.

Ave distracted us both with her reading aloud of all the signs in the room. “What exactly is that one about, mom?” she asked nodding toward the pain chart.

“That’s so that you can explain to the doctor how you are feeling, you know, how much you hurt.” I explained. She got quiet and stopped looking around.

“But…Mama, what number do I tell them if I don’t hurt but I am really scared?”

I didn’t have an answer. I squeezed her and said we’d figure it out together. As I held her she teetered on hysteria, going back and forth as she decided whether or not to give into her very real fear. I turned her chair away from the machines, redirected her ear from the phlegmy coughs and terse shouts in the hallway and toward me. I set my phone to Dear Avery and we huddled together. The plaintive melody filled the room, the starkness of our surroundings softened and we swayed. She looked up at me and smiled, leaning in to me she rubbed her nose against mine and whispered, “I love you, mama, so much I do.”

Ave and I spent the next hour being together, really listening to each other, talking and cuddling. We were still scared, still would have vastly preferred to be at home, but there we were. We approached the next day’s trip to the pediatrician the same way. They sent us home with a diagnosis of cellulitis. We started antibiotics. A few days later the phone rang, an unexpected siren in the middle of an uncharacteristic Saturday nap.

“Avery’s test came back positive for Lyme.” I was rattled, felt guilty. My prior guilt and sensation of failure over the bacteria diagnosis shifted to an adrenaline surge and alarm. The antibiotic we had her on was not effective against Lyme. Deep breath. Changing course. She is ok. It could be worse.

There will be more trips to the ER, she’ll frighten me, and I reserve the right to completely lose it, but I am flirting with a new understanding. The perfection of things is not in everything always being smooth, it certainly isn’t about all the laundry being folded or my hair laying a certain way.

We risk everything daily, each corner holding the risk of heartbreak or promise of a breakthrough. Some days we let the tears roll as we sit in a parked car outside the office, other times we bite them back. Beauty shimmers alongside ruin, and so we hold tight to one another, and we risk everything for love.