I was newly a mother of two when a doctor – a kind doctor, a thoughtful doctor – told me that my new daughter would almost certainly end up in the hospital with every respiratory infection she got. Not a great idea, he said about twice-a-week daycare. Probably not, he said about baby-and-parent music classes. No, I don’t think so, was his answer to my hopeful questions about baby swimming, a smaller daycare, a playgroup. After two hospitalizations in her first five months, I believed him.
Through that first winter watched through front windows into an empty courtyard or through car windows into big sister’s preschool, my new daughter and I eyed the world with suspicion: me because it contained too many germs and her because nothing in it made her feel quite right. There was no sleep, no break, no time apart for the two of us to learn the beauty of missing each other and being reunited. There was just us, with the world outside the window unavailable.
The winter turned into years, isolated and treading water.
Then she got older, and her body’s protests came from her digestive system. No chocolate, the doctors said as she coughed and gagged. No oranges. Or tomatoes. She grew like a redwood tree – not tall but slowly. I watched her from every vantage point and learned to spike her food with oil, cream, and butter. I worried my Jewish mother heart into wrung-out puddles over her size and her nearly nonexistent appetite.
When all my worrying brought us to new doctors, they shook their heads harder than the first and said no to even more things. No dairy, they said. No soy, or eggs, or nuts, or wheat. Also: no peace for you, Mom. Hand her over; we’re putting her to sleep and looking at her insides. I paced between the hospital and the school, watched for problems, learned to cook for the diet I called joy-free despite its ample rainbows of fruit and vegetables, its every-variety-of-bean teaching us new flavors.
My mind filled with food. My cabinets filled with strange ideas.
When the final probe led to a solution — technical and frightening – to the problem of my daughter’s and my health-dominated relationship, I was left in mourning for the years we didn’t have.
Yes, I taught her to blow bubbles in the yard, but only between phone calls to the pediatrician.
Yes, I read to her every night, but mostly to calm her down enough to sleep so that she could grow.
Yes, I kissed her little cheeks over and over, but partly, I was checking for fevers, for filled-in flesh, for reassurance that she was still here, that she was staying.
If only I had those eight years back, untainted, I would spend them in the way that every mother I watched from the windows and the edges of the class parties and the aisles of the grocery store. I would worry about my daughters never sleeping through the night, learning to read, riding a bicycle. I would get frustrated at the tedium of motherhood, and I would sleep fitfully when they had stomach flu and strep throat. I would fill out school forms and drive to soccer practice. I would tuck warm girls into beds and hold hands crossing the street and make birthday cupcakes.
If only I had those eight years back, untainted, I would do all the things I already did, without all the extra things that kept me from living in the present. If only I had those eight years back, untainted, I would look at my daughter and see nothing more than what she always was, at heart, but what’s been clouded for me all this time: I would see her as a normal child.
That’s what I would do, if only I had those years back, untainted.
This was written for Finish the Sentence Friday hosted by Finding Ninee. This week’s sentence is “If only I had…”