Sick Day: A Practice in Gratitude

Motherhood is hard and holy work. So hard, so holy.

It’s been a week. We started with Lu, fresh out of the bath, running headlong into a busted chin and her first set of stitches. The next day, Annie came down with a nasty fever virus, and six days later, she’s still not well and Lu has started her turn with it. Neither girl is sleeping well at night, and the days are filled with tracking doses of medication and trying to hydrate two littles who keep throwing up whatever goes down. Throw in work and all the laundry and basically dousing the house in Lysol — doing all these things over and over — and well… I’m tired. But today, tending to Lu, I pulled out my camera, looking for the light in the form of silver linings. All these worries and inconveniences are opportunities to seek out blessings and practice gratitude. So, these images – from backpacks home with their owners instead of at school, modern medicine, quiet moments to catch up on work, all the laundry, to a little girl who trusts me to the utmost and feels safest in my arms – are blessings among all the murmuring I’ve surely done this week. Pressing a cold cloth to a hot forehead, coaxing a piece of toast into a tummy, and praying that tomorrow is a little bit better are all ways that I’m serving my family, and I’ll let these images serve as my reminder that this work is hard but holy. 

Happy Birthday, Lu

Dear Lu,

You’re turning four years old soon, and this is the first “letter” I’ve written you. But I think all those things I would have said in those letters have been said in other ways: out loud to you, in my heart, in those many daily rituals that exist only for us to say “I love you.” Several times a day, you pop your head around the corner or peek around my leg and chirp, “Cuddle?” I say yes as often as I can, and we head to my bed where you snuggle your way into me, the way you’ve done since you were a few months old. We co-slept, even though I said I’d never do it. Motherhood is humbling that way, because I had an idea of how these things should go, and you came along and showed me another way – your way. Your way was better anyhow; it was full of closeness and trust and an elemental need to be together.
Since then, you’ve been teaching me how to live — I have so much to learn from you. You don’t hesitate to call me out if you think I’m wrong, but you’re quick to praise, too. Together, your names mean “pure light,” and you shine it all around, upon everyone you meet. There’s a lot of love in your little body and you seem determined to share every bit of it. These big feelings go both ways, though. Last weekend, you were upstairs playing with your sister and cousins, and you let out a blood-curdling shriek that would make a grown man cower. Mary was alarmed — “did her arm get cut off?!” — but I assured her you had likely suffered what you deemed to be a great injustice. Sure enough, seconds later, you came down the stairs indignant at the way you’d been mistreated (someone wasn’t sharing). You have this idea of what is right. The right way to play, to sing, to arrange your toys. If something or someone isn’t fitting in that mold, then your little world shifts.
That’s why I’ve been worried about you the last few months. When your daddy started medical school and I went to work full-time, your little world shifted. The closeness we’d experienced every day for nearly four years – your whole, entire life — took a hit. For 8 hours a day, you’ve been with a new person, in a new place. Away from home, away from me. I don’t think it’s unfair to say neither of us has been thrilled about the arrangement. I know while you’re there, you’ve been learning new skills, forging new friendships, and growing braver and smarter. But I know it’s been difficult for you. You don’t have the words to articulate it all yet, but when you say “I just want to be with you, Mama,” I understand completely. I just want to be with you, too.
While we adjust, I am making my best effort to be with you. The hours we have together are precious to me, and I hope you can feel that. I think you do. Before I drop you off at school, we go through a type of mantra, which goes something like this:
You are kind.
You are brave.
You are strong.
You are good.
God loves you, and I love you, more than the stars and bigger than the ocean.
You repeat this back to me, and have come to know it as an expression of love and offer it up to me at random times, even when you don’t quite get it right. Your rendition — “You’re bigger than the ocean” — always makes me smile. Well, my love is, anyway.
So, Lu, before your birthday, I guess I just wanted to write this all down for you to read one day. I want you to know that I am trying my best and that I know you’re trying your best — and I am so proud to be your mama. You’ve handled this transition like a champ, and your resilience helps me be brave, too. Thank you for that. Happiest of birthdays to you, darling girl.