One of my least favorite parts of parenthood is determining the severity of the piccolini's sicknesses. Usually, I see it coming and progress through the following hierarchy of questions. Is it not-enough-sleep-last-night sick? Is it take-a-nap-and-watch-a-video sick? Is it have-some-pain-killer sick? Is it call-the-doctor sick? If I ignore it, will it go away? If I go to the doctor will I feel like an over-reacting mother?
Tied up in all of this is my intense desire to be Right, not Wrong. And I suppose when dealing with my child's health I should just swallow my pride and be Safe. But I still hate, hate, hate to think of myself as the over-reacting type. (Because I totally am.) And I hate to think that I'm encouraging the piccolini to wallow in self-pity by fussing over their every little pain.
Noah bears every little pain very loudly. Until last month (that's 3 years and 9 months, dear friends) I felt compelled to acknowledge every little waah he made. I told myself that I was teaching him compassion, but not fostering whininess. In case you're wondering, compassion-without-fostering-whining sounded like this:
"Oops, Noah. You fell down. Pick yourself up. You're okay."
Or sometimes I'd translate to English what the Germans say to their Kinder, "ich hab' geshen, nichts passiert." I saw. Nothing happened. Upon several attempts at using this one, I decided that phrase simply doesn't sound very good in English - regardless of whether or not it's the culturally acceptable response in German or English. So I stopped.
Then I read something about communicating with your kids that made me think I should try be a little less patronizing in my response. I stopped telling Noah he was okay - or that nothing happened - instead, I simply stated what happened (so he knew that I knew), and then tried to move on.
Finally, around his third birthday, I decided that maybe it was HIS communication, not mine that was causing all the crying. So we worked on his ability to tell me what was wrong. It was all the rage at his preschool, too. Use your words, say the teachers. But, you know, Noah's ability to communicate is quite good - and has been for some time. Just yesterday he told me that he felt "distressed" when I stopped playing car mechanic with him to answer the phone. Please.
Well. He's almost 4 and he's still suffering, not only loudly and dramatically, but also eloquently in two languages; so last month I decided to just do the old-fashion-thing. Initiate Project Zero Response. Ignore him completely (unless it's BAD). Running though the house and tripped on the rug? Don't even look up from the computer. Dropped several board books on his foot? Continue loading the dishwasher. Mattias pulled his hair? Finish drinking my tea. Distressed because I need to answer the phone? Answer the phone. Zero Response.
And the vocal suffering is decreasing dramatically. In all honesty, it's downright embarassing that it took me this long to do what probably every other parents has been doing from day one.
Which brings me back to my original point about sickness. How sick is sick? And how to sort out the drama from the real thing. Two weeks ago, Noah embarked on a Whine-A-Thon. It began with a cold, that made him cough at night. He'd cough (once!), sit up in bed, and cry. Fritz has yet to subscribe to Project Zero Response, so he went and slept with Noah, to lull him back to sleep when he randomly woke up and coughed (once!) and then cried. (Didn't I just write about what a great sleeper Noah is? Sheez.)
The next morning, the Whine-A-Thon and Project Zero Response were competing programs while Fritz got ready for work. It was cold in Denver. So cold, that Fritz planned to take our (only) car to work. From some reason, that encouraged him to leave later than usual. So the competition lasted for about 3.5 hours. That's 3.5 hours of me ignoring a dull waaahhh while Fritz did what I can only call interference. After Fritz left, I sat Noah in front of his favorite show, Kipper, in a desperate attempt to stop the whining. He stopped. Hmmm. That's only question number 2 on the sickness question list...
Long story short? Noah's cold deteriorated into bronchitis by about 11am. I had the pediatrician on the phone suggesting that I call 911, since Fritz had the car, and I wasn't sure we could wait until a 3pm appointment, AND since the pediatrician doesn't work during the lunch hours. We didn't do that 911 stuff, thanks to a supply of breath-easy drugs and nebulizer paraphernalia that have accumulated over Noah's last three years of being a bronchitis "candidate."
They say that a mother knows when something is wrong. But there is the Moment when a mother knows. Mine was at 11am. Until I knew, I didn't know.
So where does Project Zero Response begin and end? Will Noah ever stop whining? I plowed ahead with the project as soon as he seemed better again. And you know, it's going well. Just yesterday, Noah, Mattias and I went out for a walk. Noah was riding his balance bike, and I was pushing Mattias in the stroller, when Noah hit a small pocket of snow and ice and fell off his bike. I was about 20 yards behind - far enough that if I had a reaction, Noah wouldn't see it. And I did have a reaction when he fell. Mattias and I sprinted towards him. By the time we reached Noah, he was picking his bike back up and saying to me, "I'm okay, Mommy. I just fell and said, 'oops, I fell!' and I didn't cry." I was so proud of him that I could have cried!
Then, last night, his leg hurt. And I started to think: Is he just tired? Is it growing pains? Did he really injure himself when he fell? ...
This morning? More leg pain - the other leg, however - and he was hot. Ah ha! A fever! The illness that doesn't require so much guesswork. Noah doesn't get a fever often. But the wonderfulness of the fever is... it's a number! It's black and white! I know what to do! Fritz looked at me wearily and reminded me it could be the flu and maybe I should call the doctor. But I know what fever means:
Give pain killer and if it is within 24 hours of school - no school. That's the rule.
EVEN if you spent the last 3 weeks making Valentines for this very special day. Oops. I guess sometimes a little ambiguity would be okay.
And the leg pain? Well, the Moment hasn't come yet, so I don't know.