Last week, on Thursday evening, I picked all three kids up from daycare after work, which is a very standard-issue Thursday evening kind of thing to do. What made this particular Thursday evening noteworthy, to me, was a combination of astronomical and meteorological phenomena I observed as we were all preparing to depart. Specifically, as I was leaning through one of the back doors and helping to get the little girl situated and secured in her car seat, having already done as much for the bino in his rear-facing mid-bench humprider, while the little guy got himself buckled in on the other side, I realized that the 5:30 p.m. sky was not completely dark. Night was encroaching, but not yet fully fallen. Also, it was chilly, but not bitterly cold, not the kind of merciless lifeforce-draining cold that makes me excessively snappish with the kids to hurry up and get settled so I can stop hanging my backside out of the car door and get the engine started and the heat blowing for crying out loud. It was probably only about 37 degrees out, but it’s remarkable what five or so degrees above freezing as opposed to below will do for you.
And so, as tends to happen in moments like that, I had a moment of mindfulness acknowledging that while winter had barely begun, the days were already getting longer again, and at the very least we were not trapped in the grip of another howling polar vortex. Things were looking up, and perhaps I had reason to be optimistic. The very next day I was going to be off from work, so that I could get the little guy off to school and stay home with the little girl, while my wife took the bino off to his ear tube surgery. And that too was reason for optimism, that the seeming endless cycle of ear infections and antibiotics would be broken and a certain amount of peace and well-being might characterize all of our lives.
This of course is how a fool thinks when he presumes to think about the future.
The ear tube insertions were a by-the-book success, the bino was in and out with no complications and he did in fact sleep through the night like a champ that very night. The next day was Saturday, and the bino developed a bit of a fever, but considering all the possible side effects of anesthesia, and that he had only just rolled off the fourth consecutive course of antibiotics a few days earlier, and take your pick of other ever-present complicating factors, we didn’t think much of it. But he did not sleep well Saturday night. Nor did he rally on Sunday, as the fever spiked, so that evening my wife took him to the local urgent care facility where … the bino was diagnosed with influenza. Yes, of course, we had all three kids and ourselves vaccinated for the flu at the beginning of the season, but you may also have heard that the effectiveness rate for this year’s batch against this years active strains is so low that better-than-nothing is about the best that can be said about it. The bino’s case seems to be mild, and luckily we were able to get a prescription for Tamiflu filled that very evening and administer his first dose.
He got the requisite two doses yesterday, when I was home for the holiday. As is often the case with most kids (at least among the sample population of three in my household) the bino was more or less fine, if a tad less energetic than usual, throughout the day. But getting horizontal at bedtime merely aggravated his congestion (did I mention he has bronchitis along with/on top of the flu?) to the point where he could cough himself awake yet could not simply roll over and go back to sleep. Basically Monday night was a redux of Sunday night, except that on Sunday we tried to sleep three to a bed, bino in between my wife and myself, with mixed results of limited restfulness, and last night I decamped to the couch in the den with the bino to let my wife sleep in peace, again with non-optimal outcomes.
So this is where we find ourselves, as we often have over the past six or seven years: in pure, hindbrain survival mode, just trying to get through one day at a time. I no longer really care what color the sky is going to be as I make my way home tonight, nor can I particularly summon up a crap to give about whose Super Bowl party invitation we accept (if any) or when we might get around to visiting some of my family in the late winter/early spring or even what we’re going to have for dinner tomorrow night. I have one overriding desire, which is to go to bed and close my eyes tonight some time before 11, and not have to open my eyes again until my alarm goes off in the morning at 5. I likely will not get my wish.
My wife and I bandy about the old saw about seeing light at the end of the tunnel quite a bit. But lately I’ve come to realize that said metaphor is not really entirely apt. It implies the existence of a completed tunnel, and that at any point in time as one traverses said tunnel one can plot one’s distance from the entrance at one’s back as well as from the exit ahead. Seeing the light indicates that the exit is close, and will only continue drawing nearer as long as one keeps moving forward. That’s all well and good, and it’s a useful metaphor in a variety of situations; I just no longer think parenting is one them.
I think the tunnels of parenting are more like the ones made by a mole or an earthworm. There’s still the place where you came in, somewhere behind you. Theoretically there is, at any rate, although it’s more or less impossible to simply retrace your steps and backtrack out of the tunnel. Perhaps it’s more true to say there was an entrance, but the tunnel that far back has already collapsed in on itself. The only way through and out is to keep digging, chipping away at whatever’s in front of you at the moment. There’s no light to gauge progress against, and really no way of knowing how far away the next breakthrough really is, because a tunnel that doesn’t yet exist, by its very definition, can’t already be mapped. Every kid is different, every go-round is different, and a lightly passing phase for one sibling can be a backbreaking trail of tears for the next. You just have to keep biting those rocks right in front of your face, on and on, day after day. And when your head pops up into open air, it’s a pleasant (albeit potentially disorienting) surprise.
I don’t mean to sound like pure distilled despair, weeping and wailing about how it’s all too hard and too unfair. It is what it is. I wouldn’t give up my family for anything in the world. In some ways it’s kind of liberating to think that every day is just x amount of dirt I have to swallow, or claw my way past, or something. And the flip side is that sometimes you get through the tunnel faster than you expected. I’d been wondering idly how long it was going to be before we were really and truly down to just one kid in diapers (which would signal that the really important countdown to zero kids in diapers could maybe begin) because for a long time now we’ve been living with a toddler who, age-appropriately enough, wears diapers round the clock, and the little girl who is long-since potty-trained but needed overnight diapers. This past Saturday was movie night as usual, and I told the little girl she could get into her pajamas after bath and not worry about the diaper until right before she went to bed. But then she started drifting off during the movie and I got her to bed in a hurry (trying not to wake up the bino who’d gone down in their room earlier) and didn’t realize until morning that we’d forgotten her diaper. But she woke up dry! And after that there was no going back, by which I mean the little girl refused a diaper the following night. We worried it might have been a fluke followed by tantrum-inducing overnight accidents, but as of today it’s three nights in the clear and counting (though of course I have jinxed it by blogging about it). So yes, sometimes things just get better seemingly out of nowhere. Sometimes they don’t get better quite fast enough to suit me. But things do change, that’s the constant we can count on, and the best we can do is try to dig in the right direction, guiding the tunnel around the obstacles and towards the pockets of good stuff. And I'm trying.
(UPDATE: As predicted, I did not get my aforementioned wish last night. The bino went down early, clearly very tired, but was half-awake and screaming for attention right around the time my wife and I were trying to go to sleep. I managed to get him settled in his crib the first time, but he was at it again not much later, and transferred into our bed, where he proceeded to thrash and moan disruptively for a few hours. Then he passed out soundly enough to be transferred back to his crib, around 2:30 a.m. All of which sounds terrible but actually might have represented progress? The bino was still asleep in his own room when I left for work this morning, and that's not nothing. Tunneling blind sometimes involves zigzagging and/or going in circles. We'll give another go tonight, as we must.)