|Frankie, helping us wrap Christmas packages, in happier times|
On Wednesday, December 17, Frankie learned to say "mama."
I hope to never forget it. He was sitting by the Christmas tree on his little patchwork quilt playing with his beloved Little People Nativity set (my godfather sent it to me last Christmas for our not-yet-born baby and it's become a huge favorite in our house. I love holding up the sheep and cow to Frankie and making them say "Baaa!" and "Mooo!" to his endless delight. Sometimes I also hold up the angel to say "Glooooria" or Mary to say "Fiat," and then I chuckle to myself at my cheesy humor).
Anyway, so he was sitting playing and making his usual babbling sounds, "Ba-ba-ba," when suddenly I heard him test out a new sound and say, "Ma-ma-ma." I rushed over to him with a huge smile and scooped him up in my arms. "Mama? Did you just say mama?!" I exclaimed while covering him with kisses.
Clearly he got the message that I like when he says "Ma-ma-ma," because he has been saying it frequently ever since. At first he mostly said it when he wanted something that he couldn't reach. He would point and stretch toward whatever he wanted and shout in frustration, "Ma-ma-ma-ma!!" But now he says it whenever he is miserable and wants help, or to be picked up, or is unhappy in any way.
It turns out that the timing of my boy learning to say "mama" could not have been more heartbreaking, because two days later he got sick. He wouldn't go to sleep on Thursday night, preferring to loudly babble in his crib next to our bed. Finally an exhausted Frank woke up at 1:00 AM and pushed Frankie's crib out into the kitchen. Frankie was delighted at this turn of events and laughed with excitement at first, but after a few minutes he freaked out, so I spent an hour or two hanging out in the living room with him. He finally went back to sleep around 2:20, but woke up at 6:30 screaming and grumpy.
That was my first clue that something was wrong—Frankie usually wakes up smiling and happy, and waking up mad was very uncharacteristic behavior. As the morning progressed, I realized his forehead felt very hot to the touch, so I called his pediatrician and made an appointment for 10 am. When we went in, they diagnosed him with an ear infection and sent us home with a prescription for amoxicillin, telling me to wait until Sunday to fill it and treat with Tylenol or ibuprofen in the meantime—hoping he would be better by Sunday.
So we cleared our schedules for the next few days and slogged through a weary Friday and Saturday with a sad, scared baby who would barely sleep. We spent Saturday evening with my family, which was a relief since I could not get Frankie to take his medicine, but my mom is a pro at it. She somehow managed to get him to swallow it right away every time.
Sunday morning we awoke at 5 am to our boy throwing up everything in his little body. After that he wouldn't stop shaking and he was burning up with fever. We called my dad, who is a doctor, and he urged us to take Frankie to the emergency room.
It was one of those moments in parenting that a person hears about, and dreads, but which we never thought would happen to us so soon: the drive to the emergency room with a sick child. It was a tense and scary ride.
We went to the suburban hospital where my dad works, on his advice, since he figured the waiting time would be a lot shorter than at a hospital in the city. My dad met us there. Frankie was an absolute disaster at the hospital, completely miserable, and he wouldn't stop crying. Luckily my dad's hunch was right and we had no wait to get into triage. On top of that, the doctor who saw Frankie was someone my dad has worked with and who goes to my parents' church, and he was very kind and helpful. Frankie had a temperature of 104. They ran a flu test and it came back positive. It wasn't an ear infection after all.
My family had made plans to spend Sunday in the city, checking out the Museum of Science and Industry's awesome display of Christmas trees from around the world, but when they heard Frankie had the flu they made a unanimous change in plans. Instead we spent the day playing board games, baking cookies, and watching "White Christmas" at my parents' house. I think it actually ended up being more fun then the original plan.
We are now on Day 5 of Frankie's illness. It has been absolutely heartrending to hear him wail "Mama!" when he is in pain, his innocent little eyes filled with tears, and not to be able to do anything about it except hold him. I am pretty sure that seeing your child suffer has got to be one of the levels of hell. It's taken an emotional toll on Frank and me. At least he finally seems to be getting better and his fever has gone down.
Here is where I want to pause and say how grateful I am that we moved back to Chicago. I knew when we were engaged that I wanted to live near family when we had kids, but I never could have imagined just how important that would be. It's that my dad came to the hospital emergency room at 5 am to help Frank and me get through the scary experience of rushing in our very sick baby. It's how my mom volunteered to give Frankie his medicine all day when I couldn't handle the way he would cry and scream when I tried to do it. It's what one of my sisters said when I told her that she should probably stay away from Frankie since he had the flu: she looked at me almost sternly and replied, "Do you really think I would let a little thing like the flu keep me from holding my nephew?!" It's how everyone kindly rearranged their plans to accommodate our sick little boy, without seeming to mind in the least.
Even though Frank and I frequently lament how much we miss living in Virginia (and even though I hate Chicago winters), these past few days have proved to me that moving back to Chicago was the right choice. There really is no one who will take care of you in difficult times like family.
Yesterday I said to Frank, "I guess this will go down in history as the Christmas we had to take Frankie to the emergency room." But more importantly, this is also the Christmas when I was very thankful that we live near my parents and siblings, and can benefit from their abundant love and generosity.
While I would certainly not want to live through these last few days again, I can also say that there is so much in my life right now that I'm grateful for.