Listening to my kid cough is up there with my biggest nighttime anxiety inducers. I hate it. I hate the sound of the physical struggle going on in the other room. I hate the restlessness and the sleepy cries. I hate how it makes me feel. My face gets hot and I feel like I’m listening to a car crash, worried about what I’ll find when I get up to check it out. Olive’s the sick one this week. She only has a mild cold. She’s just normal snotty, congested and cough-y, but I always respond like she was kicked by a donkey or fighting the plague.
It’s become a sadistic ritual: I mentally replay what I could have done differently to keep her healthy. Then, I think of how my own sadness over Olive’s illness is compounded by my residual fear that this will be the time Ellia gets sick and goes back to the hospital.
She hasn’t had a big episode in six months. We’ve covered our new bases in Dallas. We have her pediatrician’s cell number and directions to Children’s Hospital downtown.
But a good six months doesn’t swallow my fears. I’m afraid most days. I’m afraid of play dates. I’m afraid of grocery stores. I’m afraid of germs I can’t see or parents forgetting to tell me their child is sick. I’m afraid most people who speak confidently that they just have allergies don’t actually have the medical insight to know the difference. And I’m afraid Ellia will be the one coughing in a night or two.
Maybe I don’t live with this stress very well. Maybe Ellia would do better with an intensely spiritual mom who calls down the healing of Jesus every five seconds and sprays her bed with holy water.
Instead, she gets me, a burned-out seminary graduate frozen with fear any time anyone coughs. And I don’t sit in bed planning a Vitamin C binge or anything remotely productive. Instead, I lay there thinking of someone to blame. People are inconsiderate and let their germy kids swarm my children. Or Chuck E. Cheese should really consider sanitizing. Or, why am I not vigilant? Why can’t I be a hand-washing Nazi like my grandmother? Why do I always forget those stupid Mickey Mouse masks Ellia is supposed to wear during cold and flu season?
I hate the implications of every awful cough.
Things could get bad. And I know this because things have gotten bad.
But things have also been very good.
Ellia shared with me recently about her deep fear of dying. “I’m afraid I’ll go in to the hospital and not get better. And when I die, I want to hold really tightly to a toy so that I can take it with me to heaven.”
“I think there will be toys in heaven,” I said.
She looked at me as if she pitied my naïveté. “Well,” she said, “I don’t know if there will be toys in heaven, but I do know we get to choose when rainbows come out.”
We are learning God in the midst of pain. We are learning that healing takes a million forms, like pieces of firework grace shooting across the heavens and landing at our feet.
We are learning to see rainbows in the gift of today- A snowball fight, the snow/dirt man with a Twizzler mouth and rocks for eyes. The look on Olive’s face when she peed all over the kitchen. Ellia’s affinity for fake hipster glasses.
It’s not about faking a Positive Patty response when the anxiety kicks down my door. It’s about listening for more than just the cough. The strong wind outside that brought the snow. The fire taking the edge off of winter. The heartbeats of happy, sleeping children.
There will always be the potential for the hospital, but tonight we’re at home. If I focus on the cough, I’ll be sewn to the floor with fear and fear can’t prepare us for anything. It can only rob us of what we have.
There will always be coughs. There will always be noises in the night. If we’re over twelve and breathing, we’ll have to face frequent panic moments. But I don’t want to worship those moments. I don’t want to obsess over them like they’re a celebrity couple. I want to see them for what they are: just one of the noises I hear. One of the sounds of my life. One of the thoughts or strains or music, but not the only sound.
Anxiety always seems to come in the night. But so does grace. If we’ll listen to more than our fears, we can open our hands and watch pieces of shattered grace land on our fingers. And with practice, we’ll learn to see rainbows in crap storms and dirty snow.