The feeling that comes when you can’t take care of your kids

One of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had as a parent was teaching Jay and Wally to drink from a bottle. It went the same way for both boys. Several weeks before Caroline started her post-doc last fall, I started taking Wally and a bottle down into the family room to practice. Day after day he flailed at the bottle with his lips. Eventually he’d get so upset that all possibility of drinking was gone, and we’d retreat back upstairs and I’d hand him to Caroline to nurse.

The whole experience was almost as frustrating for me as it was for him. I despaired that he’d never get it and I felt powerless to do anything to help him. You can lead a baby to a bottle, after all, but you can’t make him latch.

Eventually Wally did get it, though. It gave me such a wonderful feeling to hold him in my arms and watch him drink- to know that now I had the ability to take care of him come what may, to provide for him, to give him what he needs in life.

I was thinking of Wally on the bottle this morning because lately I haven’t been feeling like such a good caretaker.

Wally’s been sick since Sunday. Jay brought the cold into the house from preschool but Wally got it twice as bad. He was up most of the night Monday and Tuesday, moaning like a cow, too congested to sleep. The congestion made it impossible for Wally to eat, too. Or rather, it made it impossible for him to keep what he did eat down. He’s had an extremely sensitive gag reflex his whole life. When he’s sick he gags on his phlegm and chokes up everything in his stomach. It’s truly diabolical. For two days this week he absorbed barely a calorie. And he’s already down in the single digit percentiles on the weight charts, and falling as of his last pediatrician visit.

By Wednesday he was feeling better, though. That morning he and I were in our backyard while Caroline packed with Jay for a three day work trip to D.C. I was working on my computer and Wally was climbing the porch stairs. He was on the third step when he fell. I saw the whole thing. He went head over heels, but slowly, and kind of controlled. After he settled at the bottom of the stairs I actually had a moment to think: Wow, that was not nearly as bad as it could have been.

He started to cry. I picked him up and as I brought him to my shoulder I noticed his mouth was full of blood. Inside I rinsed his mouth with water, and that’s when I saw the hole where one of his lower front teeth had been. Caroline changed out of her work suit into jeans and brought Wally to the dentist. The good news was the whole thing had come out, root and all. As they left the dentist’s office, Caroline reported that they passed another little boy about Wally’s age, coming in with the very same problem.

So that had been our week when Jay, Wally, and I sat down to breakfast this morning and talked about how Mama would be home from her trip tonight. While Jay ate his cereal I fed Wally- who was still congested from the night’s sleep- little teaspoon-fulls of raspberry smoothie. He ate steadily for about ten minutes but then he started to gag. And once he starts to gag there’s no stopping it. His morning bottle, a few cheerios, and the smoothie came pouring out of his mouth, one spurt, and then another, down his bib and onto his plastic tray.

For a moment I just sat and looked at him, feeling too defeated to move. There he was with snot and breakfast on his face and his stomach empty, and the exposed gum, still a little bloody, where his tooth had been. There are few feelings in the world that I’ve experienced that are worse than feeling powerless to provide for your kids. It’s a type of total failure that eats away at every other aspect of life.


4 thoughts on “The feeling that comes when you can’t take care of your kids

  1. Sorry to hear about Wally’s tooth and the boys’ illness–I know the hurling is awful!– and your personal distress. I hope you can take some consolation in Sunday’s adventure in which you were a clever, fun hero, gaining joyous cooperation from Jay. That’s the dad they’ll remember!

  2. This reminds me of the time Caroline fell backwards in a chair onto the floor, cutting the back of her head. I sat, holding her in my arms as she cried, thinking it was just another bump on the head. And then I saw it… blood running down my hand and staining her little white shirt. She needed 3 staples. I felt like my entire body was overcome by these pulses of heat as Immoved as quickly as possible to get her to the ER, cradling her toddler body to my chest as she continued to scream. When her parents arrived at the hospital, I excused myself to the restroom where I began to sob, letting fly all of the emotions I had supressed in order to effectively attend to the situation. And that was just three staples!

  3. In situations such as these, I like to take refuge in the basics: you have provided food, shelter, medical care, and love. Additional burdens will build a stronger character in your kids. (Or so I tell myself.)

    And you probably know this, but invest in a good carpet-cleaning vacuum. Our daughter threw up her dinner for about 2-3 months straight. Like clockwork, a few hours after she feel asleep she would wake up and let it all out. Hopefully time will take care of your issue, as was the case with our daughter.

    • Thanks for that comment, Nate. It’s always encouraging to hear about other families dealing with similar kinds of issues- and making it through them.

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