I didn't write a blog post when Owen turned one. We threw a party, Owen smashed a cake, people laughed, close friends and family snapped iPhone photos, it was a dreadful mess. It was fun. Everyone secretly hates happy songs, happy movies, and all varieties of blog posts - but especially happy ones. Ok, maybe that's just me.
I thought I'd wait until I had something I actually couldn't NOT write about - so much so I wouldn't give a flip if I used double negatives and didn't scour my endless archive of photos to find the right 10-20 to share. That I just experienced a moment I had to get out of my system to get to sleep. That was easy today.
It's that moment of abject horror we all dread as parents. It's not a matter of IF it happens, but WHEN. Will it be a fall down the stairway, a gash on the chin, the forehead, a never-ending vomiting cycle at 3 in the morning, having a head stuck in a railing, a dog bite, an allergic reaction to a bee sting, something he or she ate that they should have never put in their mouth? It's that holy-shit, omgwtf, did-that-really-happen moment? But not in a good way, a humorous way... more in a !!!Call 911!!! type of way.
And now I'm in the one in charge, the responsible adult, and I have to figure out what to do.
And if this keeps getting worse, I have no effing clue what to do but pray... and wait for someone who does know what to do.
Our moment came at around 8:15 this morning - a seizure. I'd never actually seen anyone have a seizure before. No one in my family had ever had one. So when in the span of seemingly a split second, Owen went from a smiling, laughing, whirling child to laying like a rock, with quivering limbs, eyeballs in the back-of-the-head, lids open, but lights out, nobody's home OUT, I learned real quick what one looks like. I always pictured seizures as involving foaming at the mouth, gnashing of teeth, and excessive shaking - but instead I had zombie-Owen, might-be-possessed-by-the-devil Owen, and it freaked me the hell out, mostly because of how subtle it all was. Had it not been for Megan, I would have been utterly confused by what lay before my eyes. One year olds just do some weird things - intentional or not. Megan, being the incessant collection of information on "what could go wrong" assembled the data points right away. Owen was running a 102 fever right before it happened. Owen had his MMR vaccine last week. She called 911 before I had a chance to register all of it. By the time Owen snapped out of his trance, we were sharing our bedroom with 5 Durham County EMS folks, dressed in black rain boots, and carrying backpacks full of all sorts of gadgets we were thankful none of them had to use. Poor kid woke up terribly grumpy, but was treated to an ambulance ride down I-40 and 15-501 to Duke Hospital.
I followed behind after gathering some bags - a change of clothes for him, some milk, and diapers. I was convinced everything was going to be normal. We'd go back to our normal day that afternoon. That he was in good hands. But I knew nothing was normal in that moment. The stereo was off - I didn't have a token go-to album for "the ride to the hospital after my kid had a seizure" - nothing seemed even slightly appropriate in the moment - even the sad depressing drivel of my youth was pithy.
I was somewhere between Mt. Moriah and Garrett Road when the tidal wave of paranoia flooded over me. It's a symptom of my own generalized anxiety. I've been on that stretch of road perhaps five thousand times in my life, but no previous moment was that "I had a chance of losing a kid" - that moment didn't even strike me when the actual triggering event happened, I was in solution mode at that time.
The point being - nothing prepares you for that moment.
I lived 33 years of my life as a child, but not a father - a great many of those years were as a grown up child, but someone's child nonetheless. I used to wonder why the hell my parents worried about the things they did, but now I partially get it. Sometime not long after July of 2014, something flipped. That moment when I realized I could lose something I never had before and it would be a cataclysmic blow. I was beholden to the specter of loss avoidance - the human condition; the one that programs our minds to place tremendous weight psychologically on losing, far moreso than the rewards from gains. The expected gain of having a child, of being a father, of being able to raise a child had me excited, but the sheer threat of ever losing said child took me down into a chasm seemingly deeper than any of those peaks.
I peered into that chasm, possibly for no good reason, on that drive. The trees in full spring bloom may as well have been colored in black and grey.
Owen was fine. I knew he'd be fine. Sitting in the pediatric ER, I looked around at the hospital signs, the canisters of medications some wise chemists figured out long ago could eliminate pain, end allergic reactions, rouse a heart to action. I was in one of the world's best hospitals. I felt safe, but nothing felt fine at the same time.
Thousands of patients and visitors flood in and out of the parking garage gates each day at that hospital. They bill billions of dollars of charges a year; it's easily Durham's largest employer. I'm not sure I'd ever seen as busy of a parking deck on a normal Tuesday morning. I could only guess at all those peoples' reasons for being in that space at the same time as I. A counseling appointment, a check up, to visit a friend, to care for an elder parent. Was it cancer? Was it a 6 year old with cancer? How many kids die each week at Duke Hospital? The thought that what I was facing was simple - that some parents have it so much worse. The thoughts of the challenges so many face every day with untitled unwritten novels, with anonymous characters. I had to shut down my brain or I'd end up short circuiting like my kid (too soon?)
I look at Owen, into his bright eyes of wonder. I look and can't help to see the future, and all the futures, the simple moments we'll share together on better days. I can't help to see him grow up, the vague outline of a small child walking beside me, growing older, taller, wiser - with the same warm smile and long lashes. A love of music, sports, whatever, his call... just BE WHO YOU ARE GOING TO BE, JUST BE. I look and can't help but think of what life would be like without him. I pause for a moment and wonder how selfish that may be. That it's as if his whole purpose is to fill some emotional void I have. That somehow becoming a father has made me a superior person to who I was, to those who are unknowing of this feeling, who never experienced these challenging days. But then I think about time as the infinite continuum, that today was meant to have always been. That this is where I am on this journey - it is nothing greater, no worse. That today was a day, day 384, and I learned a few things.
I learned about febrile seizures. I learned that only 1 out of 3000 kids have febrile seizures after an MMR vaccine. The docs never want to draw a link back to vaccines thanks to all the crazy folks who would forego an MMR vaccine to avoid all the mostly unproven downside effects. Frankly I'd rather go to the ER for a seizure than end up back in those walls because my kid caught the mumps. Then I'd feel like an ass.
I learned that my father can express genuine sympathy on a phone call to hear his grandson is in the hospital. Not the clinical, scientific man I've always known, ready to diagnose and second guess another doctor's opinion. That he could simply say "I'm sorry" with a warm, concerned tone. But maybe I should have always known this.
I learned Megan is a highly capable mother, quick to make decisions without getting overly emotional or clouded. That in a crisis involving Owen, she's the executive. But maybe I should have always known this.
I learned again what love drives us to do, without question, without regret -- and how much I'm better for this, regardless of the outcome. And I'm thankful beyond belief the outcome here was ok; that I'll have day 385.
But damn kids are stressful.