Parenting in a plague
Posted on January 3rd, 2013
wonder what it will be like, going back to school after I got sick during my play,” Peaches asked aloud last night.
She spoke the words with deliberate casualness, but she was looking at me the entire time she said them.
I’d been wondering the same thing. On the last day of school, Peaches had been scheduled to perform in a second grade class play. The only catch was that she wasn’t entirely…well. She’d had a cough for a week but she looked different on that Friday. Flushed. Something was changing.
“Is there someone else who can fill in for you?” I asked her, holding my hands against both sides of her face. (Warm, too.)
There was, she admitted grudgingly: a beautiful blonde girl who’d gotten a bum role in another one of the plays loved nothing more than when she was called upon to perform in Peaches’ stead. Creeping fever or no, Peaches really wanted to be the bird in that play.
Even the small decisions we make—the toss-offs, the ‘barely-worth-our-time’s—can jostle them about, leaving marks on their being that weren’t there before.
So we talked about it. The play was at 9:30 and I would be in attendance. Peaches could fulfill her dramatic obligations and then I would take her directly home. What could possibly go wrong?
Quite a bit, as it turned out. Peaches’ play fell third in a line-up of three. I sat at the front of the standing room only crowd of parents packed into the classroom to see their second grader’s perform as tug boats andlighthouses, magical fish and grasping fishwives watching Peaches look sicker than she had before I’d sent her out the door for the 30 minute run-up to show time.
And then it was her turn to be a bird, a nightingale to be precise, and she managed to execute two warble-y lines before her illness decided to make itself known to the players and audience alike—and it was not the head cold I’d so blithely assumed it to be.
The next day, when nearly all of us were sick with the illness that had felled our Peaches, there was ample time to consider the error of my ways (whilst prone and shivering), the consequences of sending my baby girl to school for that ill-fated 45 minutes. What would the fall-out for Peaches when she trailed back into second grade in another couple of weeks? I have worried quietly and she has seemed wholly at peace with what transpired and this, I have hoped, was some sort of barometer for the collective consciousness of her classmates.
Then she started talking about it last night.
We are responsible for so much as their parents. I don’t like to think about it for very long, the dimensions of our obligation to our children, because it makes me feel dizzy. Also, inadequate. Even the small decisions we make—the toss-offs, the ‘barely-worth-our-time’s—can jostle them about, leaving marks on their being that weren’t there before.
When I consider Peaches’ return to school on Tuesday and it makes my stomach hurt a little. They are only seven and eight and it has been nearly two and a half weeks since she was sick. Maybe the other children have forgotten all about it by now, their young minds reset by near-toxic doses of Christmas candy and consumerism.