The first time I was sick back in the early days of being married, we lived in a little apartment in Kingston. And I mean little. It was the middle of the night, and I called out to Kevin, “Kev! I’m sick!” I don’t know what I thought he would do. Rub my back? Make me soup? At that moment, you are so sick, you just want someone to do something to make it stop. Here’s what Kevin did. He yelled back from bed, “I know. I can hear you.”
I was so startled by that reply – still am! – and as you can imagine, I won’t let him forget that he did nothing to help me or comfort me. He argued that there was nothing that he could have done, and he was surprised that I felt like I needed to tell him that I was sick when everyone in the building would have known.
Maybe it’s a Mom thing. There have been times when I have called my Mom, and she has driven from Hamilton to take care of me, even when we lived in Montreal. Over the years, my brother and I have often relied on her to take care of our sick kids when they need to stay home from school. If I had called out to my Mom that night, I can assure you that she wouldn’t have stayed in bed and barked back at me. She would have done something, and it would have been just the right thing.
That mother instinct clicked in last Tuesday when I got a text from Jacob’s advisor. He wanted to let me know that Jacob was at the health centre with a headache and upset stomach. As I sat at my desk, I felt sick. There I was, three hours from my baby when he needed me most. So I did what had to be done. I hopped in the car and drove to Lakefield.
I think he was happy to see me. He hugged me a bit longer than usual, and we had nice talks during the first hour that we drove back that night, before he slept the rest of the way. I felt like I did the right thing, especially since he was scheduled to take the bus home the next day and all those kids’ parents can thank me for not putting a sick child on the bus with their children.
But guess what? When I asked him about his experience, and I was hoping that he would tell me that he wished I were there? That he needed his Mom and it was hard to be away from home? There was none of that. He liked that his advisor drove him to the health centre when it is only across campus. He liked that there was a ginger ale by his bed when he arrived. And he liked that the nurse brought him chicken noodle soup. In fact, his advisor’s wife also made him chicken soup for dinner so he had soup twice. And his biggest news was that the room at the health centre included his own bathroom and – ready for this? – a flat screen TV. As he recounted his day, with his face scrunched against the side of the seat in the car looking at me as I drove, I swear he had a little smile. I was just one in a series of people to care for him that day.
Once again, I had to let it settle in. He was sick but he didn’t call me. He made it through the day and there were other people there for him. I have to get used to that; in fact, I have to be happy that he is learning independence. At our recent Heads and Chairs conference, Yong Zhao joked that the purpose of education should be to ensure your children don’t end up in your basement after they graduate. Boarding school is the best preparation for independent children.
I drove him back to school on Monday. I didn’t have to, I could have put him on the bus, but I realized how much I like that three hour drive and the time together to talk. I long for that break in the silence when he says something that begins with, “Did I tell you about.” When we drove onto the campus, and it was dark, he was excited to point to the health centre (and tell me again about the TV) and tell me about the other buildings. I reminded him about the opening day drop off and how everything was unfamiliar and then I started a sentence and caught myself. I said, “And now it feels like you’re coming home”. I choked up a bit at that thought. We looked at each other hard, and he nodded. Lakefield is his home.
p.s. I always get permission from my family before posting. Here is Kevin’s feedback:
I’m glad you wrote the story out so I can clarify some facts: i. I did get out of bed; ii. you had closed and I think locked the bathroom door, which opened in and right on you because the toilet was beside the door; iii. when I said “I know” I was standing outside the bathroom door; knowing you were sick but not being able to do anything for you because of the door; iv. “I know” was intended to convey “I know and I’m here”, but the “I’m here” part was presumed because I was saying it outside the door. Perhaps you should add all this as a footnote.
Glad after spending more of our lives together than apart that we’ve figured this one out. Your blog is a good thing.