the sum of infinites

the last time i’d seen him, when i tucked him into bed, blew a kiss and closed the door, he was fine. just really tired, he said, worn out by soccer. and very, very hungry.

but next morning, as i walked out of the downtown parking garage, fumbled for the ringing rectangle in my backpack. tried to find a place to plop the coffee mug, so i could walk and talk and think out loud, i heard the words, “mr. t is not feeling so good. he’s pretty hot, actually. and his throat, he says, is killing him.”

a series of rearrangements were duly rearranged, numbers dialed, summons plead, before i even spied my desk.

given precise instruction, exact latitude and longitude of where he’d find the white-and-orange-and-azure box on the bathroom shelf, his papa dispensed the first round of fever-queller, tucked him back in bed, then kept finger in the dike till good ol’ grammy could ride to the rescue.

miles away, i was but a distant player, so my part had me checking in every chance i got. or so we’d scripted. till i got the call mid-afternoon, and a squeaky little voice informed, “i’m dizzy.” then asked, “when can mama come home?”

NOW! was pretty much the word that popped into my head, so i cleared my desk and drove. and once through the blue front door, i dropped my keys and lunged and kissed him on the head.

oh, the look in those empty eyes told me all i needed in the medical-data department. those of us who’ve tread this ground, need no compass, no thermometer; we know by heart these dark and murky woods, know by gut just how deep we’re in, and how the road out will be a slow and bumpy one.

and thus began, again, the work of one mama tending to her achy, fevered little person.

by rapid–and rough–calculation, i’d guess this might have been the 90th such round, each one with its own odd particulars, since i’d first put on the mama robes, since boychild number one was born, nearly 17 years ago.

and as i spent the long night dispensing care in the ways my boys have grown to know, to count on, i began to contemplate how love, especially motherlove, is the sum of infinites.

minute, and barely perceptible, although wholly definable and defining, they are the accumulated brushstrokes and palm presses and finger squeezes that imprint, somehow, on the souls of those whose care–whose fevered limbs, swollen glands, fractured bones, woopsy tummies–we cradle.

until the fever lifts, the gland goes down, the tummy stops its gurgling, we dole out and dispense our ministrations without surrender to our own bodies’ begging for unbroken sleep, or just a chair, or even a bowl of oatmeal that’s not gone cold.

it is the umpteen blankets and pillows you’ve piled on the floor, in that certain way you’ve come to call “the nest.”

it is the 181 washcloths hauled off the shelf, doused under cool water, wrung out, folded and laid on fevered brow.

it is the 99 rubberbands stretched round just as many glasses, each one so marking it, a badge of courage for the sick one, and off-limits besides–lest you hastily find yourself tending a whole flock of fevered lambs.

it’s the way, without a moment’s pause, and no thought given to germs or contagion, you’ve climbed 3,000 times right into bed beside the hot one, so you are there, should there be a whimper in the night, should you need to climb the stairs one time, or ten, to fill a glass with ice, with honey, with 7-up, with gooey purple fever-buster. or just because the ailing one left a certain pillow on the couch–and cannot sleep without it.

it is the who-knows-how-many baths you’ve drawn at three in the morning, because the fever won’t go down, and the little arms and legs you once marveled at, now barely ever eyeball beneath the sweatshirts and the soccer shinguards, are shaking like a leaf that barely clings to the branch amid october’s bluster.

next morn, as you hear the doctor speak the words, “go straight to the ER,”–thank God, you can count (three) the times you’ve heard that command–you realize that your well will never run dry, that you will pierce the microbes with sharp spear, given half a chance. that you will climb on the gurney, slide your own wobbly self through that CT scan, stick out your own arm to take the IV needles, you will wrestle to the mud whatever pokes and prods come your little one’s way, as you wipe away the alligator tears, and kiss the red-hot cheeks, and hold your breath and wait for all-clear whistles from the ER nurse, the one you now worship because she was so tender in her poking of your little soldier’s brave, brave arm.

and you realize, as you count up the hours of the week, and lose count of ice cubes and teaspoons of germ-killer, that the highway to heroics is paved, pretty much, of the same stuff as the potholed backroad.

that in the end, when all these flus and streps and bacterial pneumonias are past, we will have loved our way to triumph, in a race without a ribbon, a contest with no starting gun, an olympiad we enter with our heart.

it is through the sum of infinitely loving, and infinite in number signature touches, that the little ones whose flesh and blood and coos and cries we were handed not so long ago, will grow up wholly defining how it is to be ministered to, to be loved, to be–yes–mothered, no matter who the motherer.

and–as you’ve maybe glimpsed once or twice already, when you’re the one who’s down and your little ones begin to mimic all your ways–they in turn will love as you have loved, will fold the same cool cloths, draw the baths, pour the gingerale, stir the chicken-noodle soup.

and thus our unmeasurable infinite acts will go forth into infinity.

a mighty sum–born, simply, out of love.

who taught you how to care for those who ail around you? what motherstrokes of love do you know by heart?

and, yes yes, the rest of the backstory here is that the little one awoke day two with a golfball-sized lump on the side of his neck, then day three with red streaks shooting across it, and at last today we got the news that we’ll be visiting the OR, maybe even over spring break. and those nasty tonsils will go the way of his big brother’s–into a jar that sits, still, on his bedroom shelf. egad. but that’s a whole nother story. and this one’s at its end.