Something I didn't expect with my second child was the uncertainty of parenting him. I find that I keep looking for labels: is his personality like his brother's? his face like his uncle's? his hair like my mother's? his sleeping habits? Labels are tremendously reassuring, but this need for certainty is getting in the way. What I want, as a parent, is to let the baby unfold himself, to relax into the process that he is taking, irrespective of his mother. Why can't I do that?
This past week I think I found a piece of the puzzle that explains this. It started off fairly innocuously - both boys had colds. The baby was really struggling with his, since a blocked nose on a nose-breather is a real pest, and he had post-nasal drip as well, which mean a sad little chorus of sneeze, sniff, and hacking choking cough. He'd look shocked and pathetic each time, as his little body convulsed with the coughing. Pathos aside, he was fine, and I simply humidified the house a bit. (Read: big pots of water boiling on the stove, with fistfuls of rosemary, thyme and mint to give them a nice smell. Yum.) On Thursday, his big brother was yanked home from school, and the two of them celebrated the experience by producing identical temperatures: 101 degrees. Two pairs of hot pink cheeks, two tired little bodies, one highly amused mama. But then giggles faded, and I didn't find it so funny.
This was a cold - heck, it was a matched set of colds - so why was I freaking out? I couldn't help but remember the case of RSV that my older son had picked up when he was almost two months old. Or the terrifying croup, in which the kid gasped and heaved for air. Granted, the baby is now over three months, which is apparently a big difference in terms of the immune system's workings, and furthermore the little person showed no signs of having his eternal cold morphing into either RSV or croup, another specialty of his big brother's. But my shoulders were hovering around my ears from tension.
I think that part of what happened here is that with each medical horror that befell my older son, I took a deep breath, made my peace with it and moved on. By focussing on the next challenge, the next medical curveball, I was able to persuade myself that I had laid the last demon to rest. But of course it's much, much easier to do that if you can be certain that you'll never meet the demon again.
That silly little cold awakened a pair of demons and shook me - hard. My baby is not his brother, and I don't know who he is yet, really, but I do try to trust him to show me. But the disadvantage to his not being a carbon copy of his sib is that he lacks the definitiveness of a diagnosis. A diagnosis of chronic illness can shake you to the core - it'll bring your world crashing down around your ears - but at least it puts a name to what you see. It defines part of your child, and your job is then to make sure it doesn't define the rest. But with that definition, however problematic, comes an element of certainty.
The fear that I feel, parenting my clotting second son, is one that I had forgotten. I had long since stopped trusting mama nature to provide my child with the tools he needs to survive - modern medicine does that for me. But perhaps I should re-learn that trust, for the baby's sake. It would just be simpler if he hadn't had what I swear was a minor allergic reaction today...