The bedroom door opens a crack as the hallway light seeps through the darkness and bathes the room in a soft glow. As I lift my head slightly off the pillow, Maggie squeezes through the sliver of an opening.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you,” she whispers, as she quickly shuts off the light and eases the door closed behind her.
“That’s all right. I couldn’t sleep anyway. How is he?”
“That’s good. How are you?”
“Tired. It’s 2:30.”
Maggie goes to the bathroom sink, rinses her face by the the dimness of the night light, then moves quietly to her side of the bed and slides under the blanket. She sits upright with her back against the headboard as I lie next to her. Her eyes are fixed forward; almost piercing through the closed door as she shakes her head from side to side, breathes deeply, then exhales, long and heavy.
“I’m worried. This is happening too often. I…” Maggie stops, turns to me and says, “Never mind, get some sleep. You have to be up in a few hours.”
Still lying there, I try to ease her mind, “Maggie, it could have been something he ate. The flu’s going around. The doctor told us that. Your sister’s kids just got over it.”
“I don’t think so, Dennis. It’s more than that. This shouldn’t be happening this often.”
Sitting upright now, I put my left arm around Maggie’s shoulder, gently pulling her closer. Her body sinks into mine.
“Dennis, I’m so scared. I think there’s something really wrong. I don’t care what the doctors say. There’s something not right about this.”
I know she’s frightened. Even during the pregnancy she worried about everything—any unusual abdominal pain, any unfamiliar kick, any uneasy feeling. Everything was questioned until Mike was born and she could count every toe and every finger and have the doctor assure her, over and over again, that he was a healthy boy. And from the day we brought Mike home from the hospital, she watched over him so closely; as if she was a sentinel on vigil, to be sure nothing happened to him. Sometimes, when I would get up in the morning, I would find Maggie in Mike’s room, sitting next to the crib, just watching him. Not from fear alone. It really was pure joy for her to simply sit there and gaze at him—seeing him playing with the mobile, discovering his fingers, finding his toes. She was by his side for every milestone. I would barely enter the house after a long day’s work when Maggie would be trumpeting any little achievement Mike made; “He smiled at me today.” Or, “He found his rattle by himself.” Or, “He looked at me when I called his name.” Every little thing he did, she was there to see it.
But when Mike began toddling, she worried that he seemed to have difficulty finding a dropped toy only a few feet in front of him; or that he stepped over cracks in the sidewalk as though they were wide gaps; or that he froze at low curbs even when we held his hand. The ophthalmologist praised us for being observant parents, assured us that there was nothing wrong, and then cautioned us not to look for problems that weren’t there.
I pull Maggie tighter to hug the fear from her. I hate seeing her like this—so frightened, so helpless.
I want to tell Maggie that Mike’s going to be okay and that he’ll feel better in the morning, but I’m not sure I’m believing that myself. God knows I want to. We’ve been to the pediatrician twice this month and he keeps telling us that Mike’s fine and not to worry. And we listen, and we’re quick to take the doctor’s word because they’re the experts and we want to believe what they’re telling us—that there’s nothing wrong with our son and that our fears are normal anxieties of new parents. They keep assuring us that Mike’s exactly where he’s supposed to be for a two year old. “This is your first child,” they tell us. “It’s hard to see your baby uncomfortable. But everything checks out. Just try to relax.” But I too am afraid. Yet I can’t let Maggie know that because when she sees I have doubts, she only worries more.
Mike’s been throwing up off and on for the past few weeks—projectile vomiting Maggie calls it. The doctors tell us that this is not uncommon, and in her mind Maggie wants to accept this, but it’s never been her mind that’s comforted her, and it’s not doing so now. Maggie trusts her feelings, and her feelings are telling her something quite different than what the doctors are. I know she’s worked in an orphanage and has calmly cared for children with far more serious symptoms—but this is her child.
“Maybe we should see different doctors,” Maggie says. “I hate that they make me feel that they know my child better than me. I know my child. I know something’s wrong.”
“Okay,” I concede, “Maybe you’re right. But there’s not much we can do now. Let’s get some sleep and see how Mike’s doing when he gets up. We’ll talk about it then.” I retreat under the covers to get some rest for the workday ahead.
Maggie continues sitting upright, her back against the headboard, her thoughts with her baby boy.