Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sick Days

"When I was sick and lay abed
I had two pillows at my head
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day."
from "The Land of Counterpane" - R.L. Stevenson

It's an absolutely beautiful Indian summer day here on the coast of Maine but Blueberry and Buttercup are sneezing, sniffling and coughing, poor babies. Buttercup officially has caught her first cold. There is something so heartrending about the sight of glassy eyes trying to smile up at you from the depths of the pillow-strewn couch, of seeing little bodies trapped inside while a freshening sea breeze and sunny expanse of lawn urges them to come out and play. The empty swings dangle idly, the sandbox's discarded toys are haphazardly still. There is no one to pluck the petals off the late September black-eyed Susan's and so they seem to stand at attention, waiting. There is no one to gather the mounds of grass left by the lawn mower to make nests or fairy houses.

I know, it's only a cold. In the midst of me feeling sad for my sweet girls, a wee bit sorry for myself imagining the lack of sleep ahead, I must think of the people who have truly ill children. The children who cannot swing or run, slide, climb, jump and flit around their yards with fairy wings strapped to their backs. The children who spend beautiful days strapped to oxygen tanks instead. Or hospital beds. How awful. Thinking of how this is my Buttercup's first brush with illness makes me remember how harsh the world is. How unfair it is for the little innocents to experience that harshness. Or so it seems to us.

Stevenson's poem is written from his experience with being repeatedly sick, perhaps with tuberculosis, as a child. His discovery of the "land of counterpane," reminds me of how inventive children are, how optimistic in the face of adversity. Children accept where they are. It is what it is. My observation of my own children leads me to believe that because they live so "in the moment," they have an uncanny ability to make that moment everything. And usually beautiful.

"I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane."

Today Blueberry leaned her head against the windowpane, staring out at the sunlight hitting the waters of the cove. I asked her what she was thinking; she looked as wistful as I felt about the dichotomy between a beautiful day and illness. "Oh, just about mermaids. And fairies. I don't need to go out to play with them, they know that I'm here and I'm watching over them still." She was so earnest and sweet and not at all unhappy. That wistfulness was an adult projection. I think that adults oversentimentalize things. I've noticed that many things just are but we instead make them cute or sad or funny. A baby pig is just a baby pig. It doesn't have to be cute. A sick child is just a child having an experience. It doesn't have to be sad. Perception is oh-so-powerful. Blueberry says, "I'm not sick, though," as her nose drips like a faucet. She doesn't see herself as sick. She sees herself as well. So, quickly, she gets well.

I've seen this power of the mind at work before. My grandmother, well into her nineties, has dementia. She believes that she is in her twenties. (She also believes she's married to Tom Selleck, but that's neither here nor there). So, last winter, when she got sick with bronchitis, the doctors were worried that she wouldn't make it through. But, she just bounced right back from it. In her mind, she's young and healthy and has a family to care for, so she didn't have time to succumb to a simple lung infection. A woman in her twenties wouldn't die from bronchitis. A woman in her nineties might. Something to ponder.

(my grandmother's "mind-age")

For now, I will rock my babies extra, tuck them in more gently, throw thoughts of sleeping schedules out the window, let them into my bed if needs be, make noodle soup, sing a lot, sit with them in sunny patches, take warm baths with them, make chocolate honey biscuits, dole out honey by the spoonful (well, to Blueberry), break out my rusty guitar and violin skills, play with paper dolls, make lots of silly faces when administering medicines, and try to enjoy how much they need me. I won't worry how fiercely the sun shines or how the beach, woods, and river beckon. For now we'll stay in the pleasant land of counterpane.

1 comment:

  1. "Oh, just about mermaids. And fairies. I don't need to go out to play with them, they know that I'm here and I'm watching over them still." Lovely quote and lovely post.