(This post originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Sasee Magazine. All rights to republish belong to Katie O’Connell. Photo Credit: Roger Simpson.)
Her fever was high and I was beginning to worry. It is hard enough comforting a sick child in the light of day, but in the middle of the night when you’re exhausted, your mind fabricates a full buffet of worries. How dangerous was this? What if it went higher? What if…
My daughter was just over two years old. A lively, chatty little thing with whispy blond hair and blue eyes full of two year old curiosity, she expressed herself clearer than most kids her age. This sickness had changed her whole demeanor and my spunky girl could do little but whimper and sleep. The fever had come on hard, but my neighbor friend, an M.D. who generously answered neighbor’s questions…especially nervous new mothers’ questions…assured me that alternating the Tylenol and Motrin every few hours should do the trick. That was fine until night fell and I woke to her feverish crying again. My husband, just off from several days of overtime shifts, was sleeping soundly, so I turned off the baby monitor, grabbed my robe, and rushed to her side, fear jolting me awake.
Fear seemed to be the dominant emotion for me during this new adventure called motherhood. Our dream of a child had taken many years to become a reality, and my husband and I traversed through some heartbreaking terrain before our daughter arrived. Cancer had taken both of our mothers by then, and age had taken our grandmothers as well. I’d taken to calling all of the women we had lost as our “Grandma Angels.” I wanted my daughter to know the women who had shaped us, so I’d compiled photos in a brightly colored Who Loves Baby? book and carefully pointed out my mother, my husband’s mother, our grandmothers, telling stories about each one and referring to them as the Grandma Angels. When I was at a loss in parenting, I’d call out to them. “Please Grandma Angels, I don’t know how to calm this crying baby!” or “Send me strength, Grandma Angels. I am so exhausted.” These were private pleas, said in my heart, but they made me feel supported. Between my worries and our heavily dog-eared copies of every baby-raising tome on the market, we felt we were parenting a bit by the seat of our pants. It felt good to know there were some angels looking after us.
That night when I raced to my daughter’s room, she was shivering and perspiring at the same time. My hand shook as the thermometer registered 103.4 It was an hour before her next scheduled dose of medicine. Should I wake my husband? Do we need to go to the ER? What if, as my What to Expect book said, she had a seizure? Holding my limp little girl in the rocking chair, I poured over my baby books, trying to read the tiny print in the nightlight’s glow, but there wasn’t any new information. Not knowing what else to do, I wrapped us in a blanket, and started singing, rocking, and praying. Sitting in the nights’ darkness, feverish daughter on my lap, I called to the Grandma Angels with all my heart. To my daughter, I sang lullabies, to the wise women who’d gone before me, I prayed, “Please. Please help me know what to do. Please send me your wisdom and courage!” My daughter drifted back to sleep, and at some point, I did as well. I woke in the chair to my daughter’s voice, loud and clear.
“Look mama! Grandma angels!”
My little sweetheart, so limp with fever earlier, was sitting upright in my lap, eyes bright and clear, pointing toward an empty corner of the room.
I shook my head to clear it. “What, honey?” I asked, my voice thick with sleep and my mind racing to understand where I was and why.
“Grandma angels! Look, mama!” Her pudgy little finger kept pointing while I struggled to understand. More concerned about the fever, I felt her forehead. Cool and dry, not the clammy dampness I last remembered. Her cheeks weren’t as flushed, and the only thing out of order was the crinkly crease imprinted on her soft baby cheek where she’d slept against my pajamas.
“You see the Grandma angels, honey?” I asked. She nodded, smiling, looking at the same corner, not me. Just as quickly she lost interest in her pointing, looked back at me and smiled. It was the first real smile I’d seen in a couple of days. I had my happy little girl back.
Her fever was completely gone the next day. In the morning she excitedly told her Daddy all about the visit from her Grandma Angels and how they made her better. I asked questions, but her story never changed, and she always had the sweetest look on her face as she recalled it. As time passed, I periodically asked her if she remembered when the Grandma Angels came to see her, and for a few years she could retell it. But somewhere around age five she said she couldn’t remember the story and asked me to tell it to her. It was a sad moment for me, but I knew the story well, even if it was now told from my perspective. I can’t, after all, understand what she saw or felt during that dark night, but know in my heart the Grandma Angels gave both of us the love and care we needed, first by visiting my daughter, but more importantly, affirming to a frightened new mother that she wasn’t truly alone.