My overriding fears in this life are 2; that I will die young and my children will not remember me as I don’t remember my godmother. When I speak of her, I say things like ‘ wo se she didn’t mince her words koraa’. Omparem Ewuradze, touch, no knock -loudly too- on, wood, tofiakwa!, that my children should say, ‘wo se our mum was very funny’. Every birthday- whether mine or theirs, I rejoice that I am one year farther away from being forgettable.
My other fear, and this more terrifying, is that I will lose a child. The very thought injects a chill through the marrow of my bones. Every time one of them runs a temperature I am very, very afraid. To make the experience even scarier, they make sure to be ill only in the night. How I hate 2am on a sick night! My child is ill, the weather is coolish, the trees in the yard are rustling their leaves, and all the dogs in the neighborhood howl eerily and simultaneously.
That would be enough to spook a lot of people. I have added on to this basic halloween recipe several other factors that intensify its effect. 1. I am an African woman- which means, that no matter what faith I subscribe to, somewhere deep down in there, I am superstitious. 2. Years ago in boarding school, a girl once said that the witches don’t fly at midnight but at 2 am. (I didn’t ask how she knew) 3. I live not far from a cemetery. And 4. the street light that shines into my yard through the trees is not yellow but a dull orange. For all these reasons, I try not to be awake alone at 2am on any day. On sick nights, I am afraid to be awake but even more afraid that the fever will escalate to critical while I sleep. Lord but I hate 2am on sick nights.
Each time on of them is sick, fear number 2 awakes to terrorise me. It doesn’t get a chance to very often. They are not sick much. But it too is never forgotten. From time to time, and usually on a fairly whimsical basis, I earmark an age as a worrisome one and make tediously detailed plans how to guard them through that age. 2-6months was the first ‘danger zone’. It was elevated to this post by my reading on crib death. When the boys were that age, I hovered while they slept. Their 7th anniversary was met with soul-deep relief.
Age 2 was the second one, my mother’s lost his twin 2year olds. They were playing in the yard and ate some leaves. They were gone within 24hrs. Every diffenbachia, evil kontomire, [my name for Caladium. I think the pink patches on it look like gnome-sprinkled poison], oleander, or other poisonous plant was uprooted and destroyed. Even some poor hapless ones that looked suspicious were vamoosed as well. The boys could only go out the front door with an adult. The back door was completely off -limits. Perhaps I was obsessive; at least Kofi thought so. But hey we made it safely to year 3.
Ben Johnson’s On My First Sonne has bequeathed a deep secret fear of the age 7. I have made all these plans, which in my saner moments, I can admit are impracticable. They include; for those 2 years I will have 7 year olds, not spending more than 1 night away from home, taking their temperature daily. Making sure they always have a little card with blood group, allergies, our numbers, etc on them even when they go to a martial arts lesson. Having monthly blood tests. Carrying around an inhaler in case their mild respiratory allergies get inexplicably inflamed one afternoon and more.
When we got through age 2 unscathed, I exhaled and prepared to cruise untill the dreaded age 7, sure that I was in chill zone. Until Dovie got ill. Pneumonia. We were on admission for 5 nights. Monday through Saturday morning. He was put on a drip and given 3 shots of antibiotic through an IV every day. The first 2 of those days, were thus far, in my 3 decades, the most frightened I have ever been.
On the Wednesday morning, he woke up and asked me to call GrammaMummy, and he told her that he wanted to eat rice water and he wanted her to cook it nicely and ‘GrammaMummy don’t forget to put some sugar in it and make it nice.’ I was so very happy. I gave him a hug, then I went into the bathroom, locked the door, sat on the WC and I cried. Until that moment I had refused to acknowledge the fear that I would lose him. I cried out all my fear, I cried my relief, I cried my loneliness, I cried my gratitude. And when I came out, he said, ‘ maman, I thought you were going to bath.’ ‘I was’ I lied, ‘I just wanted my teeth to be very white, so I took a long time cleaning them.’
As soon as we got home, I washed all their soft toys, soaked the others with bleach, changed their playroom floor, used bleach to wipe all the door handles and every surface they ordinarily touch. Then sat back and felt overwhelmed by the number of places, I couldn’t disinfect that could possibly carry bacteria; the yard, the trees, the walls, ….
Cool nights a former favorite, now make me nervous. I make them wear socks and a sweater nearly 24 hrs. By lunchtime usually, they have had enough. Then they take them off without asking me. But I make them put them back on after their evening bath.
I am obsessing, I know it. But I can’t help it. I am not yet recovered from having to pin my son down while the nurses push a needle in and twist trying to find an elusive vein. Nor from hearing him screaming, crying, asking why they are always hurting him. No, I am not yet over him throwing his arms around my neck asking me to take him away please. Or from him lying weak, and feverish, telling me in a rasping voice to ask God to make the sickness go away.
Today, the woman I buy bananas from told me she had lost a child. While I was commiserating, she added that the child was 7 yrs old. Now, the old buried fear of age 7 has awakened. The new fear of ‘under 5’ is not subsided. I have to get a grip. I will not become a smothering hypochondriac mother because of fear. I will not. This wave of panic will subside, I know. I just have to ride it out.