Bits and Whatnots, Chronic Illness

Mother Love, Mother Guilt

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This article originally appeared in “I.G. Living” magazine, August/September issue.

Somehow, it always comes down to the mother.

The first person a teacher asks to speak to when a problem arises. The first person a physician discusses a medical issue with. The person the other mothers – at soccer and baseball practice, at Scouts meetings – whisper about when she leaves the room.

That child is too thin!

That child is too heavy!

That child is too short!

Sad, shaking heads. Collective sighs. Satisfied hands clutch their Starbucks cups. Tiny sips of double mocha light foam cappuccinos.
And then….

What is she doing wrong? Why doesn’t she do something to fix this? Surely, she must see The Problem.

Surely.

Surely, the mother sees the problem. She drops off her child with a smile and a wave, heads back to her SUV to rest her head on the steering wheel. She closes her eyes tight, unable to un-see the differences. The Problem. The fact that her child is unlike his peers; there are glaring discrepancies in the size of her child and the size of the others.

What have I done wrong?

Why can’t I fix this?

Surely, she sees what the other mothers see.

And she sees the other mothers. She notices the way they turn their heads – just slightly – when her child joins the group. Are they checking? Checking to make sure their children are still superior? That The Problem hasn’t somehow affected the perfection of their offspring?

She sees them catch one another’s eye; each in turn. A fraction of a second – barely that –but still.

Enough.

She hears the artificial coating in the invitation that comes just a little too late; the unnecessary volume in the equally unnecessary reassurances: “He’s just a late bloomer” or “He’ll slim down, once he hits that growth spurt”.

She hears the words that are implied, but not stated out loud.

“He’ll be fine, as soon as you figure out where you went wrong, and fix it.”

Judge and jury.

They cannot understand how desperately she loves him. How completely she would sacrifice to be able to fix The Problem.

Mother Love equals Mother Guilt.

She knows something isn’t quite right. This isn’t her first child, she knows what is normal, average….and she just knows…something is off.
Not quite sure what it is. Just…something. But…how could that be? She was so careful. No drinking, no smoking. No caffeine. Forty weeks of carefully measured actions. Vegetables. Milk. No under-cooked meats. Never missed a prenatal appointment. No drugs during the birth.

She breastfed. They said that would be better. Safer.

Well-child check-ups are passed with flying colors. Hesitantly, she voices concern to the physician.
Her worries are blown off, like an insignificant kite detached from a string.
All mothers worry. You’re just overly tired. All babies are different. Nothing is wrong.
Nothing is wrong.

Nothing.

Except…..she knows there is something. But she lies to herself. She convinces herself all is well. When the worry rears its head in her throat, lodging there like a child’s bouncy ball, too big to move either up or down, just…stuck – she busies her mind. Turns up the TV. Calls a friend to gossip about nothing. Furiously cleans. Invents extra errands.

Until The Event. The Dreaded Something that changes the minds of those who dismissed her initial concerns.
The day the doctor sits her down and speaks to her in slow, easy to understand words. Do you understand? Yes, she understands. She looks him in the eye, forces herself to listen. She listens, but the pain in her chest makes her hold her breath. Oddly, she remembers another time when she felt this way. When was it? She searches her memory.

First grade. On the playground, standing on the swing with daring. Clutching tight at the chains biting into her fingers, she calls fearlessly to her friends, “Underdog me!” and sails away, up, up, up into the sky.

She falls. Hits the ground with a sickening thwack. She lies there, so much pain in her chest and back she cannot breathe. She wants to cry out, but the air in her chest sits heavy as a block of ice. Unmoving. She is frozen.

This feels like that.

Labs. Tests. Appointments. Prescriptions. Journals. Journals! Logging every bite that passes the child’s lips; every new symptom; every night that passes without rest; every unusual behavior. Furiously, she scribbles into the journals…here, she is certain, the answer will appear. A pattern will emerge, and whatever it is that has caused the Dreaded Something will show itself. She will eliminate it, and everything will be okay again.
She will be able to breathe again. She misses the way it used to feel, back when she could breathe without even thinking about it.

She cannot find the pattern. She cannot find the answer.

Sitting in the tiny exam room that has become far too familiar, she waits. The door creaks open, the physician enters and takes a seat on the little spinning stool. Small talk. She eyes the folder in his hand. She does not want to talk. She only wants the magical answer, the sword that will slay the Dreaded Something. She considers snatching the folder out of his hands. She smiles. She waits.

Finally, the answer comes. The block of ice in her chest somehow spreads to her shoulders, arms, head. She feels the slow freezing of her entire being. Her teeth begin to chatter.

It is her fault. The doctor says it jokingly. “Isn’t it always the mother’s fault?” He chuckles. It lingers in the air, like hot breath on a frigid day.

Here it is, then. The answer. She has done this to her child; her body, her genetics, have caused the Dreaded Something. She cannot take it away. She cannot fix it.

Doesn’t he see how much this hurts? He laughs and says he should create a Frequent Flyer parking spot just for her family. Does he understand she would willingly give her home, her arm, her leg – her life – anything, anything to fix this?

Mother Love equals Mother Guilt.

Sometimes at night, she hears the muffled strains of guitar strings being plucked and closes her eyes, listening, a smile on her lips. Her child has struggled so much; lost so much; grown so much. Still, her child finds beauty in small things; a brightly colored bead, an unusual sunset; a new song.

She hurries dinner in order to make it on time to school conferences. The teacher laughs as the report card is handed over, “If only I had a classroom of kids like this one, I’d be happy to come to work every day!” She feels a warmth, a melting in her icy chest. She straightens her shoulders and takes a deep breath.

Her heart constricts, her chest hurts as she watches the IV insertion. She rubs her child’s back, watches as his eyes follow the hands of the nurse. Alcohol rub, gauze pad, syringe, bandage. He knows the routine; he knows once every item is in its own place, the poke will come. He sits up tall; back and tiny shoulders straight. He does not blink or turn away. He watches with detached curiosity; he holds his breath, scrunches his nose – there, it’s over. All done. He smiles and cracks a joke, his nurse laughs. She kisses his little head and tells him he is brave. She thinks to herself he is stronger than most grown men.

A child is bullied on the playground. A new child, and something about him makes him stand out. Something isn’t quite right. He has a Problem. She watches as her child leaps in front of him, arms outstretched. Chin up, eyes blazing, her child protects him. The bullies back off. Arm slung about the new child’s shoulder, her son offers to play with him, introduce him to some nice kids. Her eyes water with liquid pride. He has endured great pain, but he is such a compassionate boy. The Champion of the Underdog….he will not stand for hateful words or unkind actions.

She looks at the children she is raising. Kind-hearted, compassionate children. Honest, cheerful. Funny. Creative. Loyal. These things are also her fault. She loves them with an intensity that burns the ice.

Mother Love equals Mother Guilt.

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Bits and Whatnots

The Universal Sign

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It’s something I’ve noticed over the years; the casual settling of a mother’s hand on her child’s head.
It’s a precious sight, really; the familiarity, the comfort, the way the child’s head leans in to the shoulder of the mother, as if drawn by invisible strings.

It’s a universal sign.

It’s a sign that says, “You belong to me.”

It’s a sign that says, “I will keep you safe.”

It’s a sign that says, to anyone watching, “Harm this child and I will unleash a fury upon you, the likes of which will cause your worst nightmare to shudder.”

And it seemed to me, at one time, that it was some evolutionary thing, a biological connection, a sign of protection over our offspring. It seemed to be an automatic connection between mother and child, born in that moment of sweat and screams and struggle; that moment when a mother first settles her hand firmly beneath the wobbly head of her newborn. It seemed a connection that said, “You came from me, we are the same.”
But, I think it’s more than that.

Because I’ve seen this same act between a mother whose child came to her through the beauty of adoption, and when they melded together as a family that child was long past the wobbly-headed infant stage.

And I’ve seen this same act between a foster mother whose skin was pale as porcelain, and the child she chose to raise, whose skin happened to be as dark as his mother’s was white.

It’s the easy familiarity of this action that fills my soul when I see it, because there is so much in that small movement.
I have done this with my own children, until they seemed too big and teenager-y and independent to settle my hand upon their heads without awkwardness.

But I still have one little boy, who will snuggle into me in a church pew, or on the living room couch, and allow my hand to rest there, his small head leaning in to my shoulder and my hand sometimes fiddling with his hair…brushing it up between my fingers and unconsciously enjoying the silky feeling of the strands of brown with sunshine-y highlights.

And I have another boy who is perched on the cusp of manhood, with legs and arms too long and gangly for me to hold in my lap anymore, but if he is ill, or very sleepy, he will sometimes curl up beside me in spite of himself, and allow me to find peace and comfort of my own in that connection, in the noticing of how my hand somehow seems suddenly smaller when settled on the crown of his once-baby head, the head that is now adult-sized and sports hair gelled into a “style” because he wants to look good for the ladies.

And every once in a great, great while, more rare than a blue moon during a meteor shower, perhaps during a fever or after a horrific bout of stomach flu or in the midst of a thoroughly broken high school heart, one of my teenage daughters will allow me the pleasure of molding my hand onto the back of her head, twisting my fingers into the thick, curl-tangled hair (while I silently marvel at the way those precious heads were once bald) and with my free hand I will wipe some smeared mascara and eye-liner that has worked down a cheek in the wake of her tears.
And I don’t think it ever stops.

I had occasion recently to witness this beautiful exchange between a mother and her adult son, whose mental age is not quite as advanced as his chronological age, and she looked down at his face tenderly and up it went, her hand to his head, and he smiled back and leaned a little more closely in toward her, and she sifted his hair through her fingers like sand through a child’s plastic beach toy.

It wasn’t all that long ago we brought my sister home on Hospice, and we all stayed at my mother’s house until her final day. My sister’s children moved in to my mother’s house for the duration, and I would walk sometimes into the room where her hospital bed was set up and find that one of her adult children were kneeling by the bed, a cheek pressed against my sister’s stomach, and though my sister was barely half awake, drugged and ravaged by cancer, her arm would begin to move, her hand crawling, crawling, along the bedframe and then up the back and shoulder of whichever child happened to be there, until she made it to her destination and cupped her thin, weakened hand against the crown of the head of her own child.

And there they would stay, for hours on end.

And now, I think I understand.

It doesn’t matter how your child came to be your child. It doesn’t matter if they are hours or months or years old, or if they are toddlers or adults.

It’s just a universal sign.

It means, “Mine”.

Bits and Whatnots, Chronic Illness

Invisible Illness Week (A snapshot of CVID)

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So we’ve seen the little meme’s floating around Facebook about “Invisible Illness Week”. Bloggers are blogging, Tweeters are tweeting. Shouters are shouting. Heralds are heralding.

I happen to be a blogger who lives with chronic illness, so guess what I’m going to do? Yep. I’m going to start shouting in 3, 2, 1….

Okay, I’m kidding. I’m not a shouter except when people recommend Echincacea to me as a cure for CVID. So here I am, far past my bedtime but the only time my house is quiet, blogging about something I never imagined I would have to learn to live with: Invisible Illness. I tend to think it’s an odd term, “Invisible Illness”. I mean, ANY illness is going to have symptoms, something about it that stands out, or makes life different for the person living it. Chronic illness isn’t really invisible. It’s just that people who don’t live it don’t catch those little things that stand out.

They don’t pick up on the visible symptoms….like missed school and work days. Like foods avoided and medication refills. Like excessive weight loss or gain. Like limited activities or long sleeves on a hot day to hide a rash.

They don’t pick up on the visible symptoms, because we hide them. And that’s what makes many chronic illnesses invisible.

For a long time, I thought these things were hidden because of shame. I thought those that went out of their way to hide the flare-ups, the pill bottles, the medication side-effects and the daily pain were ashamed of living with an illness they hadn’t asked for, and I couldn’t understand it.

But after over a decade of raising 3 children with Common Variable Immunodeficiency (CVID), I’ve met a lot of people who live with “Invisible Illnesses” (and been diagnosed with a few myself) and I think I’ve started to understand that it isn’t “shame” that keeps them invisible.

It’s just that we get tired.

We get tired of answering the questions. You know why? Because the people who ask them don’t listen to the answers. And they just keep asking.

We get tired of explaining why their particular herbal remedy/supplement/vitamin/fancy juice won’t work to fix our problems.

We get tired of justifying our choices of treatment, because the people who condemn them don’t understand the options available (but they judge our decisions anyway).

We get tired.

We get tired of explaining the ins and outs of insurance coverage, and of allergic reactions, and that yes, we understand that your Uncle’s Cousin’s Neighbors Great-Aunt-Twice-Removed once talked to a veterinarian who treated a dog whose owner thought she might have had SOMETHING LIKE THAT, and healed it with Echinacea. Just like that! But really, people, if we could cure our chronic illness with a $5 bottle of an herbal supplement bought at the local Wally World….don’t you think we would?

Do they REALLY think we want life to be this difficult? This painful?

Let me tell you something, Healthy People of the World: When you talk down to us like that, as if we are too dim-witted to research and investigate and make logical decisions based on our personal diseases, hours of discussions with our physicians, and research, research, research….well, Healthy People, that’s the kind of thing that causes those living with an Invisible Illness to feel guilt. And shame.

It’s the kind of thing that makes us want to hide.

It’s the kind of thing that negates the confidence we have achieved (hard-won), through days and weeks and months and years, yes, YEARS, of struggling with pain and fatigue and illness, of drug trial and error, and of learning to accept that we will never again be one of YOU, Healthy People of the World.

And at first when we get diagnosed, we want to inform everyone else, expand their mindsets, pour the knowledge we have gained directly into their brains, so they can understand when we have to cancel plans at the last minute (NO, it’s not because I suddenly don’t like you) or bring our own food to the party (NO, it’s not because we think you’re a terrible cook) or we begin to weep at the sight of another person, a Healthy Person, engaged in an activity we will quite likely never be able to participate in (NO, for crying out loud, please don’t ask me if it’s PMS).

But these other people, it seems like they don’t want to hear us. We talk and talk and show articles and read research studies and learn and learn and learn so we can be ready for those questions.

And when finally the questions come, they sound a lot like, “Have you tried a cold washcloth in a dark room?”, or “Do you eat enough fruits and vegetables?” or “Have you tried *insert any form of unproven, unhelpful, pseudoscience here* “?

We answer the questions, we answer the questions, we answer the questions. We answer them again.

And yet, we continue to hear the SAME. EXACT. THINGS.

Many people simply DON’T. WANT. TO. LEARN.

And so, we stop talking. We stop informing. We stop shouting.

We kind of just give up, and we quiet down. We begin to just smile at the suggestions and nod at the offers of help from people who think they know somebody who knows somebody who knows a little whisper, a teensy fragment of the pain we live with EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

These are the things that make us so tired. And we are exhausted enough already.

These are the things that keep us invisible.

So in honor of Invisible Illness week, I’m listing 5 things I wish you knew about Common Variable Immunodeficiency:

1. No, My Dear God, NO, Echinacea won’t boost a dysfunctional or deficient immune system. Think about this: If your immune system is dysfunctional, WHY would you want to “boost” it? You’d only succeed in boosting more abnormality.

2. No, Primary Immunodeficiency is NOT AIDS. NO, it isn’t. I know you hear the part of the name that says “immunodeficiency” and that’s what you automatically think of. I know that. But a primary immunodeficiency is a glitch in the system that is present from birth. It’s not caused by sex, drug needles, or licking a nasty seat on a subway.

3. Yes, we know we need a lot of antibiotics and steroids. Yes, we know that isn’t great for most people. Yes, we have to take them anyway. Why do you want to keep arguing that point?

4. No, living with this disease is not a death sentence; there is currently no cure, but there are some great treatments out there. Respect the ones we choose.

5. No, we are not mean parents because we treat our CVID kids with infusions or subcutaneous injections. You say, “I couldn’t do that to MY child!” But I guarantee you could. You’d do it because you would know it was the best thing for your child, and you’d buck up and get’r done. You’d feel bad, and you’d wish you didn’t have to, but you’d do it anyway.

WARNING: Hey Person Who is Interested in asking me to try giving my kids Echinacea instead of “letting them be stabbed with a needle” every month, please enjoy the feeling of the great big grill on the front of my great big diesel truck against your head. (My neighbor had a sister whose across-the-road neighbor knew somebody at the barber shop who said that was a great, all natural cure for fat-headeded-ness).

Bits and Whatnots, Grief

…..and just like that.

7856_468795936561744_310334071_n….and just like that.

I might be going along with my day, having a good one for a change. I might be washing dishes, or folding laundry, and I’m thinking, “…I should take something out for dinner or I should leave early and grab the mail or I think the dogs are almost out of food” and then, just like that, I think, “My sister is dead.”
And I shake my head and distract my thoughts, and perhaps pick up a crochet project and attempt to focus my brain on the written pattern.
Often, I screw up and find myself tearing the work back out.
Yarn can be a lot like life.

I’ve been caught while listening to the stereo when a Sugarland song comes on, or Bret Michaels, or Kid Rock begins to blare from the speakers and just like that, my pretty-well-held-together self is a crumpled heap of uselessness on the living room floor. And I know I need to get it together, for crying out loud, I have to keep going, I have to tend to four children and two dogs and a husband who is working at a job he detests because I can’t seem to pull myself together enough to get myself into a position to earn any money.

Knowing this doesn’t stop the salty oceans of tears from streaking down my face, falling onto my shirt, my jeans, my – depending on my position – filthy floor. It doesn’t stop the anguish, the sickening knotting in my gut, the wind that rushes through my head when I remember my sister is dead.

Logic has no place in my soul when I am so exhausted I simply MUST go curl up in my bed immediately, right that second, unable to summon the ability to keep my eyes open another fraction of a millisecond, and logic has no place in my soul when I am so exhausted I simply CANNOT close my eyes or rest my racing brain for even a quick breath of time.

And I lie there and stare at the ceiling or stare at the underside of my comforter (it’s purple striped) or stare at the distressing mountain of tangled-but-clean laundry on my side of the bedroom and I try to force my eyelids to close, I squish my lids against my eyeballs so hard I see shots of color, fireworks of pain… and just like that, the phrase repeats inside my head, “My sister is dead. My sister is dead. My sister is dead.”

Over and over. And over. Over and over. And over.

Just like that. And I wonder if I will ever get away from that voice, that phrase, that hateful stalker, that insidious whisper of truth and remembrance and pain.

But I get up everyday. I get up and ready my children for the new school year and try to focus my dysfunctional brain on something: on writing, on a project, on my own schoolwork, on my resume, on job possibilities.

And I pick up my kids from school and talk about their new teachers and jammed Junior High lockers and terrible lunch food and I nod and laugh and attempt to help with homework and I sign the necessary forms that always come home at the beginning of each school year and when I get to the place for “Emergency Contact” I start to write my sister’s name, just as I always have, every fall for the last 12 years I have had a child in school.

I have to pause, and my throat gets thick and sticky as if it’s filled with slimy cobwebs and the ink pen quivers above the forms and just like that I think, “My sister is dead.” For a moment or five I just sit there, unable to process what I need to do next.

I put my mother’s name on the top line, and nothing on the second line. The school will just have to make do with that.

I try to place my mind elsewhere, try to take deep breaths and rub the gritty sand from my eyes and think of something, anything else. The problem is that if I think ahead, I cannot formulate what a future without my sister in it looks like, and so the vision appears as some odd, grim fairy tale where bits and chunks of the world are missing, like a forest missing a clump of trees and part of the grass or half the sun is erased or the Gingerbread House is absent the candy posts that hold it up.

And if I try to force my mind backward, I simply see a slideshow of our past together, snipped bits of moments when we laughed or got angry or talked too much or didn’t talk at all.

Yesterday, something really exciting happened for me. Something I’d been working toward since high school (with a few breaks here and there for raising babies and potty training), and I was so pumped. I stopped at the post office and picked up the mail and there it was, FINALLY, there it was! A copy of the magazine my first ever article was published in, an article with my name and picture at the top, and for a fleeting moment I was so filled with joy and happiness and pride I nearly shook.

…. and just like that, the wind whooshed through my head and sand filled my eyes and I remembered.

I can’t show my dad. My dad is dead.
I can’t show my sister. My sister is dead.

I scrolled through my phone to look at the last text she sent me, because I wanted in the worst way to share this accomplishment with her, and I just wanted some kind of connection.

The last text she ever sent me just said, “ya”. I had sent her a picture of my daughter in the dress we’d bought for her Senior pictures, and that was what she texted back. She was so weak by then, just typing those two little letters and then pressing “send” probably wore her out.

My sister is dead.

I stare at that text and wonder if I will ever get away from that voice, that phrase, that hateful stalker, that insidious whisper of truth and remembrance and pain.

I wonder how much longer I am going to be this fucked up.

Bits and Whatnots, Writing

1st Publish

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It arrived last night…my first article publish in a magazine. I held it in my hands, I read the magazine front to back, re-reading the front (which featured a blurb about me), and then my own article. Over and over.

I can recite that article verbatim, but I read it over and over anyway, just because my name was in the byline at the top.

Of a magazine, that other people will receive and read.

It felt a lot like having a baby, except I didn’t have 3 days of back labor, and there were no stretch marks or screaming or biting my husband and making his arm bleed, but I think my rear got a little bigger with the writing of it all.

I wish my Dad was here to see it. I wish my sister hadn’t died just before it came out…she’d been so excited.

So it kind of kicks me in the face and knocks the wind out of me, but then again on the other hand, it’s pretty damn exciting.

Bits and Whatnots, Grief

Little Boy Lost

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It started over the summer.

We’d known for awhile that my sister had cancer, and though I’d offered to talk it out, he seemed okay about things. We’d go over to visit my sister, and he’d laugh and smile and talk and give hugs and play with her dogs and we would leave and I would watch him and he seemed okay.

Until mid-July, when my sister was in the midst of her last hospital admission, and the children begged me to take them to see her. That’s when things changed.

And he seemed okay while we were at the hospital, visiting. I made sure he had breaks from the sick room, and had snacks, and opportunities to talk. But after several hours, we left and went to a store, and in the middle of the store, he started a yelling argument with me, over a seemingly innocuous comment.

I thought, “What is going on?”

I felt angry. And hurt. And – much to my shame – I fed right into that argument. An argument with an 11-year-old little boy.

Until, in a very quiet, broken little boy voice, he whispered, “This is very sad! This is very, very sad, what is happening with Aunt Charlotte. This is very, very sad!” and then he hiccupped and wiped his tears and some runny nose snot with the back of his hand, and hiccupped again.

And I thought I understood, so the next day when we planned to go to the hospital, I arranged for him to go to a friend’s house to play and stay overnight. I thought the sight of my sister, bald and ravaged by this horrific disease that was pulling her away from us far too quickly, was what had him upset.

But while we were gone, I received a phone call from his friend’s mother, who told me Brennan was “a little upset, and wanted to come home,” and she put him on the phone.

My own stomach twisted into knots as I heard his tiny, tear-soaked voice over the phone, begging for Mommy, for time with his family, for home, home, HOME. He just wanted to come home. So I picked him up, and brought him home, and he explained to me that he felt he was having an asthma attack that didn’t get better with his inhaler. He explained to me how his chest felt heavy, but he didn’t wheeze or cough, and how he suddenly felt he would never be able to take another deep breath for the rest of his life, and how he looked around his friend’s new house and everything seemed unfamiliar, and bad, and sick, and he just needed to get home as fast as he could.

And I thought, “My God. He had an anxiety attack.”

I felt like I had been kicked in the face, my own breath taken from me, and my own chest felt burdened with a weight too heavy to bear.

I knew then that I hadn’t handled the situation appropriately, but I felt helpless to fix it. How do you do it right? How do you tell a young child that yet another family member he loves and believes will always be there is in the painful process of being ripped away from us?

How do I give him back the veil of innocence, the childhood security that should be his right? How can I make him feel safe, and that I will always be here for him, when it seems like everyone else is disappearing?

I don’t know. I really don’t know.

My adventurous, energetic, always-up-for-anything little boy had – seemingly overnight – become shy. More reserved. Afraid to accept invitations for play-dates. A trip to the dentist for a routine cleaning was suddenly something to be frightened of, and he insisted I hold his hand and bring a chair back to the room with him and stay.

Once my sister had come home on Hospice, he insisted he wanted to stay at Grandma’s house with the entire family. He wanted to be there for her last days, however many more we might have. He seemed confidant in this decision, and I thought, “Who am I to tell him no? Maybe this is what he needs.”

And so we all moved in to my mother’s house, and slept on the floor. He seemed to be doing okay.

Then my sister died. My little boy seemed so adult that night, patting our backs, bringing the adults bottles of water as we held one another and wept, bringing us tissues and whispering reassuring words.

He played at the funeral home. I heard him laughing.

But as this summer has progressed, I notice my little firecracker sleeping more. I notice my laid-back, cheerful boy starting ridiculous arguments over nothing. I notice he laughs less and cries more, and when I question him, he says it feels like everyone in the world is being mean to him.

Last week, we were driving home from a far-away doctor appointment and he fell asleep in the middle seat of our SUV. Curled up against the door with his pillow doubled-up against the window, he began to weep.

My daughter said, “Mom. He’s crying in his sleep.” She tried to wake him up, but he continued his fitful slumber.

It lasted over an hour, and I remained helplessly in the driver’s seat, maneuvering along on the crowded expressway, slapping at my own eyes as they burned and watered and eventually dragged some mascara down my cheeks.

My son sobbed. Hiccupped. Wept with great, gut-wrenching gulps. Tears streaked his face and his nose ran, leaving a giant, wet puddle of liquid agony on his pillow and blanket.

I listened to him shudder and sigh, weep and gulp and then snore. How could he possibly not wake himself up?

I’m not sure when my heart has twisted so painfully as it did that day, hearing my youngest child’s grief pour from him in such a pitiful manner.

And then he woke up and wiped his face and looked around. Disoriented. Dazed. He looked out the window and said, “Hey! We’re already almost home. That was a fast drive! Why is my blanket so wet?”

I told him he had been crying in his sleep, and asked what he had been dreaming about.

He told me there was no dream, just blackness in his sleep. There was nothing to remember.

I don’t know how to do this right.

Somebody tell me what to do.