One morning this week, Helen woke up crying. I ran upstairs to see what was wrong, and she was lying frozen on her bed. When I asked what was wrong, the tears came pouring out, and she told me that her neck hurt. My first worry was "Does her head hurt, too? Does she have a fever?" Because moms tend to panic about the worst-case scenarios first: meningitis, paralyzed, you'll shoot your eye out, etc.
Turns out Helen had a pretty bad crick in her neck. She's been sleeping in her big bed for nearly a month, after a short transisition period in a toddler bed, and what I've discovered is that after I tuck her in and close the door, she gets out of bed, turns on the light and piles up her bed with stuffed animals and books. Lots and lots of books. If she wakes up, she sits in bed and reads books.
That night, she must have had so much stuff piled on the bed that she ended up sleeping in an awkward position, and so her neck was in pretty bad shape. She cried so hard whenever I tried to move her, and she absolutely refused to take a shower or a bath to warm it up. So I ended up giving her a little ibuprofen and sitting with her until she finally moved around. That took a couple of hours. The entire time was a struggle - she was in pain, and not understanding why, she was really cranky about it. Everything was a battle that ended in tears, including getting her dressed to go to daycare. At times it was just a marvel to watch her fall apart so easily. It's truly a crisis, when the world conspires against you in EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER WANTED.
I felt bad about taking her to school in that condition, but I had to make an appearance at work. The teachers were very understanding, and I hoped that a little bit of time playing with friends would make her feel better. I called to check on her that afternoon and the report was that everything seemed fine. Or so I thought.
I got back to the daycare that afternoon, and the director walked with me on the way to her classroom. Without even asking, he said to me, "Today, you know, there were moments of clarity, when Helen really got it and she could hold it all together. And then, sometimes, it was just one giant meltdown."
My shoulders slumped. I could see the entire evening stretched out ahead of me, just like the morning had gone. And once I was home that night, I wasn't too far off the mark, either.
The next morning, she woke up and told me very brightly, "My neck not hurting, Mommy!" Ah, thank you sweet Jesus.
But I haven't forgotten the director's comment all week, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that's a very good description of motherhood, too.