I do not handle illness well. Give me a mild case of sniffles or up my body temperature to 98.7 and I start doing my impersonation of Ali MacGraw in Love Story. I tramp around the house, moaning softly and reminding my wife that love means never having to say you're sorry. Eventually she begs me to be quiet, at which point I apologize (in my house, love means having to say you're sorry 300 or 400 times a day), return to my deathbed and amend my will.
Nowadays, I'm sniffling, tramping, moaning and apologizing more than ever before. You see, having a preschooler is like having your own Germ and Virus Home-Delivery Service.
For some reason, young'uns are the carrier of choice among microscopic vermin, perhaps because they're close to the ground and easy to board. Whatever the explanation, as soon as a new cold or flu bug hits town, the first place it heads is the nearest preschool, and the first greenish goo it generates will flow from the nose of your little bundle of joy.
Soon the child will be hacking and sneezing and trying to survive a fever that could thaw a frozen turkey from ten feet. He will show no sign of recovery until the symptoms are passed to one parent, then the other. Weeks later, when the household at last seems on the verge of renewed good health, the child is guaranteed to start the whole, horrid cycle all over again. This will continue until the kid runs away from home, goes off to college, elopes, is drafted, is sold to medical science or is adopted out to some healthy, childless, unsuspecting couple who will be eternally grateful until they realize they're spending $37,000 per year in Vitamin C alone.
Anyway, back to my sniveling wimpishness in the face of illness--which, apparently, my son has not inherited. This kid isn't about to let a few overactive snot glands turn him into a pathetic shell of a human being like his old man. He can be flirting with double pneumonia, and he'll still beg to go outside to roughhouse with his pals and growl at passers-by. The only thing that slows him down is any casual use of the word "doctor," which inspires the lad to improvise a soliloquy reminiscent of the scene in Rain Man where Dustin Hoffman expresses his opinion of air travel.
My son's only other weakness in this area is that he was born with a hair-trigger gag reflex and just about anything can set it off. He's been known to toss his Gummy Bears at the sight of the family cat walking in the general direction of its litter box. And when he's really sick, the little darling consistently breaks his own records in the areas of quantity, force, distance and poor marksmanship.
But he doesn't whimper or whine; he just upchucks and gets on with his life. This isn't a trait I brag about when showing off wallet-sized snapshots of the boy. However, I'll wager that even Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood can't wretch their guts out without so much as a between-heave groan.
Last week my son was as sick as he's ever been, and he handled it with typical bravery. I'd just finished reading him Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham (which, by the way, is not the ideal bedtime story for a sick child with a hair-trigger gag reflex) when, out of the blue and without a trace of fear, he asked, "Dad, am I gonna die?"
"Of course not, sweetheart. What made you think such a thing?"
"When my goldfish died, you said it was because they were sick. And I'm sick. So I'm gonna die, too. Right?"
"Honey, your goldfish were very, very sick. But you're just a little sick. You're going to get better."
"I don't feel like I'm getting better."
"Well, it takes time."
"Dad, I'm waiting, but I'm still not better. I think I'm gonna die, just like my goldfish."
"Sweetie, believe me, you AREN'T going to die."
"But if I do, I'll go to heaven and Jesus will take care of me?"
"When people die, they go to heaven and Jesus takes care of them, yes. But I'm telling you, you're NOT going to die."
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"Dad . . . are there toys in heaven?"
I'm pleased to say that my son is feeling much better now, and no longer frets about spending the rest of eternity bored and toyless. The only reason I'm not overcome with joy is that, obviously, it's time to start practicing my Ali MacGraw impersonation.
This kid isn't about to let a few overactive snot glands turn him into a pathetic shell of a human being like his old man.
"Dad . . . are there toys inheaven?