I have a 13-year-old daughter. I think most parents of teenagers know what that means: I love her to pieces, but she has a knack for driving me bonkers. We argue about various issues and incidents, and she has no interest in my opinion on any of them.
I’ve complained that she doesn’t clean up, that she doesn’t listen, that she interrupts me 700 times a day for no reason, that she doesn’t take enough responsibility, blah blah blah… The blah blah blah represents what she hears when I’m saying those things, before she chimes in with her list of MY transgressions. And then every once in a while, the kid totally surprises me.
We were hanging out on the couch the other night, watching TV together. I try to do that regularly, just spend time with her without activities or expectations, pressure-free. Since she keeps up a nonstop monologue about whatever’s on TV, I let her pick the show so I’m not distressed by missing out on all the dialogue. Something we were watching triggered a memory, and she looked at me accusingly, but laughing, because hindsight is everything, even to a 13-year-old.
“Remember that time you woke me up early on a Saturday morning and shone a flashlight in my face?”
I remembered. I’d been feeling crappy for a few days with a painfully sore throat. We were hanging out on the couch the night before, and she’d said, “You know what’s weird? I have a tiny spot on my foot that wasn’t there before.”
That WAS weird, because I had one too. She was also coughing.
After she went to bed that night, I sat there fretting about what could be wrong with us. A few hours passed, my hands and feet were starting to hurt, and my throat was getting worse. The whole house was asleep when I tiptoed into the bathroom at 1:00 am and looked in the mirror, shining a flashlight into my mouth. I was horrified to discover that I had patchy white spots all over the roof of my mouth. I was being taken over by aliens!
Googling told me I’d better head to urgent care first thing in the morning and that the culprit was likely not aliens, but coxsackie, a virus little kids get. So yes, I woke the poor kid up at the crack of dawn (with said flashlight-in-the-face) to see if she had the same thing. She did, and off we went to urgent care.
It was indeed coxsackie, and here’s a little briefing on THAT puppy: Mostly kids get it, it’s contagious, and there is neither a cure nor treatment. Isn’t that nice? There’s literally nothing they can do for you. And it’s pure misery when you have it. It hurts to walk, to hold things in your hand, to eat, or to swallow.
The only plus I could see was that ice cream, one of my top two favorite foods on the planet, helps. Also, 95% of the info about it online is about little kids, and the remaining 5% is made up of horror stories accompanied by terrifying photos of what happens when adults get it. Eek!
I couldn’t even find answers to simple questions, like “Should I not sleep with my husband?” and “Can I still make food for everyone or should I stay out of the kitchen?” The assumption was that only kids have it, so there were no details about how to function as an adult with this thing unless you were in immediate need of hospitalization.
My memory of that miserable time: My daughter and I were stuck on the couch for days, I felt like shit, I couldn’t sleep in my own bed or get any writing done, and most of my waking moments consisted of me desperately wishing I could feel normal again.
My daughter’s memory of that same event is quite different.
“I loved when we had coxsackie,” she told me as we watched Riverdale together. What? Was she nuts? I’d hated every minute of it.
“First of all, you had it worse than me. I was fine, I could eat and stuff, I just couldn’t go to school, which was great.”
“And then we got to just stay on the couch all day and do nothing, and Daddy made us milkshakes and brought us all our food and then took it away and cleaned up.”
“I remember the milkshakes. That was kind of nice,” I admitted.
“And the best part was that I got to spend all day with my mom,” she said.
My heart melted. My miserable memories dissolved—no, EVOLVED—in an instant. She was right. We’d spent a few days together in solidarity, unable to do much beyond watch TV and be together. We’d shared complaints, watched a lot of Parks and Recreation, and yes, got milkshakes on demand. Suddenly, it didn’t sound so bad.
And my kid who drives me crazy so much of the time, who tests my limits, who goes back and forth between loving me fiercely and thinking I’m the most out-of-touch person on the planet, just performed a miracle: She turned a terrible memory into a very sweet one. I will remember it differently now for the rest of my life.