Instincts, always instincts

A few weeks ago, Greg and I danced a jig when Eleanor got her report card. We found a little flyer tucked in the report card that congratulated her for her perfect attendance in the first quarter. This is huge for our family. Six months ago, the school was sending us warnings about how Eleanor had missed too much school.

The asthma medication she has been taking has improved her health so much. I’m reluctant to say it because I fear that I will jinx us. Is this what parenting is like with healthy kids?

From the age of two, Eleanor had been sick all of the time. She was perpetually coming down with a runny nose, fever, and terrible coughing. It was always symptoms of a severe cold, so nothing that a doctor could fix. We went through a lot of Tylenol and a lot of juice. When I told other parents that our child was sick all the time, they nodded knowingly. Yup, kids get sick a lot.

Eleanor was our first child, so I had no way of knowing what was normal. I pondered how other parents were managing to hold down jobs and raise three or even four kids. I sensed that other kids weren’t sick nearly as often as my own, but I didn’t live with those families. I didn’t see when they were running to the doctor.

The older Eleanor got, the more I felt that something else was going on. Other parents commented about how eventually her immune system would be stronger. Yet, she seemed to be getting sick more frequently, not less. In the span of three months last winter and spring, she had the flu, pneumonia, and strep throat. At the end of the school year, one of Eleanor’s friends received an award for perfect attendance. I wanted to cry. Eleanor had missed 18 days of school.

Finally, the doctor figured out that she had chronic asthma. All of those symptoms — the fever and runny nose and coughing — are asthma symptoms. Greg and I were reluctant to start her on another daily medication beyond her allergy regimen. Now, I am so grateful for that medication. Eleanor’s only visits to the doctor recently have been for a broken wrist. That’s such a small thing for us!

I’m always hesitant to disclose my children’s health issues, but I think it’s important for other parents to hear that their instincts are right. The spectrum of what is considered normal for health and behavior is very broad. It is hard to know, particularly with your first child, if things are okay. I wish that we had found an answer for Eleanor sooner but am so relieved to have one now.

A lot of people talk about how parenthood teaches you humility. I think more than that, I have learned empathy. I do sometimes question why our family is handed these challenges. After losing a child, we should get a free pass on everything else. Still, I know that other families have it harder than we do, and I feel solidarity with them, over and over and over again.