My mother was, fiercely, and, unjustly, overprotective. Because my brother, Mark, had autism, which brought daily challenges to the household, my mother fought hard to maintain control in other areas. One of those areas was our physical health. It was, constantly, on her mind, it was evident in her conversation, and she was, forever, on patrol against the inevitable cold or virus.
When the ice cream truck came to the neighborhood, I was never permitted to have an ice pop. My mother had herself convinced, that, even though ice pops were kept in the same freezer as the creamy items, they were, somehow, colder and would level me with illness. She was so far over the top with her obsession to keep us well, that a sneeze from a visiting friend would elicit a rude command that they, immediately, leave our house. Hot embarrassment would creep up my cheeks, as I, tearfully, begged friends to understand, and to, please, come back another day.
Despite my mother’s misguided methods to keep germs away, Mark and I, occasionally, contracted the, incapacitating and life threatening, head cold. This would send her into a tailspin of lining up doctors’ visits, compiling a serving tray of medications, and hauling out her, elaborate, array of thermometers. The green, glass vaporizer was boiled and sanitized. It stood, gleaming and ready, to moisturize our failing lungs. My mother would pace and rant, while doing mental detective work, trying to pinpoint the exact moment of susceptibility. Was it the button, maliciously, left open at the neck of a jacket? Could it have been a, devastating, draft from the, microscopic, space where the front door met the wooden trim? Perhaps it was a stray raindrop boldly landing on an arm, creating a chill; thus compromising a delicate immune system. She blamed everyone and everything for the health crisis that she believed was, always, misdiagnosed as the sniffles.
Out came the sick foods. The risky, mucous producing, dairy items were banned from the house; replaced by citrus juices, eggs and other proteins. Hot tea and toast with jelly was my mother’s snack of choice for the afflicted child and she monitored our intake and output with the precision of a neonatal nurse. Sick time entertainment came in the form of being allowed to sit up in bed and read for short periods. Scheduled naps were ordered for the purpose of conserving the strength that would be necessary to fight that, dangerous, stuffy nose.
Eventually, the flow of doctors parading in and out of our house would trickle to a halt, My mother would be convinced that prayers had been answered and her sick child was, finally and miraculously, “out of the woods.” Normal life would resume with serious caution, lest there be a relapse. The end of the siege meant even tighter restrictions, going forward, and even less freedom upon our return to society.
As adults we might behave, either, very much like a parent or exactly the opposite. The route I took became obvious when my first child, Tammi, was in Kindergarten. One icy morning while she waited with friends for the school bus, the group discovered a frozen puddle. They took turns running towards it, and sliding on their knees upon the slick surface. Realizing her legs were getting cold and wet, I thought about stopping her from participating, when something made me remain quiet. I knew that allowing her to be part of that carefree moment of shared childhood experience was way more important than preventing a chill or even the actual, life altering, head cold, so feared, by my mother.