“I hate you…” Mike shouts. (He’s thirteen.) “…because YOU hate ME,” he says gutturally.
And I want to cry but have to be strong for him, my strong one.
Mike was supposed to be weak. The summer I carried him, the tests showed a risk for Down syndrome. After a frank talk about whether we wanted to take that risk—in other words, did we want an abortion—the doctor ordered bed rest.
That hot summer, I started each morning by taking four-year-old Brad to the park, and then I climbed into bed. We spent those dull days reading magic stories, playing Hot Wheels, and giggling at baby Mike’s gymnastics in my womb.
“Go to your room,” I shout.
“Why should I?” Mike scowls.
“You need to calm down.”
The doctor said the baby was late, that my amniotic fluid was drying up. We needed to induce or he might die. Hours later Mike arrived, premature by a week. I glared at the doctor but tried to understand. In the elevator, my terrified husband asked about Down syndrome. No sign of it.
Better known as Kicker in his infant days, Mike nursed aggressively and grew fast. He liked to make liquid, slurping, waterfall sounds with his mouth while playing with his toes.
“I will NOT go to my room for no reason.”
“You will because I asked you.”
“You never make Brad go to HIS room.”
At one month of age, Kicker’s temperature shot to 103. I tried to stay calm, but he was so tiny, his cries so weak. I called the nurse and she ordered me to the ER. Instead of waiting like everyone else, we were rushed straight in. That’s when they started saying that dreaded word, meningitis. And the doctor wanted to do a spinal tap.
“It’s been scientifically proven that video games don’t cause violence,” Mike shouts.
“I don’t care,” I say. “You’ve had enough computer time.”
I grasped my infant, refusing to let the ER nurse take him for the procedure. He was crying uncontrollably now, but I needed to speak with our doctor. Even though he was the one who had told us Mike had Down syndrome and was late, at least I knew he cared. So when he told me Mike’s life was in danger, I caved.
After the spinal tap, a nurse wanted to take the baby for another test. Not wanting to be separated, I carried him to radiology, then the blood lab, and I held him through the tests. I slept with him on my chest. When my husband arrived, I handed him our baby and took a nap.
“You’re SO anti-technology. I can show you Total Biscuit’s video explaining the media’s bias against video games.” (Total Biscuit is a video game reviewer who sounds a lot like Simon from American Idol.)
“Mi-i-ike, I’m NOT going to let you sit in front of a screen all day.”
“It hasn’t been all day, Mom.”
“It’s been long enough.”
Next morning, the doctor arrived at six. He peeked at the baby in my arms and spoke about bacterial or viral meningitis. If it was viral, antibiotics would have no effect but he ordered massive doses in case it was bacterial.
Kicker could only whimper now. He barely sucked at my breast. The nurse wanted to start him on bottles, but I nursed him almost constantly instead. The doctor backed me up on that. In fact, our doctor seemed to come back every few minutes. Six times that first day. He came between office appointments, during lunch, and after hours. While I tried to nurse Mike, the doctor listened to his heart and breathing.
“Mom, I can finish the game in just 40 more minutes. THEN I’ll go to my room.”
“You can go to your room NOW!”
On the third day Mike cried really loudly. He wanted to move around so we laid him in the crib to play with his toes. When the doctor arrived, he seemed giddy. “For much of the first day,” he said, “I thought you were clutching a dead child.”
Hours later, the test results proclaimed viral meningitis. The antibiotics had had no effect. “Your love and your milk carried him through this,” said the doc who had talked me into a spinal tap and checked on us six times a day.
“You hate me,” says Mike, defiant and strong.
“I love you. Now go to your room.”
In a few hours, he’ll believe that I love him again, but he’ll never fully understand until he holds his own baby through a hot summer of bed rest, a spinal tap … and the year thirteen.