This week my seven-year-old son, Ari, came down with scarlet fever. It was as awful as it sounds: His body was limp and red, he vomited all over the floor, my bed and the car, his high fever and headache were so debilitating he couldn't walk or move. He was helpless as a newborn in my arms.
At first I assumed he had a virus that needed to work its way through his little body. I held him, dabbed his forehead with a cool compress throughout the evening, and gave him sips of ginger ale through a straw. But by the time 10 p.m. came around, I was scared.
"I can't breathe," Ari shouted. He was beside me in my bed. "My stomach! My head!"
He was boiling up but pulled the covers up around his neck for warmth. His body shivered beneath.
I started to panic. I'm a single mom, and I live with my two boys, ages five and seven, all by myself. I've become adept at managing the day-to-day routine alone: making lunches, helping with homework, organizing play dates, chauffeuring them to baseball and hockey, feeding them dinner, and putting them to bed. It's not easy, but it's been our reality for more than three years, and I'm used to doing it all on my own.
In fact, the idea of asking for help at this point is almost embarrassing. When your husband leaves you, you learn to be independent. You relish doing everything yourself and having the chance to prove you are superhuman and don't need anyone, especially not a husband, to cope with life. To me, relying on someone, asking for help, means I'm weak and needy. I never want to be in the position of needing someone again in the off chance they'll leave. I have to be prepared to do everything on my own just in case this ends up being my lot in life.
And then, one of your kids gets sick and you hope and pray you don't get sick because you still have two kids to take care of and you have nobody you would want to burden with the job of taking care of you on top of it all. So as Ari shivered under my covers, and my other son, Josh, was asleep in his bed, I started to cry.
What if Ari's shivering and fever of 102.5 were medical warning signs? What if I missed them and didn't take him to the hospital on time because I couldn't decide what to do? And if I did need to take Ari to the hospital, what would I do with Josh?
Just then my mom called. She happens to be very intuitive.
"What do you need?" she asked me, concern in her voice.
"Nothing, but thank you. I'm OK," I said. I looked at my nightstand and there was a half empty bottle of Tylenol in a flavour Ari didn't like. The digital thermometer I just bought had one bar of battery left. Ari continued to shiver and shout delirious comments in his sleep. "Don't make me sit there!" he shouted. "I can't do it. I won't!"
I truly didn't know how I would make it through the night.
"I'm coming over," my mom said. "I'm going to spend the night and dad will come over with more medicine."
"I don't want to trouble you," I told her, wiping a tear that had slid down my cheek onto Ari's head.
"It's no trouble, Erin. We'll be right over."
While it still took guts for me to ask, it was comforting to know I had others to lean on during emergencies.
"If you come over you'll think I'm a failure," I sobbed. "I feel ridiculous that I'm in this position to begin with. I don't need any help."
"Erin, you should be relieved, not sad," my mom said.
And I was relieved. So relieved that I finally relented.
"Ok thank you," I said. "Can you also bring another thermometer?"
When I took my son to the doctor the next day, he diagnosed Ari with scarlet fever, gave us a prescription and sent us on our way. Ari threw up on the way home, then crawled into my bed and spent the rest of the day boiling and limp in my bed. I had no choice but to ask one mom to bring Josh home from school and another to bring him to school the next day. They were more than happy to help. While it still took guts for me to ask, it was comforting to know I had others to lean on during emergencies.
If there's any good that's come out of this scarlet fever episode, it's that I suppose being a single mom doesn't have to mean I'm alone.
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