About a month ago, I was awakened around 5:30 by barking coughs from my sons' room. The little one (the usual cougher) was sleeping. It was the big one.
"I can't breathe," my eight-year-old rasped between hacks.
I dragged him to the bathroom, propped him up on the toilet lid, and turned on the shower. The steam quickly fogged my glasses and the mirror.
The big one shook his coughing head vehemently. "I don't want a shower!"
"You're not getting a shower," I said, still squinting in the sudden brightness of the over-the-mirror lights. "Just breathe in the steam."
He did his best to breathe it in, but his lungs seemed unwilling to open their gates. In spite of the croupy bark of the cough, I started to bet that this was asthma. So, having an albuterol inhaler from his brother and knowing that he'd been treated with albuterol in the past, I gave him two puffs.
Moments after the first puff, his cough became productive. Fifteen minutes after the second puff, and his breathing was near effortless.
But we had a new problem. Albuterol makes a person jittery. It raises their heartrate, increases anxiety, and makes it very hard to sit still. Apply those side effects to a child that's already hyperactive. Can you picture my living room at 6:00 AM? If you're visualizing the walking dead in close quarters with a ping pong ball on crack, you've done a pretty good job.
Two hours later, we were at the doctor's office. The big one was still very hyped up. It was hard to catch what he was saying as he announced to the receptionist as I was signing in, "I'm BJ and I'm home sick today because I can't breathe and Mom says that means no video games and only educational shows like math ones and National Geographic and I hate that breathing medicine and Mom says I don't have to go back to school today even if I can breathe now because she doesn't trust it and do you have a bathroom because I need to use it now and it's really hot in here did you know that?"
They led us back to an exam room quickly, which was good because it was easier to contain the ping pong ball in there, even though it meant that he hit the walls more often. Divested of his winter coat, he was freer to move and was over the chair, under the chair, spinning on the doctor's seat, checking out how the computer cords wound through the garrotte and plugged into the power bar, and hanging off the end of the examination table to study (upside down) how the sanitary paper was wound and attached.
"Where is he?" the nurse asked as she entered the room. I pointed below the table where the big one had locked his body up underneath. He jumped out.
"Gotcha!" he shouted as he danced around her. The nurse tried to face him for a bit, but after rotating a time and a half, she gave up and just turned her head.
After originally doubting my reports, the doctor did confirm it had been asthma, and, somewhat exhausted after our visit, he sent us on our way visibly relieved.
And so began a beautiful day spent with my sick-at-home eight-year-old. We read together (Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs and Scene of the Crime), went over math facts (multiplication), and watched those educational shows on TV.
"Do you remember the first time I ever watched Mythbusters?" he whispered in my ear. "It was magical."
And that moment--the one I was spending cuddled with my son, not the first time he watched Mythbusters--was magical. And I enjoyed (almost) every minute of it.
But it also brought something home to me, something that I fight all the time both with myself internally and externally. It is so easy for me to apply descriptors to my son: the big one, asthmatic, hyperactive, ADHD, boy, fantasy-loving. And sometimes the labels seem to take a life of their own, either demanding special treatment or special griping. But in the end, what is most important for me to remember is that these descriptors do not even come close to encapsulating my son. While they help me to deal with aspects of his personality, I don't ever want that ping pong ball on crack to be confined by the walls of the house or the restrictions of a label. And I need to draw back from them as often as I possibly can.
When all is said and done, I am raising my precious one, and that is the only thing that matters.