Running on Empty
He runs—five to ten miles per day with his cross country team. He jumps-before and after cross country practice-on a super charged pogo stick. He flips-on a trampoline before sunrise and way after sunset. He skates, scats skedaddles—up and down the street and around the block on a skate board, on a long board, on a bike, on two feet. He never stops; not even to fuel all that movement with food or drink.
It’s a typical summer scenario. Gannan, the quintessential boy, wakes up at the crack of dawn to soak up every single second of play time that he can wring out of a sweltering sunny day. Breakfast, if eaten at all, is usually a piece of fruit or a granola bar that he can shove down his throat as he’s whipping open the backdoor (only to throw the wrapper on the lawn as the back gate slams.) At lunch time, I scream my voice hoarse trying to locate my Prince-of-Playtime. He comes reluctantly, shoulders slumped, smelling of sweat and dirt and grass, but will stubbornly stay out on the front porch until the food is absolutely ready–not wanting to let one second of fresh air miss his awaiting nose. Somehow it is as if all that playing has caused his legs to forget how to bend him to a seated position. So he stands…and bounces…up and down… and wolfs a half a sandwich in one bite. He runs toward the front door. I yell “Halt” and hand him an 8 ounce glass of milk. Foot tapping, he drinks half and then those tapping feet bolt him out through the portal-of-play. Dinner is much the same. Even though I require that he must spend at least ten minutes at the family dinner table, he still will eat a half of a hot dog in a great big chomp and shovel a handful of fries into his mouth so that they stick out like the whiskers of the Energizer Bunny. Feigning a stomach ache he says he can eat no more and then bounces his right leg up and down, keeping the engine revving, looking at the clock, sighing with head in hand, blowing his long bangs out of his eyes, doing whatever it is so that he can get away from that table and back out to paradise. As he bolts once more, I again demand he drink “at least SOMETHING!” He dramatically takes in a gulp of milk and dashes off to greener pastures with his mother smiling after him, marveling at his energy.
Okay, so to some of you this description of a boy and his love for summer will conjure some smiles and make you wistful for the days of Andy and Opie walking to the “crick” with their fishing poles slung over their shoulders. However, after what happened this week, the description makes me feel ashamed. Yes. That’s right. I said ashamed. Not sunny. Not whistly. Not reminiscent of days gone by….nope. Ashamed. Here’s why.
Last Saturday, I awoke to a very ghostly looking boy standing at the foot of my bed asking me where the thermometer was. His arms were holding his comforter tightly around him, pathetically and weakly whispering, “I don’t think I feel good.” Since this is not a phrase that typically is spoken by Gannan because he knows it is one that would seal his fate INSIDE for the day, I immediately pop the thermometer in his mouth. It reads 103 degrees, and so I begin all the “mom” things that we do when we have a sick kid. Get him set up on the couch, ply him with Advil, coo and coddle. I suggest to him that he sip a little ginger ale and I wait for the protest. But to my surprise, he doesn’t. Instead he asks for water, and I give him water; glass after glass after glass. It seems as if he is a bottomless pit and can’t get enough H2O. That’s not the only thing that is unusual. He practically begs for food. I question my husband….”What’s that saying? Feed a cold-starve a fever. Or is it–starve a cold and feed a fever?” No matter. He wanted food; an egg and cheese sandwich to be exact, and then a bowl of cereal, and then a strawberry milkshake, and then another. All eaten in the span of two hours. He was ravenous. He was severely parched, very odd behavior for a sick kid. Or was it?
By Monday things hadn’t changed and as I played Nurse Nightingale all weekend, something began to nag me in the part of my brain that houses the very large place where my “mom guilt” resides. And at the doctor’s office, that nag was rewarded with a confirmation of exactly the diagnosis my “mom guilt” had already figured upon. Gannan in all his rigorous athletic, sporadic, manic movement had dehydrated. According to the Mayo Clinic’s website dehydration in children can cause high fevers, kidney failure, seizures and swelling of the brain. It also states that athletes during exercise will absorb about 24 to 32 ounces of water an hour and lose twice that in the hot weather. Great…It had been 90 degrees all week. Had I even seen water in Gannan’s hand on the way to each cross country practice? With every hour a person like Gannan has an increase in fluid debt and needs to replenish constantly. Well, readers, if you go back and read that pleasant diatribe on my child’s love for summer and you add up what he typically drinks, you’ll realize, just as my inner mom guilt did…that a typical day for him would be a FORCED 8 to 12 ounces of fluid, not nearly enough.
Shame on me. Shame on me for allowing my child to slowly dehydrate. Shame on me for letting him get away with the dashing and the bolting out the door with his gas tank on empty. But most of all, shame on me for not being a stronger mom and REQUIRING the proper nutrition. It was just more peaceful, less of a hassle to let him play than it was to argue with him over food and drink. I took the easy way out and now because of that…it isn’t so easy for Gan.
Today is Friday. Six days after that ghostly request for the thermometer and still Gannan lies quietly on the couch battling a fever that won’t let him alone; one that spikes upon any exertion whatsoever. Yesterday he was tested for the viral illness mono and pneumonia. All tests came back negative and yet the fever holds on as tightly as Gannan holds on to summer. Last night he said to me, “I feel sick.” I answered, “I know you do babe. I am sorry.” He shook his head and said, “No. That isn’t what I mean. I feel sick that this is the way I have to spend the last days of my summer vacation.”
“Gannan,” I answered. “I feel sick too.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.