As we sat last night in our big powder blue and tan bathroom with the steam swirling around us like fog settling, making it everything just a little indistinct and rather damp, I slipped back into my memory. You would think that Kathleen waking coughing, gasping and raspy breathed in the middle of the night would send me spiraling back to Henry. I'd expect it to be a trigger, setting of a flurry of overgrown fear, but it didn't. I went back much farther than Henry. As the steam filled the air, I was no long holding my little one on my lap; I was the little one, three maybe or four. Smelling the moist heat, hearing the water beating down behind the shower curtain, I was sitting on my mom's lap in a tiny pink bathroom, that like the one I was actually was just of the kitchen, far from the bedrooms.
I got croup a lot as a kid. When I heard Kathleen's cough on Thursday morning I knew exactly what it was. I remember the curious reverberating feeling of the cough ending in a wheeziness. I remember the smell of the steamy bathroom. I remember the thrill of being outside on my swing late at night, long after bedtime, the sky clear and dark, the stars cold and bright. I haven't taken Kathleen outside yet, but we've taken steam breaks three time now. She starts out crying and coughing on my lap and we read Little Bear stories until her cough loosens and her breathing improves. I turn off the shower and we read one more story as the heat slowly begins to dissipate and the moisture begins to settle. Then back to bed.
Last night, after we steamed her she kept coughing off and on. I thought I'd have to take her down again. Elizabeth has a cold and a cough that kept waking her up last night. At 2:21 A.M. I sat in the rocking chair in Kathleen's room listening to her breathe and cough and nursing Elizabeth. In the nightlight's glow, I could see Kathleen scrunched down at the bottom of her bed. I watched her moving restlessly and waited to see if she would wake up or cry out again. I rocked and rocked with Elizabeth's squirming finally settling near me. I was awake and exhausted. I didn't like the sounds of Kathleen's cough, but I wasn't panicked. I wasn't anxious. I didn't think of the ER or ambulances or ventilators or oxygen. She was sick and uncomfortable and all I thought was that I wanted her—both of them—to feel better.