In kindergarten, I was sick on the day that my class went to the circus, and I missed out on seeing the unicorn. (Or “unicorn” if you prefer.) I was absent so many days in first grade that I could have been retained. One year my extended family had to do a second holiday gathering because I was too sick to go to the first one. I had allergies and asthma. I took a lot of medicine. When I see Atticus getting sick, I am immediately returned to my own childhood, when I was sick all too often. I feel the echoes of a fever headache, sense the constriction in my chest, remember kneeling in front of the toilet in the middle of the night.
My dad taught me how to take my inhaler and brought me cups of water to rinse out my mouth after I threw up. When I had to take foul-tasting medicine for my cough, I felt that he truly sympathized. He got movies from the library to entertain me on sick days and he insisted that hot showers are an effective treatment for most any kind of illness. This is not to belittle any of the hair holding and back rubbing and medicine dispensing that my mom did. Her care was more gentle and nurturing. My dad’s was empathetic. He knew how I felt and he wanted to make it better. His number one treatment for any illness was Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, something I never even keep in the house.
Atticus has had a mild cold for the past week or so, but it took a turn for the worse over the weekend. He’s coughing all night long, and his nose won’t stop running. His appetite has been low. He got a fever yesterday, not a desperate-making 105 but enough to keep him out of school today.
In general, I like taking care of Atticus when he is sick. Things like blanket cocoons and snuggling and Busytown videos are in my skill set. I am great at sick people food – toast and popsicles. But after we had hydrated and rested and cozied as much as we could, there was still no improvement. Last night, in desperation, I went to the store to get chicken noodle soup. Out of deference to Mike, I bought a can of Progresso, but I was really there to buy Campbell’s.
After I heated it up in the microwave (you don’t heat Campbell’s soup on the stove), I scooped it in a bowl and put it on the floor where he and Mike were sitting. He was not interested at first, but soon he sat in my lap and slowly spooned the noodles and a little bit of soup into his mouth. All the noodles! he said happily. Noodle soup! When Mike put more noodles in the bowl, he said Thank you, Daddy so sweetly.
I feel close to my dad when Atticus is sick, when I give him his own cups of water and when my hair frizzes up as I teach him to steam out his lungs in the bathroom. He was especially close last night when I opened that can of soup. I am sure he was smirking at us today when Atticus was feeling better, definitely on the upswing. See, Dad would have said. I told you.