zen.org Communal Weblog

December 13, 2004

The brain's parental lobe

Filed under: — brendan @ 17:04 GMT

Today our son Patrick and I went out to do a bunch of errands. Drop clothes off at the laundromat (our washing machine is broken), drop off lots of recycling, and do a follow up supermarket run for the pieces we need for this week’s recipes.

Just after leaving the recycling center, a cool new place that just opened, from behind me P said, “Dad” with a bit of desperation in his voice. As I looked in the rear-view mirror he coughed a couple of times, then suddenly started barfing. I’m driving at 30 miles an hour on a fairly thin road (Ireland isn’t known for its huge thoroughfares) and suddenly he’s freaking out and exploding, launching his breakfast over his legs. That’s only happened a few times in his little life in very different settings, but each one is pretty concrete in my memory.

Anyway, I entered this funky crisis mode that freaks me out a little when I look at it in retrospect. Normally in any day-to-day thing actions involve some level of forethought. You think for even half a second about what you’re going to do with lots of random actions. But not when a kid is in trouble. Jesus. As soon as he started to be sick, I saw that a bus was just pulling out of a spot where the road widens a bit, and pulled right over. An old guy with a cane looked at our car with some worry as it flew over to the side of the road, came to a screeching halt as I put on the hazard lights, and I jumped out of the car. There was traffic coming from both directions, and as a collective group they all got pissed off at me at the same time. My car was still covering half of the left lane turning it into an alternating one-way route, but I didn’t really care. For all I knew Patrick was going to choke to death. The only fair description of the emotions was fuck the world. Nothing else was important.

I ran to the other side and threw open the door. I got Patrick out of his seat and stood him next to the car. Off came his jacket and pants, now unwearable. I grabbed cloths and some moist towelettes out of the glove box to clean him up and try to get his seat back into a usable condition for the return home. I had to let him hug my shoulder when he started sobbing in response to the shock of what just happened. His boots and the bottom of his shirt were awful, but eventually his clothes and his seat were finally clean. He was lifted back into his seat, tucking my jacket around his now-bear legs as I strapped him in. I left messages at home and on Elana’s mobile phone to let her know that we weren’t going food shopping and would return home.

On the way back he said from behind, “I’m sorry I choked Dad. I cried after. I’m sorry I was sick Dad.” Heartbreaking. I offered some consolation, emphasizing how important it was that he was feeling better and anything that happened didn’t matter a bit.

I got a brief call on the way from Elana where I could tell her that he was okay and coming home. By the time we got home (half an hour later: cardboard isn’t recycled here without individual effort but we’ll talk about that another time), I think I figured out what had happened. He had a big breakfast, followed by a few bits of chocolate (for pooping in the toilet entirely on his own, a big step), then a 30-minute drive in a warm car to the recycling center next to some plastic bins with wine bottles, beer cans, and juice bottles still with the smallest hints of unpleasant smells. All the ingredients to a good old hit of car sickness. (I’ll try my best to not read too much into the fact that both Elana and Patrick are now on record as having gotten motion sickness from being passengers in a car I was driving…I like to believe I’m a decent driver, even if I’ve got a funky car accident in my past.)

After he was home for about half an hour, we gave him a little apple juice which stayed down, then a light lunch of chicken sandwiches made using the rest of what we had for dinner the night before. (Definitely something for The Accidental Cook.) The lunch went well, with Patrick back in his usual (amazing) good spirits. The rest of the day progressed without any further drama.

I realized at lunch how the human brain seems to enter a completely alternate state when your child is in trouble. I didn’t actively think about the right thing to do. I just acted. Similar in sensation to sheer panic but with apparently coherent thought, my emotions and impulses focused on making Patrick feel better, now. Find out what was wrong, and make it right. No choice in the matter.

It’s kind of frightening how this mode of thought completely overpowers you. I couldn’t have done anything else if I wanted to. Only when he was back in his seat, calm, and ready to continue home did I really feel my brain thinking clearly again. I’m looking forward to further long periods of clear thought, thank you very much.

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