Now I understand.
For five decades I was the picture of health, and about nine months ago it all changed. My decline coincided with the birth of our only daughter.
At first it was the lack of sleep. For most of my life I slept until the alarm woke me. I had dreams. I was well-rested and alert. All that changed nine months ago. Suddenly, my sleep life was not my own. Our slumber was interrupted at odd times of the night by a cute little creature who took obvious delight in disrupting our REM. During the day I was listless and disoriented. My short term memory (what little there was to begin with) was on life support.
Then came the germs. When she began to socialize with other children, she became a miniature transporter of biohazardous material. I used to scoff at shipmates who always seemed to have a bug, convincing myself that I had been blessed with an immune system that was impervious to the run-of-the-mill cold and flu viruses.
Now I understand. I have a cold right now. Our daughter gave it to me. I don’t know if it was when she put her little hands in my mouth, or when she sneezed on me, or if the germs just jumped on me, launching themselves off the the sticky liquid covering half her face. I suppose it is good for me, knocking my hubris down a notch, and making me realize that we’re all human. But it’s hard to be philosophical when you’re coughing and your nose is raw.
So to all of you I derided over the years when you were sniffling and coughing, I’m sorry. I had no idea. You must have had kids at home. And it’s not like I didn’t have a heads up. When I played Santa Claus one year I sat face-to-face with twenty little germ factories (see The Day They Almost Killed Santa), and eventually called in sick for the only time in my career. That should have been a tip off, but I passed it off as an anomoly.
And she’s not even a year old yet, for cryin’ out loud. What happens when she starts school? Or plays sports? What happens when she has FRIENDS? My body, previously unexposed and now vulnerable to every childhood illness, is an unblemished vessel awaiting the arrival of the spores – I’m a fifty year old Petri Dish. I’m like the aliens in “War of the Worlds”, failing in their quest to take over Earth because they had no immunities to the smallest of organisms.
And that’s one of life’s ironies, isn’t it? The smallest organisms often have the biggest impacts on our lives. When she smiles, my spirit soars. When she cries, by heart breaks.
In fact, is that a tear running down her cheek right now? It looks like a tear…