Thursday, 11:15 a.m. The phone rings. I look up from my writing and squint at Caller ID: PUBLIC SCHOOLS. And just like that, my work day is over.
In the office of the school nurse at Hillside Elementary School, Eli sits slumped in a chair, his face pale, pupils dilated. His forehead is hot. “He’s 102. This fever is going around,” the nurse says. “Could be a virus. Or …” She doesn’t finish the sentence, but we both know what she’s thinking. A child at another elementary school in our town has Swine Flu. “You’ll need to get him to a doctor right away. And even if it’s only a virus, he can’t come back to school for a week.”
I make an appointment for 2:15 p.m. By 3:45 Eli and I have spent an hour in the pediatrician’s waiting room surrounded by other pale-faced, feverish kids, and half an hour alone in a sterile examining room. Finally the doctor arrives to take Eli’s temperature (still 102), administer a flu test (negative), and send us home with a prescription for plenty of liquids and sleep. Yep, it’s “only” a virus.
I relate this story because it is a small illustration of how my best-laid plans can evaporate in a moment. Four single-spaced, handwritten pages — my daily goal — may not sound like much, but some days it’s impossible. On Wednesday, before Eli got sick, I’d started writing about a new character; my hand flew across the pages. Thursday was a different story: the two pages I managed to eke out before the school called were painstaking and hard-won. Friday, with Eli home and miserable, I didn’t write at all.
Sometimes it’s the life of the mind. Sometimes it’s just life. And knowing when to give up, to let go of my expectations for myself and simply exist in the moment, watching “Mythbusters” with Eli, is a lesson I’m still learning.