In God’s hands, or how to live in a state of chronic hypervigilance
A few weeks ago, Oscar spent several nights in the hospital for complications from a respiratory infection. Bronchiolitis turned into pneumonia, and, to make a long story short, I should have listened to the little voice that told me to take him to the ER on Thursday night, in order to save ourselves the exciting trip to the hospital via ambulance on Friday morning, when his oxygen level was so low that the pediatrician legally could not let him ride in the car with me from the office. #bucketlist #longstorylong
I share all that to set the stage for what happened over that weekend. Todd and I traded off spending time with Oscar at the hospital and at home with other kids. After I kissed Todd and Oscar good night and trundled the other five kids into the van, a realization began dawning on me slowly. I felt… relaxed. I couldn’t figure out why. For heaven’s sake, my infant son was in the hospital, struggling to breathe on oxygen support! But it persisted all through the evening: dinner, baths, bedtime. I felt my shoulders hanging looser than usual. And finally, I figured it out.
The Oscar Alarm was off. He was in someone else’s extremely capable hands, and I knew it, down to the tips of my toes. There was nothing I could do for him that wasn’t already being done effectively by someone else… somewhere else.
When Oscar is home, even if I have
nothing little else to do, I live in a state of chronic hypervigilance. Even if he is happily occupied or soundly sleeping, my internal clock is always ticking and my mind is always reviewing possibilities and scenarios. When was his last bottle? Did he take his lunchtime meds? How long has he been lying on his mat alone while I chase my other little minions around the house? He’s been in his crib awhile; did I miss him waking up? Did I miss a seizure? Did I, did he, did we???
But that night, all that chatter was just OFF. It wasn’t until I felt its absence that I realized how loudly and constantly it blares in my head.
It was as if I had been looking at the night sky all this time, from my dwelling in the city, thinking I was enjoying a beautifully complete view of constellations and comets. Then, suddenly, a blackout hit the city, and all its noisy lights fell dark, and the true depth of the night sky was revealed. And I saw how much, how very much, I had been missing.
When I’m home with the whole family, it is rare for any one person or job to have my complete and undivided attention. But research has shown that people who multitask suffer huge performance hits. My whole life is one long multitask. I live in a near-constant state of hypervigilance.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
You know who can multitask, though? God. It’s pretty much the whole job description. Well, half. Love first, then multitasking, which is just a fancy word for omnipotence. God = Love + Multitasking. (Christy’s Summa Theologica. You’re welcome.)
My tendency to multitask, to control all the variables, also has two angles: pride and fear. If I were to really step back and analyze my (extremely long!) list of habitual sins, those two would probably explain every single one of them. I have an utterly false and conceited belief that I have—or deserve!—control over my corner of the universe. I have an ingrained, haunting, constant suspicion that I will do the wrong thing with that control. Pride and fear.
When it comes to any kind of parenting, that is a harrowing worldview. As it turns out, there is extremely little, in our lives or those of our children, that we have full control over. We will make many mistakes. But when one is parenting a child with special needs, life is even more “on the brink.” The stakes are higher. Mistakes can be more costly. And so we must abandon ourselves, even more, to God’s providence and care. Trying to hold onto all the variables, all the decisions, all the information in one puny human brain is a recipe for mental breakdown over the long term.
The hypervigilance extends from the minutiae to the big picture. Is this the right sequence and dosage of medication for his 7:30am schedule, or am I forgetting something? Was that weird movement a seizure, and oh yeah, when is the last time I updated his neurologist? Have I tracked down and contacted every possible research group that has studied his genetic mutations and seizure types, in case one of them has more details or leads? Did every school-aged child complete her math homework this week? Are we considering all the right schedule options for this fall, or are we missing the perfect combination that will make our insanely over-complicated schedule fall into heavenly alignment?
Welcome to my brain. THERE IS NO ESCAPE.
And I forget to return emails, and regularly schedule us to be in two conflicting places at once, and I heave a sigh at the child who has the audacity to ask me for a refill on his water. Dropping ball after ball. Missing the point.
God is not calling me to Handle All the Things. God is calling me to love the people he has put into my life, the best way I can, and to turn the rest over to him. Yes, this means I might miss the perfect undiagnosed-diseases program application deadline, left to my own devices. But he has other means of putting that program in my path, at the right time, in his own time.
He does not, however, have any other mothers currently living in this house who might honor a child’s dignity by getting up and refilling that water glass, delivering it to said child with a gentle smile, asking how his day was with attention and care. (Other mothers, no. Other people, though: yes. Thank God, literally, for each one of them.)
I have to at least try to believe that God handles every situation perfectly in the long game, that he writes straight with crooked lines, because I know I’m not capable of doing so and that my lines are always crooked. In my current state of belief, I am even willing to just use this as a convenient mental model, a shorthand for a faith that doesn’t seem to have much flesh on its bones these days. In a life that demands multitasking, I can be assured of precisely one essential truth: I WILL drop the ball. So I choose to believe (through gritted teeth and by sheer intellectual assent, even when it feels like grasping at straws or magical thinking) that the Creator of the Universe is willing and able to pick the ball up when I drop it, and move the game along.
(And I try not to drop the balls that are nearest and dearest to me, the ones that truly only I can catch.)
I’m a Catholic wife, mother of six, and writer who wrestles with the problem of pain. What does faith look like in times of adversity and struggle? I’m so glad to have you here, joining the conversation. Learn more about me 🠖
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