the midnight bark

There is a sound that every mother hears, sooner or later, and the first time that mother hears it, usually in the middle of a dream, she is immediately, heart-poundingly, awake.

Last night, around 12:30, I heard this very sound coming through the wall behind my headboard. Or maybe it was through the HVAC vent. Anyway, it was an otherworldly sort of sound, a dog keening… a seal barking? “A walrus crying,” my seven-year-old called it this morning, over his bowl of Puffins. I heard it once, and sat up in bed. Twice, and I leaped out of bed to call 911. Three times, and I was awake enough to realize: wait a minute. I have heard this horrible sound before. That’s my five-year-old coughing, and it’s croup. It’s just croup.

It helps, at times like that, to be the been-there-done-that parent who has already experienced the thing that seems absolutely terrifying and horrible, but then suddenly disappears, as quickly as it came. Connor used to be a breath-holder when he cried, and once he did it so long that he passed out in my arms. “Call an ambulance!” I told my friend, and then he started breathing again, and then he woke up, pleasant as could be. I probably lost ten years off my life expectancy that day, but I learned an important medical lesson: you can’t kill yourself by holding your breath. Your body simply won’t let you. Now, when Maggie holds HER breath so long her lips turn blue, I can’t say I enjoy it, but at least I know her lungs will get the better of her temper in a moment or two.

Last night, once I realized what the sound was, I went and got our barking son. He stood at our bedside while I woke David (who, like many husbands, has the miraculous ability to SLEEP THROUGH this stuff) and he took our barking son out into the twenty degree night, for a half-hour walk in the umbrella stroller. He stopped coughing, they came home, and this morning, Seamus didn’t cough once.

David left on a work trip today, and I’m a little scared of what tonight may bring (croup, for whatever reason, rears its head mostly in the overnight hours). I have my sister-in-law lined up to come over if I have to take Seamus out in the cold– or to the doctor’s office– and, since this is my third encounter with croup, I know that, with a mother’s watchful eye, all will be well. That does help. But that sound. To hear your child making a sound that is not quite recognizable as human? I’m not sure any mother could ever stop being scared of that.