My happy camper – Courtesy Elisa Donovan
Best known for her roles as Amber in Clueless and Morgan on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Donovan recently starred in the ABC Family franchise The Dog Who Saved Christmas. She is the narrator of the audiobook for Sheryl Sandberg’s best-seller, Lean In.
Donovan, 42, is also a writer and yogi. A recovered anorexic, she assists in counseling and supporting young women struggling with eating disorders.
She lives in San Francisco with her husband, Charlie Bigelow, and their 16-month-old daughter Scarlett Avery.
Let’s be clear: I’m not a hypochondriac. I don’t go to the doctor every time I stub my toe or get a paper cut.
In fact, I once broke my toe dancing in my own living room at a dinner party (“…has the couch always been RIGHT THERE…?”), and although the pain was pretty intense (Have you ever broken a toe? For such a tiny appendage, when whacked at just the right angle, it packs a wallop of pain) I continued to dance on it for another half an hour or so.
Then when it swelled up like a puffer fish, I merely elevated it for a minute or two, had another chardonnay and kept dancing. It took me almost a week (and being unable to get my shoe on) in order for me to break down and go to the doctor.
I tell you this sweet story not so that you will question my judgment/sanity/wine drinking/vision (how did I not see my own couch?), but so that you understand that I’m not an alarmist.
So why is it, now that I have a child, I have become a crazy-doctor-dialing-over-diagnosing-paranoid-nutcase?
Family pool day in LA – Courtesy Elisa Donovan
Scarlett is an unusually chill kid. She’s reflective and observant. She’s like a zen master. She only cries when she’s hungry, tired or needs her diaper changed. And even then, it’s brief. She loves being around people, and is generally content and super easy. This is great for us.
“What are you going to tell the doctor? ‘I’m here because my kid is crying?’ You sound insane.” And he is right. I do sound like a loon. Yet, in the moment, I am certain that Scarlett has typhoid fever.
Kids get colds all of the time. I am perfectly aware of this. And I also know all of the basic things to do to help treat them: the cool air vaporizer, steaming them in the shower, a little Tylenol if they run a low fever, keep them hydrated, elevate their heads if you can when they sleep … And yet …
So one day Scarlett had a cold, and she’d had it for about four days. Even though I’ve been told by the ped that colds can last for over a week, I’m starting to think that something must be really WRONG. So I find myself dialing the doc once again and leaving yet another message on the nurse voicemail, trying to sound super relaxed and nonchalant:
“Hey there, hi — it’s Scarlett’s mom. How’s it going? So listen, just wanted to check in real quick. Scarlett is umm, sort of acting weird and she’s sort of crying and so you know … no biggie, just wondering if I should bring her in…” I imagine the nurses staring at the telephone, laughing their butts off and rolling their eyes at me; and then shooting it out with rock/paper/scissors to decide who has to call me back.
And when they do call me back, they are so kind and so understanding of my neuroses that I think it must be a special breed of human that becomes a nurse in a pediatrician’s office; a human with extraordinary patience and an innate ability to repeat the same information to the same person multiple times without reaching through the phone and strangling the new mother on the other end.
Father/daughter on the plane to Cabo – Courtesy Elisa Donovan
Now that Scarlett is starting to walk, we have a whole new set of challenges: the inevitable falls. A week or two after the cold incident, I thought Scarlett had either a) an ear infection or b) a concussion. What led me to this conclusion? Not even an ill-advised scroll through WebMD. No, it was my own well-oiled “mother’s intuition” (read: irrational paranoia) that made me certain when Scarlett fell and hit her head on the carpeted and sponged floor, she had indeed given herself a concussion and probably an ear infection, too.
Pediatricians must take a very specific and thorough course in med school that teaches them how to say things to new parents that calmly and surely shake them back to sanity, for my doc’s response to my claim was a warm smile, a gentle hand on my shoulder, and this: “You should expect your child to have a somewhat regular bump on her head until she’s 5. At which point it will be replaced by bruised knees ’til she’s around 10. Kids fall. And they get up. You will know if something is really wrong. Believe me, you will know.”
All of which makes me wonder two things:
1) Can Scarlett, Charlie and I move into the peds office? Just temporarily, until Scarlett is like 18 or so.
2) How do we differentiate between instinct and madness? When is our real intuition speaking and when are we just having certifiably crazy thoughts? I mean, am I going to be the kind of mom who puts her kid on a leash with a helmet every time she leaves the house? I certainly hope not.
It’s just the realization that I am the one who is truly responsible for this little being — and I better make sure I get it right — is very powerful. It’s so tough to see your child in any kind of discomfort, you want to end the pain for them immediately.
I know that as time goes on, I will get more accustomed to the fact that Scarlett will have to learn some things on her own, that she will have to skin a few knees and get a couple of colds — and that none of these things are going to kill her.
And one day not too far away — and far sooner than when she will skin her first knee — she will say her first few coherent sentences; one of which might be, “Hey Mom, quit being crazy, I’m fine.” And I hope I will choose to believe her.
Way cooler than I’ll ever be – Courtesy Elisa Donovan
– Elisa Donovan