Elisa Donovan’s Blog: Crazy Is Not a Four Letter Word

09/06/2013 at 04:00 PM ET

Elisa Donovan Blog Sick Baby
My happy camper – Courtesy Elisa Donovan

Thanks for welcoming our celebrity blogger, 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.

She can be found on Facebook, as well as Twitter @RedDonovan.

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?

Elisa Donovan Blog Sick Baby
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.

The problem with this is when she does cry for more than 30 seconds, I’m convinced she has developed some severe illness that must be tended to immediately. Charlie, of course, thinks I am a lunatic.

“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.

Elisa Donovan Blog Sick Baby
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.

Elisa Donovan Blog Sick Baby
Way cooler than I’ll ever be – Courtesy Elisa Donovan

— Elisa Donovan

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Showing 15 comments

Agape on

Very cute baby and a delightful story. Blessings for a beautiful future together!

Miranda on

I really enjoy Elisa’s blogs. She seems like such a nice person and a great mother! Love the gorgeous photos! Thanks for sharing 🙂

blessedwithboys on

Tylenol is a bad idea for a “cool fever”…better to bundle the baby up and get that fever nice and high so it can burn the germs out.

MommytoanE on

Your blog post made me giggle, and think back to when my little princess was a baby.

I swear, the worst thing any parent can do is look up symptoms on the internet. Its craziness in its best form, but craziness all the same. I was lucky enough to have a healthy, perfect little angel who cried when hungry, and just went on with life in her merry little way. She’s 10 now, and to date has been on three antibiotics. I swear what these little beings are resistant to is just amazing.

I remember being a kid tho, and always being in the doctors office. I thought for sure my daughter’s childhood would be spent putting together puzzles while being examined by a doctor like my siblings and I were. Thankfully its quite the opposite. She sees the doctor for check ups, and thats it. The crazy doctor dialing will start to slow once little Scarlett becomes older, but the love, and paranoia that comes with it will never end.

Thanks for your post! It definitely made me smile. Scarlett is a beautiful little girl.

Jen on

My daughter has gotten to the point now (she’s 4) when she falls she gets up and says “I’m OK Mom it didn’t hurt” …LOL… and she actually had a concussion once when she did a head dive off the top of the couch onto the hardwood floor. We knew it was not right because she fell asleep in my sisters lap on the couch right after, she NEVER sleeps like that only in her bed, then threw up. A quick hosiptal trip, MRI, which was clean, and she was fine.

Kids are bendy. They fall in ways that would make us break in a million pieces but get up and say “I’m ok mom it didn’t hurt” and keep on going. 🙂

Laurie on

very interesting blog Elisa… just a bit of advice from family.. It never gets easier but you will get more talented as time goes on.

Raini on

Ha! Sounds like me, I had my oldest at the Dr. non stop b/c I thought he had an ear infection each time he touched his ears. He’s 2 and has had 1 ear infection after all those nervous visits.

Fast forward to my 8 month old and I’m wayyyy more relaxed but I’m wondering if I am too relaxed. I kinda feel guilty I’m not as neurotic with him as I was the 1st time around. Oh the joys of Momma guilt. : )

Lynette on

Raini – your post reminded me of me with my first. I was sure that my daughter would have ear infections because I had tons of ear infections as a child. I would take her to med check for fevers and it was always a cold or fever. But it was my son who had the ear infections – he constantly had ear infections his first two years – after two sets of tubes and adnoids removed, he’s doing great!

Sarah on

Elisa’s blogs are hilarious and precious!

Still Life in San Francisco on

You are a hilarious writer, Elisa. I still think you should write a book.

My son is seven months, and I am the same way. He got a fever after some vaccinations and I was anxious all day and night. My crazy will only get worse!

Ashley on

I think we, as parents, tend to react worse than our kids do. I have four kids and we have had our fair share of bumps and stitches (no broken bones yet, knock on wood).

I remember the first time my oldest fell – he was about Scarlet’s age and he tripped and went face first into a window sill … And bit through his lip. I freaked out, we rushed him to the ER and you know what he did? Blew raspberries in the waiting room. With a hole in his lip.

My youngest is 4 and has had 40 stitches already – he is a daredevil and pretty sure he will be a stunt driver when he is older … You will figure out when to freak out and when to go “meh, we can butterfly bandage that.”

It gets better, promise!

Janelle Reed on

Awesome blog entry, Elisa! Can relate to a lot of what you shared.

Mandy on

I try not to freak out too much with mine, but then again I was a step mom for over 10 years before I had my little girl. My little independent 16 month old has had skinned knees, bruises, & various bumps as she likes to walk on her tip toes so she falls a lot. Babies are very resilent.

Shannon Z on

@blessedwithboys- please tell me you are being sarcastic. You NEVER want to purposefully elevate the temperature of a small child! High temperatures can cause severe issues, especially in very young children. Tylenol is completely fine as long as you dose it appropriately based on weight and don’t exceed the max dosage in a 24 hour span.

And yes, I am one of those nurses that work in a pediatric office. (Elisa- you’re completely right. We do repeat the same info to the same parents, but it’s ok. Most of us don’t mind. We would rather repeat it and make sure you feel comfortable than rush off the phone and make you worry all day that you’re doing something wrong. I still worry about what to do with my new baby and I have insider knowledge.) 🙂

Bugsmum on

Shannon Z I could have written your post. I too am a nurse and have worked in a Dr’s office speaking with parents all day every day and agree that we would much rather hear from you than have you worry unnecessarily or worse ask Dr Google!!

My 2yr old daughter is an excellent headbumper and crazy nurse mummy here has been known to set my alarm clock so that I wake up to check she is rousable and passes a quick neuro assessment after a decent head knock, even though she’s been fine all day.

blessedwithboys, your advise is of concern. I agree that tylenol shouldn’t really be given for a low grade fever as fever is a natural part of the body’s immune system but deliberately working to elevate a fever is a dangerous and irresponsible thing to do. Keeping the child comfortable and monitoring their temperature and treating it when necessary is a much more sensible and safe option. Your paeditrician or their nurse will be able to give you guidelines for the safe management of fever.