When I was a kid we had this great set of books, square little paperbacks that retold the classics of modern literature. One page of dumbed-down story alternated with one crude illustration for about 200 pages. What the stories lost in complexity they gained in accessibility. Mutiny on the Bounty is still a ripping good yarn even without quite so much sodomy, and if Little Women loses some of its bite without the bungled government raid that ultimately takes down gentle Beth in a deafening hail of bullets -- doubly tragic considering that it was actually Marmee who mailed all that anthrax -- well, it's a small price to pay for being able to say at age six, "Oh, I've already read Das Kapital." Snottily.
Goddamn, does the bourgeoisie piss me off.
I loved those books. I hadn't thought about them in years, though, until I saw a few at a local discount store. I bought those and rounded out our collection on eBay, excited to share them with Charlie when the time was right.
He's been enjoying them, too. Even Stories from the Bible, which came as part of an eBay lot. I kind of like it myself: All the men look like Donny Osmond and the women like movie stars — Olivia De Havilland if they're virtuous, Rita Hayworth if they're whores.
Oh, and this guy, Joaquin Phoenix.
As I've posted before, Charlie's overall religious education has been somewhat slapdash, so that book was his first real exposure to any kind of dogma. I didn't know how much or how little he'd gotten from his reading until this past Halloween Night.
He'd been suffering from an ear infection for a couple of days, fine during the daylight hours but waking at 3 AM keening. After a Sunday morning trip to the doctor, a glug of antibiotic, and a handful of chewable ibuprofen, his spirits were high and he was in good shape. So we got him into his costume and he and Paul set out for afternoon festivities downtown.
Two hours later, though, the broken nights of sleep seemed to have caught up with him:
Knowing he'd be devastated to miss Halloween entirely, I shook him awake at 6 and asked if he wanted to go trick-or-treating or stay home. "Stay home," he breathed, so I let him sleep. I woke him again at 7:30 and told him he needed to eat a little something and have a bath to wash the black spray from his hair. "Before bed" was implied.
We were halfway through the third rinsing when he said through a cascade of still-gray suds, "We'll have to spray my hair again before we go trick-or-treating...right?"
I will gloss over the next ten minutes except to say that it was a desperate time in which I made desperate decisions. I hauled him out of the tub, bundled him back into his costume, slashed my lipstick across his forehead in an approximation of a lightning bolt, jammed a fleece cap over his still-wet hair, and walked him up the driveway to the neighbors', just as their porch lights were going off. I don't know whether that makes me an awful parent or a great one. Going by the expressions on the neighbors' faces, I'd guess awful; going by Charlie's, I'd say great.
After a mere two houses, though, Charlie said feebly, "I'd like to go home," and we did. Four hours later he was at the emergency room.
It was his stomach, he said, which hurt every time he inhaled. He lay in bed tossing, crying, and ultimately screaming from the pain. His fever was low, and there was no abdominal tenderness. He'd seen a doctor that morning, but his agony was unmistakable, so after three hours of this and a quick call to the nurse Paul drove him to the hospital.
Pneumonia. What Charlie felt as abdominal pain was actually seated deep in his lungs, and the treatment was simply the same antibiotics we were already giving him for his ears. After a few days of the same inhalers he uses for asthma, the same ibuprofen, the same pink elixir he's always given, he was absolutely fine.
But that night in the dim light from the hallway, as he writhed on his bed bellowing in pain, it was looking downright scary. "Sinners!" he cried, shocking me deeply. "Sinnnnnerrrrrrs!"
"Where'd he get that?" I muttered to Paul.
"Bible," he said succinctly, nodding at the books stacked on the bedside table.
And although I knew from the other things he was saying that he was talking, in fact, to the germs that were making him feel so rotten -- "You bacteria must be punished," thundering like God on high to microbes -- I couldn't help feeling uneasy, like we were about to be denounced. For not taking him to the doctor sooner, for letting him go out with wet hair on a cold night when his ears were already messed up, for not being able to help him when he was frightened and hurting.
I have no conclusions to draw from this. I don't know, maybe I'll just echo the Xeroxed sheet that came home from school with Charlie: "Halloween can be a controversial holiday." Maybe I'll disappear that junior Bible, no matter how tidily it summarizes one of the world's prevailing religions:
Page 1. The end.
Or maybe I'll just remind you never to let your child see you naked, because that vestigial nipple could come back to haunt you one day, Goody Internet, when your kid suddenly goes all Salem and appoints himself chief witchfinder.
I'm flattered and pleased to report that this blog appears among this year's Babble Top 50 Mom Blogs. Thank you, Babble editors. I'm sensible of the company I find myself in, so I'll try not to lower the tone any farther than I have already. As a show of my appreciation, I promise not to talk about my vestigial nipple. That is, until I manage to grow one. Then all bets are off.