Dr. McCarthy put Ellie’s folder down on top of the radiator. “How’s the eczema?”
“We’re still using the cream, and we’re seeing Dr. Howard again next month.” Skin conditions, I’d learned, were one of the treats that went along with the sensitive child—that, and food allergies.
“And is school okay?” He paged through Ellie’s chart. “How was the adjustment from preschool to kindergarten?”
I grimaced, remembering the first day of school and Ellie clinging to my leg, weeping as if I were sending her into exile instead of a six-hour day at the highly regarded (and very expensive) Stonefield: A Learning Community. (In my head, I carried out an invisible rebellion by thinking of it as just the Stonefield School.) “She had a rough few weeks to start with. She’s doing fine now . . .” “Fine” was, perhaps, an exaggeration, but at least Ellie wasn’t weeping and doing her barnacle leg-lock at every drop-off. “She’s reading, which is great.”
He looked at her chart again. “How about the bad dreams?”
“They’ve gotten better. She still doesn’t like loud noises.” Or movies in theaters, or any place—like the paint-your-own-pottery shop or the library at storytime—where more than two or three people might be talking at once. I sighed. “It’s like she feels everything more than other kids.”
“And maybe she does,” he replied. “Like I said, though, most kids do grow out of it. By the time she’s ten she’ll be begging you for drum lessons.”
“It’s so hard,” I said. Then I shut my mouth. I hated how I sounded when I complained about Ellie, knowing that there were women who wanted to get pregnant and couldn’t, that there were children in the world with real, serious problems that went far beyond reacting badly to loud noises and the occasional rash. There were single mothers, women with far less money and far fewer resources than I had. Who was I, with my big house and my great job, to complain about anything?
Dr. McCarthy put his hand on my forearm and looked at me with such kindness that I found myself, absurdly, almost crying.
“So tell me. What are you doing to take care of yourself?”
I thought for a split second about lying, giving him some story about actually attending yoga classes instead of just paying for them, or how I was taking Pilates, when, in fact, all I had was a gift certificate from two birthdays ago languishing in my dresser drawer. Instead I said, “Nothing, really. There just isn’t time.”
He adjusted his stethoscope. “You’ve got to make time. It’s important. You know how they tell you on planes, in case of an emergency, the adults should put their oxygen masks on first? You’re not going to be any good to anyone if you’re not taking care of yourself.” His blue eyes, behind his glasses, looked so gentle, and his posture was relaxed, as if he had nowhere to go and nothing more pressing to do than stand there all afternoon and listen to my silly first-world problems. “Do you want to talk to someone?” I didn’t answer. I didn’t want to talk to someone. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to go to his office—it was small but cozy, with cluttered bookshelves, and a desk stacked high with charts, and a comfortably worn leather couch against the wall. He’d offer me a seat and a cup of tea, and ask me what was wrong, what was really wrong, and I would tell him: about Dave, about Ellie, about my dad, about my mom. About the pills. I’d tuck myself under a blanket and take a nap while the volunteers kept Ellie amused in the waiting room and Dr. McCarthy came up with a plan for how to fix me.
Instead, I swallowed hard. “I’m okay,” I said, in a slightly hoarse voice, and I gave him a smile, the same one I’d given my mother on my way out of the taxi on my eighth birthday.
“Are you sure? I know how hard this part can be. Even if you can find twenty minutes a day to go for a walk, or just sit quietly . . .”
Twenty minutes. It didn’t sound like much. Not until I started thinking about work, and how time-consuming writing five blog posts a week turned out to be, and how on top of my paying job I’d volunteered to redesign the website for Stonefield’s annual silent auction. There were the mortgage payments, which still felt like an astonishing sum to part with each month, and the Examiner, where it was rumored there’d be another round of layoffs soon. There was the laundry that never got folded, the workouts that went undone, the organic vegetables that would rot and liquefy in the fridge because, after eight hours at my desk and another two hours of being screamed at by my daughter because she couldn’t find the one specific teddy bear she wanted among the half-dozen teddy bears she owned, I couldn’t handle finding a recipe and preparing a meal and washing the dishes when I was done. We lived on grab-and-heat meals from Wegmans, Chinese takeout, frozen pizzas, and, if I was feeling particularly guilty on a Sunday afternoon, some kind of casserole, for which I’d double the recipe and freeze a batch.