It was late on a Tuesday evening when my 23 year old daughter texted me that she had been having chills, a 101 degree fever, and a rash had broken out all over her body. She was 1,000 miles away in a town I’d never seen, doing her required summer internship between her first and second years of graduate school.
The week before, she’d been put on an antibiotic for a bacterial skin infection. That time, she’d gone to an Urgent Care. This time, I thought she should go to the Emergency Room.
She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, and was hoping to wait everything out until morning when she could go to a dermatologist the Urgent Care had recommended. Since she is 23, and an adult, I couldn’t force her. But I urged her, and once I found out the name of the antibiotic she’d been on – one my mother and I are both allergic to – I knew she was having an allergic reaction to it and needed to be seen immediately.
Before she’d left to go on her internship, I had given her the name and number of a “friend,” Renee – someone I knew vaguely from a Jewish writers group online – a nice woman with similarly aged kids who’d said she’d be happy to help should anything come up and only lived five minutes from my daughter’s new apartment. I’d taken her number willingly and passed it on to my daughter, sure she wouldn’t need Renee. My daughter is fiercely independent and makes good choices – this would be just another few months that she would be away from home, just like all of her college years had been, just like her study abroad had been.
This, though, was something different. When my daughter started to get so sick so rapidly, I immediately looked up flights to see if I could go to her. They would cost $1,000 and there was no way I could be there before the next day. That wouldn’t help.
I had to rely on Renee, whom I only knew from posts on our common Jewish writers’ Facebook group, where subject matter ranges from Shabbat dinner prep to Israeli politics to mothering our Jewish children. Within minutes, she arranged to drop everything and pick up my daughter to get her help. She sought out friends for references about which ERs were the best in the area. Then she went in with her to the exam and messaged me as the doctor was examining my daughter. She needs IV antibiotics. She needs IV Benadryl. They’re putting her on a heart monitor. She’s fine. She really fine. Here’s a picture of her. See how she’s really fine?
She waited at the ER with my daughter for hours, staying connected to me, helping both of us with our frayed nerves. Finally, they released my daughter, with orders of medication and to go home and rest. The next day, my new “best” friend picked up my daughter and brought her to the pharmacy to get her meds – my daughter, who didn’t have a car where she was, had simply thought she could do the 15-minute walk to the pharmacy on her own. Renee then checked on my daughter regularly for several days and made an appointment for her to see her own internist the following week for a checkup. Renee brought her there and back, taking her for a meal in between.
Who does all this, I asked myself, as I thought about what I could possibly give Renee to thank her. How do you express thankfulness to someone who has literally saved your daughter, especially when she barely knew you or your child? I started with a Trader Joe’s gift card but that couldn’t be enough. I wrote her a heartfelt thank you note, but that didn’t feel like enough, either.
She keeps insisting it was no big deal. She has kids the same age and would want the same for them. But it was a big deal. For that moment, even though my daughter is an adult, I was not capable of mothering her. I couldn’t hold her hand while an IV was stuck in her arm; I couldn’t help her decipher whether she should get that chest x-ray that the Emergency Room was pushing. I couldn’t do the job I had assigned myself twenty-three years ago when she was born.
Everything turned out well, thank goodness. My daughter rested for a few days, took some medicine, and was herself again. She went back to work just two days after the incident. But it was a learning experience for both of us. She had to learn how to take care of herself – how to decide you’re sick enough to go see a doctor, or to go to a hospital, or to seek other help – and I had to learn that I will not always be there to mother her the way I want. Sometimes other people will mother her, like this person I barely knew, had. Sometimes she will mother herself. Someday she will be a mother, and maybe at some point someone else will need to mother her child, and she will know the helplessness I felt that night.
The next time my daughter needs mothering, I hope I’ll be right there to do it. If not, I have to hope there is someone as kind and giving as Renee — obviously a true mensch — was for me this time around. And now I know that I will always reach out to mother those who need it.
Judy Mollen Walters is the author of five novels featuring struggling families. They can all be found on Amazon. She is also an essayist whose work has appeared on WashPo, HuffPo, Kveller, The Forward, and many other sites. She lives in New Jersey with her family.