“Hello,” said a familiar voice on the phone. “Your daughter is in my office because her neck hurts.”
“You mean her throat?” I tried to clarify.
“No, her neck,” she corrected me, “Priscilla says her head feels heavy.”
“I don’t know what to make of that.” I answered honestly. “Should I come and pick her up?”
“That’s not necessary,” the nurse assured me. “She says she can make it through the rest of the day. I just wanted to let you know what was happening.”
“Thanks,” I tell her, “and by the way, I am sorry that she visits you so often.”
“No problem,” said the nurse, “She’s a cutie.”
At parent teacher conferences, Miss F pulled out from my six-year-old daughter's folder, a small stack of drawings, math tests, and nurse’s slips – small pink squares of paper with words like “stomach ache,” “bug bite,” and “scratch” scrawled upon them. “Is there something I should know?” asked the seasoned instructor across from me. “Like what?” I thought. “That Priscilla is an overly nervous child and a bit of a hypochondriac?” Because she’s not – overly nervous I mean. In fact, she is downright brazen compared to myself at her age. “I’m not aware of anything specific,” I admitted, “but I think going to school all day has been quite an adjustment for her.” That sounded legitimate, right? It was as good a guess as any, because truthfully I’m stumped. It’s like all of the minor aches (indigestion, leg cramps, a foot that’s fallen asleep) that most of us wouldn’t waste two minutes on, evaluating their origin and consequences, swell in Priscilla’s slender body like an impossible to ignore elephant in a room full of budding crushes (oh, help me!), longings for independence, and regressions back to baby talk and midnight thumb suckings.
So this afternoon I was relieved when she walked through our door, head held high and already chatting about the pizza she had for lunch, the boy in her class whose father died of cancer, and did I get a call from the nurse today? “Yes,” I confirmed, “Are you feeling better?” About all of it, is what I meant: the longer days, the grieving classmate, the changes in her world I can’t seem to buffer no matter how much Neosporin I apply, how many hours of sleep I lose to worry, no matter how vehemently I rant and rave against a mangled society, twisting its fabrications around the hearts of my kids like a noose. “Oh yes, I think so,” said Priscilla, between mouthfuls of leftover cake. “I’ll be fine.”