When I was little and I was sick, there were a few certain guarantees. The first was that I would lay on the couch in the family room. It was a gold couch that had coarse fuzzies growing out of it all over, and a built-in pillow on the arm. My mother always covered that with my own bed pillow. Me she covered with the family afghan, a heavy zig-zag affair knitted in black, red, and white by my great grandmother. When my mom covered me in that afghan, I knew things were serious.
Secondly would be my mother's face: instantly creased with anxiety. Six or seven years ago I might have naively called it worry, but now as a mother myself who followed in the Judester's footsteps, I understand that anxiety is different. It's all-consuming--it leaves you nauseated and a little shaky.
Thirdly came the thing that eased my mom's anxiety, and usually eased whatever symptoms ailed me. Calling Uncle Michael.
Each person in my family owns real estate in the surface and depths of my heart. My sister Janie's is pretty valuable, and so is my mom's. My Dad has a big patch, and my brother, though I don't think I'll ever tell him myself, has a dark and spooky wooded property on the edges. My children and my husband are the kings and princes with the most to claim, but there is one very special spot that belongs to my Uncle Michael.
He is my father's older brother by eight years. When my dad was a little boy, this older brother took him to see Elvis--the real deal--in concert. Can you imagine how absolutely cool that would be? My dad started smoking when he was seven so he was probably already too school for cool, as Pink says, but I bet he felt on top of the world when his teenaged brother offered to bring him to see THE Elvis Presley.
And now he's our doctor. It's such a clinical term, though, and when you picture your own physician, and even when I picture my kids' pediatrician, we may picture this stiff and distant acquaintance who is paid to care for us. Uncle Michael is so much more than that. He has been there for me since forever, and every memory I have of pain or sickness comes with the soothing conclusion of Uncle Michael making it better.
At seven months pregnant, I had my first bout with kidney stone pain. Of course at the time, I had no idea what had hit me, and was terrified for my baby. Joe called our OB while I rolled around a bit, handling the pain. There was a lot of "Will you hold please?" and "Let me just transfer you..." At long last I was told to go directly to the hospital, and even scarier, head to labor and delivery.
When I arrived, I was told the beds were full. I was put in an exam room on an uncomfortable gurney, where a series of nurses came in and began to speculate what they thought might be wrong with me. The worst words I heard were, "Operate" and "Premature."
Suddenly, after what seemed like eons of misery, the door opened and a face popped in. The same stately forehead, twinkling eyes, and deep smile as my father, a face that told me everything I wanted to hear.
"Everything's going to be okay," said Uncle Michael. And from that point on, it was.
I've been in pain for weeks now, but there hasn't been one person who has been more caring and on top of things than my uncle, and I'm really, really grateful that I have him around to watch out for me. When Joey and Noah are sick and I feel my face creasing with anxiety like my mom's always did, I pick up the phone and call the one person I know will calm me down and make things better.
"Uncle Michael will fix me," Noah likes to say.
"That's right," I tell him. "Every time."