On Wednesday, I picked little dude up from school and on the walk back home (which is basically, like, two very long baseball throws away from where I meet him after school), he complained that his legs hurt. This is a relatively common refrain as he is growing and has the minor pains to show for it and also, I limp around pretty much all the time due to various stupid leg ailments and he thinks this is how humans are supposed to be. I don’t know how to tell him that I just need new legs and most humans can actually walk without their ankles clicking continuously. Anyway, I kind of brushed off his complaints as his way of trying to get out of swim lessons which he doesn’t love and told him he was fine.
Cut to three hours later when his “growing pains” had turned into full body aches, a headache, a stomach ache, and a 103-degree fever and a nurse practitioner telling us he has the flu.
Coop was utterly miserable, but he handled every part of the exam like a champ until the doctor said, “No school for you tomorrow, little man.” At this point, he started crying (softly, as is his way, no big wails) not because he has some great love for school (he super does NOT) but because “tomorrow” was Valentine’s Day and this diagnosis meant he would be missing his Valentine’s Day party. I have a soft-hearted kid who gets so pumped for all elements of a party, who spent a lot of time meticulously writing, “To my friend, From Cooper” on all of his Valentine’s, who had been talking about this day for a solid week. To miss this dinky little class party seemed like the cruelest twist of the entire flu experience (to that point). I held him against my chest while he cried and Lindsey promised to, “throw an even better party than the school party.”
The last 24 hours have been pretty miserable. No parent likes to see their kid suffer (except the mom from Mommy Dead and Dearest (LOOK IT UP)) and real sickness is one of the worst kinds of kid suffering. The Tamiflu mixed with fever dreams made him act incredibly weird a few times in the night and twice I sat with him while he puked and cried, “I don’t like being sick.” But still, I think it was missing the party that hurt him the worst. I had a bag of new toys for him when he woke up and we lounged together all day, watching movies and building LEGOs, the kind of day he longs for most of the time, but I could tell he was bummed.
Then I got a text from our friend, Emily: “I left something for Cooper on the porch. The sadness of missing a school party just broke my heart.”
I got Coop up from the couch for the first time in literally six hours and had him look on the porch where we found a bag full of goodies and a balloon. He smiled for the first time all day while pulling out coloring books and stickers and Black Panther tattoos and all kinds of good stuff that for sure trumped whatever he would’ve gotten at school. He was still running a huge fever and not eating but at least he was running a huge fever and not eating while applying Black Panther tattoos, you know? His spirit lifted.
An hour later, I was making some lunch and Lucy Dog lost her mind, indicating someone had knocked. I opened the door to see another friend, Pam, getting back into her car. Waving, she said, “No kid should miss out on a class party, so we brought him a present” and drove off. Again, I got Coop up from the couch and brought him to the porch to discover a bouquet of balloons and a bag of homemade cookies (the greatest cookies known to man). Again, his feverish little body was wiped but his spirits rose.
A bit later, Coop had caught on to this little game and suggested we check the porch again just in case there were more presents. “I think that was the end of it, pal,” I said with a laugh. I was wrong.
Not long after Lindsey got home from work, she got a text from yet another friend, Micah, alerting her to a third front porch delivery. We brought Coop out again to find a huge bag of Valentine’s goodies, a drink from Sonic, and a card from his three best friends. He smiled from ear to ear and I think, maybe for the first time, he saw how well this day had turned out in spite of the flu’s best efforts.
If I tell you, dear reader, that it was not entirely surprising that three different people would go out of their way to bring my son Valentine’s Day gifts just because he got the flu, something that millions of people are dealing with right now and which does not make him or us special, I hope you will take that as an indication of the incredible quality of the people who make up our Community. (I’m capitalizing it from here on out regardless of what my autocorrect tells me. That’s right, autocorrect, from now on, it’s Community with a capital ‘C’.) Lindsey and I have always tried to build strong relationships with the people around us, to use our house as a gathering place, to speak into the lives of our friends when called upon (and probably sometimes when not called upon) and I’m sure that’s built some currency amongst our people. But, truthfully, this is just who these people are. They come to see a disinterested four-year-old play soccer. They send texts of encouragement when work is challenging. They set out balloons and banners on the first day of school. They stay up all hours of the night exchanging TikTok videos because it’s been a long week and I need a laugh. They leave Valentine’s presents on the porch for a sad, sick little boy. In short, they show up when they’re needed and boy, were they needed today.
Find Community, y’all. Seek it out and pour yourself into it. Surround yourself with people who are good, people who care, people who show up when they’re needed most, and do your best to do the same for them. Because there will be a day when you really do need that Community most, when your tire is flat or you lose your job or you have a possum in your attic or your child misses his Valentine’s Day party because he has the flu. Thanks to all those who have taken on my son as a part of their Community.