Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Ashes to Ashes

From kindergarten through second grade, Sky went to Catholic school (it's a long story as to how he ended up there, but if you dig back through the blog archives, you can find it). Catholic school presented endless opportunities for Sky to amuse me with his interpretation of concepts like the Holy Spirit and transubstantiation (Sky: "Today I told my teacher, 'Don't worry, when I'm not listening to you, I'm listening to the Holy Spirit.'") But, one of the trippiest interpretations he had was that the ash he received on Ash Wednesday caused his cheek to swell. He believed this for a very long time.

 I wasn't at the Ash Wednesday service on this day eleven years ago, but apparently within minutes of Sky having the cross of ash smudged on his forehead, his cheek began to swell painfully. By the time I got there (following a frantic call from the school secretary), his face looked like he had shoved a golf ball into the back part of his cheek, and he was wailing in pain. It's hard to think when the school dumps your screaming and writhing kid in your lap right in the middle of your work day, but I managed to pull myself together and call his pediatrician to let her know we were on the way to her office. There they administered some ibuprofen and sent us to an ENT who sent us to the hospital because by then Sky had a fever. At the hospital, he had his blood drawn and got put on a strong IV antibiotic.

Later we learned that he had what is called Juvenile Recurrent Parotitis (JRP), a fairly rare condition where the parotid gland gets clogged and causes swelling and sometimes infection. Even after we had a diagnosis, for the longest time Sky maintained that the swelling was a reaction to the ash. 

Because JRP usually ends when kids are nearing puberty, Sky hasn't had an episode in years. So, I had largely forgotten about JRP and that Sky used to think the ashes caused it. I had also largely forgotten that today is Ash Wednesday (you know, because the pandemic has stopped time and all). But, when Ren went to wake up Stow this morning, he yelled down to tell me that the whole left side of his face was swollen. Soon after, Stow came down crying, begging me to help because his face really, really hurt. 

Then I remembered, and I couldn't believe how similar his cheek looked to Sky's! 

February 17th eleven years ago was Ash Wednesday, and one of my kids got a swollen cheek. February 17th, 2021, today, is another Ash Wednesday. It is, in fact, the first February 17th Ash Wednesday since 2010 (eleven years ago), and there won't be another February 17th Ash Wednesday until 2083. I'm sure none of this means anything, and yet, today a different kid had his first bout with parotitis.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

I'd largely forgotten about the period in our life when Sky's cheek swelled once every month or so, and when he had to be seen regularly by a specialist, and when we had to be ready at any moment to switch to a soft, bland diet. But, as soon as Stow came down with his swollen, painful cheek, I immediately remembered what to do. Ibuprofen, soft food, trip to the doctor.

I'm supposed to be editing my book right now. In fact, all day every day, I should be editing my book. But, I can't help but be struck by the coincidence and reminded of the fact that everything that happens in life prepares us for other things that ultimately end up being inevitable. It stinks that Stow has to go through this and that we will likely have to add another specialist to our list of doctors, but somehow I still feel fortunate that life has taught us some things along the way.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

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