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I was sitting at the table, nauseous and wrapped in a blanket, a lovely meal in front of us all. It was the first time in days we’d all sat down together, and I was mad, mad that they all thought I should be dragged to the table to join them despite my blaring headache. Mike said it would be best for us all. Okay already. But I was mad. I’d been dosing upstairs, glad to be alone. So there I sat with head in hand, fetal position in the chair, feeling nearly dead, but present.

The kids acted like they didn’t even notice, asking me questions about my day and engaging in our usual dinner ritual entitled, ‘Day’s Events’ (usually proclaimed in a loud ringing tone as if to the king). After hearing everyone’s activities and issues for the day, I was actually anxious and willing to announce that one of the teens at the School of Rock had called me, in an admiring way, ‘groovy.’ I wanted to report this to the family to prove I was valued in the larger world and someone I barely knew liked me. As if this was at issue. As is I needed ammunition to prove I was lovable. As if that was what my ills were about. After some discussion of my being called groovy Emmett very sincerely confirmed that Carolyn had indeed surely meant it admiringly based on the context, happily validating my claim. He was fourteen at the time, after all, and getting support like that was worth something.

Next thing I knew, I was talking through the pain, and more than someone with a Richter scale 7 headache should talk, and enjoying being there, all the while sipping the tiniest bits of water from my glass, my plate still shiny and clean, no food served to me. My nausea reminded me I was too ill to be there but my mood was tempered a bit by the fact that my husband and kids were willing to have a surly, moaning, green me over none, that is over me upstairs in my bed where I wanted to be. Kids were begging for ‘family fun’ our term for togetherness. I groaned in my head at the thought of being forced to play a game or watch a show or do anything interactive because I wanted to go back to bed. Mike was suggesting a night swim after dinner and kids were put off by my lack of enthusiasm. How about cards? A game of PIG? So it was decided. I kept saying to myself, yelling angrily in my head actually, “Can’t they see I’m miserable?”, “Why include me?”, and “I don’t want to play cards.”

It seemed apparent now, that even if I were bloated and purple with growths coming out of my face, the family would have wanted me there. It seemed apparent the kids didn’t care how miserable I was, they wanted ‘Mom’ back and were trying to locate her through sheer memory. They were pretending the happy me was sitting there despite the ill and miserable one present at the table. They were doing their best to ward off the evil spirits that had invaded their home in the shape of a massive, putrid, reeking headache engulfing their mother.

And it worked. They were loving me, collectively, so hard, it seemed the specific, technical antidote, actually listed in my personal registry of psychological ills. My headache was just a throwback to the days of when Dad used to ‘take us for a drive’ and it turned into four hours of incarceration in the family station wagon with no food or water or bathroom breaks, because we were always ‘almost home.’ This is how Dad cleared his head. My sister and I landed with massive headaches by the end that were our best efforts at controlling something in our lives.

My life had felt so out of control recently, filled with all good stuff, just too much of it, like the end of school year parties, recitals, play off games, the school play, a movie premiere, field trips, extended family gatherings and more, that a headache to force me into submission was apparently just what I needed. And the love of family despite my personal weaknesses was the perfect medicine.

My kids and husband showed me in no uncertain terms that even if I’m prone on the couch, gasping my last breaths, they will still play cards with me and laugh. And this is what I need, to revive the real me, to find the mom that has put money in the bank with them all, by playing games, reading stories for hours, listening to woes, cooking and keeping house, driving and attending, planning and doing, loving and caring.

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