A few weeks ago, weeding through my books trying to free up some shelf space, I found a large dusty paperback with a tattered spine: “Taking Care of Your Child.” We hadn’t looked at it in years, but there was a time when my husband and I referred to it almost daily, with all our questions about teething and nutrition and unexplained fevers and rashes and when to call the pediatrician. I sat for a moment, remembering — fondly but with some condescension — the anxious parents we used to be, and then I threw the book out. We’d read it to shreds, so we couldn’t give it away, and our kids are now 25 and 19 and they take care of themselves, pretty much.
But then last Friday, we were in the emergency room at Boston Children’s Hospital with our 19-year-old. He’d been sick for a week with nausea and a fever and chills, which we and his doctor had ascribed to a virus until the results of a blood culture came back positive for bacteria. Suddenly we were back in the world of taking care of our child. Well, we were and we weren’t. Our child is almost six feet tall, wears size 10½ shoes, and shaved off a week’s worth of beard before we took him over to Children’s. As he lay on the almost-too-small examining table beneath a bright painting of kites and daisies and frolicking animals, I looked over at him and noticed a few gray hairs. The doctor mentioned that the bacteria had gram-negative rods; when he left the room my husband and I asked our son, who has taken a lot more biology than we ever did, what this meant and he told us it had to do with the cell membrane.