For a few months when we lived in another state, I sometimes drove our car, even though I had let the inspection lapse. "What are you, on glue?" my friend wanted to know when he found out. "You could lose your license. You can get fined. They can take your car away."
I calmly explained that it was too hard. That the lapse was so long, I'd need to go to the DMV to get it registered. That I was too swamped at work to take a vacation day for a DMV trip. And that my friend shouldn't worry, because I had a workaround--a temporary solution, until I could get to the DMV: I only drove the car a few miles each day, just to the train station and back. I took back roads, so as not get pulled over.
My workaround had made complete sense when I'd conceived it. My legal work at the time was all-consuming, with a million nonnegotiable deadlines. My commute was over four hours round-trip every day. There just wasn't time to deal with the car, I'd thought. But once I was saying this stuff out loud, and my friend's jaw was dropping further, I realized how risky and, well, stupid I was. "You gotta get that thing registered pronto, man," he told me.
Fast-forward a few years. We have Dana and Tess. And like most parents, we check on them after they're in bed. With Tess, we don't just check to see if she's too cold or if she's kicked off the blankets. We check to make sure she's still breathing.
See, sometimes in the night she has dangerous episodes. They seem to happen when she spits up some food and then accidentally inhales a piece of it. Which sort of prevents breathing. She's done this twice. One time she ended up in the hospital and she almost died. We know this because the doctors called it an ALTE, meaning Apparent Life Threatening Event. I wrote about it here.
And now when I say it out loud, the absurdity of doing these breathing checks hits me in full. "Good night, our sweet Tess," we think. "We're glad you didn't stop breathing and quietly slip away up here while we were binge-watching 'House of Lies' down in the TV room."
Every so often, my wife and I acknowledge to each other how truly messed up this is. We both do the checks. We started doing them independently, and only in the last year or so did we start talking about it. Talking about it makes it easier.
Sometimes I catch myself actually thinking about what I'm about to do. I stand over her. I let it in. The terrible possibility that her cheek might be cold when I reach down to touch it. I usually can't think about this for more than a few seconds before I'm frantically peeling back the covers. Even then, after I've felt her hot cheek, I can't trust it. I have to keep my hand on her back for a minute or two, and feel her shoulders rise with each breath, just to be sure.
Well, I took my friend's advice and finally got my car inspected. Took a day off, told my boss to push my court dates, because otherwise I might get arrested. Went to the DMV and got it done. Afterwards, I drove with relief. I knew I'd been a world-class fool for delaying. So many things could have gone wrong. What if I'd had an accident and hit another car? Geez.
In general, my wife and I are risk-averse. We overinsure stuff. We don't zip-line or bungee jump. I'm pretty sure neither of us is going to be stepping onto a trampoline anytime soon. So it's odd for us to live with this risk every night. We can't fix this thing with Tess, though. I'd gladly spend a full day in line at the DMV if I thought it would do any good. But there isn't any relief. It kills us to think it, but the truth is, we roll the dice every night. The workaround does almost nothing to reduce the risk. All we can do is sleep with one eye open, as they say. And enter T's room at random times, in the hopes that we'll happen to detect any problems she's having. Fingers crossed.