I remember times in high school and college when friends would ask me to feel their forehead to see if they seemed feverish. I remember obliging them but insisting I had no sense of what felt normal versus hot. "Maybe you're a little warm?" I'd offer, unsure. "Do you have a thermometer?"
My hands were untrained then. This knowledge of what feels normal comes only from time and experience and a relationship where touch is so routine, so regular, any variation is instantly recognizable.
I've become a remarkably accurate thermometer. With my kids, I know immediately when something is amiss. I wrap my hand around their foreheads and have a sense of whether they run a low fever or one that rages. "They're probably under 100," I can say to Josh, and I'm right. "I'm guessing he's around 101," and he is. Or, like yesterday, I can hold Abby on my lap and feel the heat radiating from her little body and know she's very, very sick, know that when I get the thermometer, the reading will be well over the typical temperatures that accompany run-of-the-mill viruses and infections. 104.5, to be precise.
This skill is a gift of motherhood. With the arrival of my kiddos, my body became so intimately acquainted with the bodies of my babies that I recognize every change, every anomaly. Nights of feedings, days of snuggling and soothing, hours of carrying and bouncing and hand-holding and hugging have left me expert in the feel of them--and this expertise is absolute.
So this morning when I felt Ben's face, I knew that his low fever hadn't changed, that it hadn't yet spiked into the harbinger of the flu that Abby's body fights so fiercely. And when I felt Abby's head, I knew her fever was still high but that it was no longer alarmingly so. And later this afternoon, when I returned to the house after the kids' naps, I felt Ben's forehead and knew his temperature had finally spiked. The thermometer read 103.2, confirming that he, too, was coming down with the flu. Conversely, Abby's little face finally felt fine--and sure enough, the thermometer read 98.8.
It's one of those aspects of parenthood you don't think about until, one day, you're amazed at how refined your sense of touch has become, how sensitive your hands are to even the slightest difference. I could never put this skill on a resume, yet it's an exclusive credential, one that only a select group can boast, evidence of the hours logged loving and knowing and being present.
The thermometer phenomenon: just another of the invisible wonders of motherhood.