Last night at 2:15 a.m. Jackson woke up and barked like a seal. He was coughing so hard that milk -- milk that he'd had with dinner six hours earlier -- came out his nose. His cough was so dry he sounded like a dachshund choking on a splintered T-bone, and I put his little crying ass in my lap and called the emergency room. Why did we not just go to the emergency room? Because a long time ago I had a roommate who was a pediatrics intern at Lennox Hill Hospital, and she would never stop complaining about all the stupid shit people would bring their kids to the emergency room for. Hiccups. Pimples. She said that if people would just call first the nurses could help them over the phone and the doctors could get back to treating the real emergencies. It was then I vowed never to frivolously set foot in an emergency room.

Tired-sounding Emergency Room Phone Answerer: "Emergency."
Me: "Hi. I have a sick little boy here and I was wondering if I should bring him in or not."
TERPA: "What's the problem."
Me: "He's barking like a seal."
TERPA: "Ya know, I can't do anything without seeing him. Or you could call his doctor. Have you done that?"
Me: "Uh, no."

I didn't even know you could do that! Did you know you can call your children's clinic in the middle of the night? You can! They have answering services and a doctor checks their messages every hour! Jackson is sobbing and I am learning so much!

But we've just missed his doctor's call-in time and have to wait another hour, and my little boy is weeping with anxiety, so I say, "Let's go." We get dressed in our fuzziest, fleeciest clothes, and I put a toy and some books in a bag, and we're halfway to the hospital when I glance at Jackson in the rear-view mirror and he's just sitting there. I cautiously drive another block not looking at the road at all, I'm driving down Mission Street navigating backward through the rear-view in the dark so I can try to discern whether he's so quiet because he's actually dead. No, he's looking around. I hear a little noise come from his chest. "I burped," he says.

We turn our big rig around and go home. We sit on the couch and put on "Lilo & Stitch" and we wait. Jackson's actual doctor is on call and he calls my cell at five after three and diagnoses croup. Croup! It's a twenty-four-hour viral infection. I've never in my life had croup, I thought it went out after Laura Ingalls Wilder had the fever and ague. The doctor, who sounds tired (why does everyone sound so tired? I'm not tired at all, I'm wide fucking awake), says put a humidifier next to the bed, or make him sit in a steamy bathroom, or "take him outside and let him breathe the night air." Really. I mean, straight out of On the Banks of Plum Creek, no? Night air. Which is what he got a good faceful of on our aborted trip to the hospital. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Don't you wish that were the cure for everything.

So, just in time for the Big Third Birthday Weekend, just in time for a sleepover at Grandma's hotel with his cousins from L.A., Jackson's nose is running like a water faucet and I'll be addicting him to Triaminic Cough & Cold right directly. Praying that he does not infect a party of twenty children between the ages of three and five, so that along with your piece of chocolate Ninja Turtle birthday cake you do not also receive the fever and aig-yoo.