I was up all night with Jenny. I’ll spare you the gory details, but she was afraid of falling back to sleep for fear she’d get sick again. I held her pretty much all night long while she drifted in and out of sleep. I looked at her long lashes and perfectly arched eyebrows, her long delicate fingers and the wisps of hair around her forehead. She’s not a baby anymore, but when she’s not feeling well, she seems as fragile and vulnerable as when she lived in my arms.
I had a lot of time to think last night, and Jen’s being ill reminded me of the scary time she spent in the hospital with pneumonia. She was four years old. It was the last weekend of ski season. Jenny’s fever started Friday afternoon. Mark worked his usual Saturday shift, and by Saturday morning I was running out of the fever fighting duo – Tylenol and Motrin. I called him at the shop and asked if it would be possible for him to leave to bring us some medicine. He said that he could leave long enough to run and get it, but that I would have to come down to the shop and get it from there. So I got two kids out of bed, buckled them into their cold car seats and made the 20 minute drive to the shop to get the meds.
He did come out to the car to make a show of checking on his daughter, and then we zoomed back home.
That afternoon, he was able to get out of work early enough to head up to the ski hill.
When he got home from skiing, he found me sitting on the couch next to a lethargic Jenny. I was able to manage the fever, so at this point I felt we were just letting the bug run its course. Quite frankly, it was easier to care for an ill child if Mark wasn’t around demanding to be center stage.
On Sunday morning, Mark said something like, “Well, if you have things under control here, I might as well head up to the ski hill. There’s nothing I can do here.” (Hold your darling daughter? Laundry? Pick up toys? Do dishes? Make some soup? Entertain your son?) I said, “You go on ahead. I’ve got this covered.”
Jenny rallied by afternoon, but by 2 o’clock Monday morning, I was getting scared. She was beyond lethargic. This wasn’t normal. I got her in to see the pediatrician at 8 a.m. Monday. Mark met us there from work. They x-rayed her lungs and told us to take her to the hospital immediately.
I’ll never forget the sight of Jenny laying in that hospital bed with tubes in her tiny wrists. She was lifeless. Even the nurse said that it had been a long time since she’d seen a case like this.
And, I will never forget the sight of Mark sitting by Jenny’s side, holding her tiny hand, and cooing to her. There was an interesting pattern to his attentiveness and cooing. It only happened when someone else was in the room. When it was just the three of us in the room, he’d be focused on the TV, or he’d be telling me about stuff at the shop. The minute a nurse walked in, he’d jump up, run to Jenny’s bed, ramp up the baby voice, and make a show of how his world revolved around his baby girl.
The nurses ate it up. They kept commenting on how sweet this daddy was with his little girl. “Isn’t she the luckiest little girl in the world?” He certainly wasn’t doing it for Jenny’s sake, because she slept through most of the ordeal.
He was doing all of this for show.
This is annexation. This is what a narcissist does to garner more adulation. If they feel they aren’t getting enough attention, they use any opportunity to get more. Grandstanding in the hospital room was a great way for Mark to make Jenny’s pneumonia all about him. Even though, prior to our initial doctor’s appointment, he’d shown very little concern, once we got to the hospital, and there was an audience, he effortlessly played the role of the distraught parent.
The three of us became very familiar with his annexing. He made sure that when it was Jenny’s turn to be Super Star, that it would be about him. When Will was learning to walk, and the extended family gathered to encourage Will’s tiny steps, Mark would jump in to clap his hands and coach Will along. When Jenny had ballet recital practice, Mark was there to twirl her around on the dance floor, even though he never took her to practice, and actually told her he wished she had gone out for something more athletic.
About a year after the hospital incident, Jenny came down with a second case of pneumonia. After a trip to the ER, the doctor suggested that if I felt comfortable caring for her at home, I could do so. He said he felt it was safer than exposing her to stuff going around the hospital. Since she wouldn’t need IVs, this seemed like the smartest choice. We weren’t living with Mark at the time. He came over twice to check on Jenny. What with the lack of audience, there would be no benefit in trying to annex in this situation.
Right now, the red light is flashing on our answering machine. Mark left a message. Jenny begged me to not make her pick up the phone. “Mom, if he hears in my voice that I’m not feeling good, he’ll talk babyish again.”
We don’t need to provide him with another opportunity to annex one of the kids.