This morning my almost ten-year-old son gave me a kiss, and suddenly I panicked.

He has the “sick” breath. We are coming into summer weather this week among many other end-of-school activities galore, and my son presents me with the infamous sick breath at the onset of the week. I don’t have brushes with the odd, sterile smell of this mother of all smells too often these days. I remember when my oldest daughter was under a year and she would become ill with ear-infections and cry a mad streak in my arms while I rocked her and kissed her tear-streaked face and mouth. I would hold her close and sing in her ear while little puffs of the sick breath would intensify my worry over her. After a few bouts of this, eventually I came to know the smell as a red flag that illness was imminent.

I believe this may be nature’s way of warning mothers of impending danger to their children so they can immediately begin working their mommy magic to combat whatever virus or infection was about to wreck havoc on their child. I have rarely heard of this weird sick breath discussed among mom friends of mine and for a long time wondered if it was unique to my child. Then all my children eventually developed it and I assumed it was universal. I have never read of this in any book or magazine or pamphlet from the pediatrician’s office, and today it still seems like a mystery to me.

But I tell you this: when it comes, it puts knots in my stomache. Some of my worst and most frightening moments in parenting were linked to the odd, medicinal, strerile smell that comes from them when their bodies are under seige. Even though my boy is almost ten, I still have a pang when he heads off to school leaving me with the kiss of doom. I will go check him out at lunch today, hoping this will blow over, that after all the early years of fighting stuff off his body can handle this one on its own.

But I’m not so sure, and will never be relaxed until I am.

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