This was a hard night. I brought kids 1-5 into Spokane for a reunion with Mom and baby Jack, who is in the Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart. They haven’t seen their Mom since Tuesday morning at 6:45 am, at which time we all thought they’d be home the next day at the latest.
As it happens, Jack’s “failure to thrive” has him in the hospital much longer, possibly a week, maybe less, maybe more, depending on whether he can prove that his little body can begin to keep calories in him and gain some real weight. They’ve put Jack through a battery of tests for everything from possibly horrible diseases like Muscular Dystrophy to simple potential allergies to some element of his mother’s milk diet. They’ve taken tissue biopsies all the way down to his intestines, numerous blood draws and “sweat test” patches to keep ruling out things we don’t want to think about.
All of this while he has a feeding tube inserted through his nose that goes all the way into his tiny tummy. It doesn’t seem to bother him but it’s taped to his face like spray paint on the Mona Lisa – it just shouldn’t be there.
So tonight, after a week of unbelievable help from literally dozens of people, flowers and calls of support from more than that, not to mention the most sincere, genuine, unexpected and moving offering of personal and group prayer I think I’ve ever been blessed with from our schools superintendent and members of the School District 271 leadership team, we reunited the older kids with their little brother and their Mom.
I realized tonight that I’ve been more frazzled by all of this than I was aware of. And I’m more than a little embarrassed by the realization (again) of just how much hard, important work my wife does every day as a stay-at-home parent. I have known for years that she works much harder than I do, which is not at all false modesty. But I really hadn’t processed in a while just how many constant and all-consuming details go into life as a single parent. Because when I travel on business or am gone from home for extended work periods, in many ways that’s what she is. Even with all the help and support I’ve received from all corners of our life, I still am feeling pretty wiped out as I sit and type tonight. She does this much stuff 24 hours a day 7 days a week for the last 12 years without the slightest complaint. Me I’m grousing about lots of little things.
But in all that what has struck me the most is that the hardest part so far was when a weary set of kids had to say goodbye to their Mom at the elevator after 3 hours of wonderful plain togetherness. Our 2-year old was almost totally distraught. Our 9-year old was silently crying in a way I hadn’t seen her do in I can’t remember how long. Our 4-year old was bleary eyed and kept asking Mommy why she couldn’t go home with us. Our 7-year old was a trooper in helping carry things to the car while she stared off into the distance not fully comprehending or wanting to leave. And our 11-year old eldest was a proud big brother champion who didn’t want me to see his tears as we sat in the car in the parking garage getting ready to pull out for the trek home from Spokane.
And most of all, the strongest woman I’ve ever known, my wife, was trying gamely to be strong in front of the kids while grappling with the emotions of day four of an uncertain hospital stay for our smiley happy three month old who is clueless that anything is wrong.
This week has been one of those focusing events in our life, in mine anyway, that seems like a message from above saying “be still, watch your kids sleep quietly, and be reminded that this is truly the most important thing you’ll do on this earth.” I don’t reflect on those times enough.
These last few days I’ve been working to remind myself of the little blessings that permeate our lives. I’m glad that modern medicine is as good as it is. I’m deeply touched by the cheery, varied, and unending assistance that friends and family have provided all week. I’m blessed to have health insurance so that at least a big chunk of this major expense will be covered (fingers crossed). I’m happy that if this had to happen at all it did so in the spring and not the middle of a snowy winter. And the list of dumb things I’m forcing myself to be thankful for goes on an on.
But more than anything else I wish Kathleen were in bed in the next room with baby Jack in her arms - anticipating in her ever-vigilant “Mommy sleep” the inevitable 2 am visit from a partially sleepwalking child of whatever age who climbs into the bed and snores the gorgeous music that only a child can create. I wish the dog were in the house standing sentry at the foot of the bed always on Kathleen's side while I’m in the other room typing or reading something with half an eye on a fake news comedy show.
Maybe one day this week will take its place as a little gift to my memory, reminding me that in the small, routine times when the world is totally in order it’s then that I need to pause and give thanks. Maybe.
Get better fast Jack. Gain some weight and get yourself back home. And please don’t forget to bring your Mom with you. She’s the glue holding together the lives of seven people who love and miss you both very much.