Wednesday, August 20, 2008
It's not an 18 yr. commitment. It's forever.
The sound breaks through my dreams, but I can't quite place it. Then it hits me. My cellphone is ringing three rooms away. It's a little before 5 am and my heart beats fast as I race to answer it. It's my daughter. She's crying. "Mom, can you come to Mishawaka?" My stomach lurches. "What's wrong?" I ask, trying to remain calm. She starts to sob and a friend takes over the phone. I want to throw up. Her friend tells me that Jordan fell down a flight of stairs in the middle of the night. She was letting her friend's dogs back in the house and got twisted up. She has broken her wrist, will need stitches on her chin and may have a concussion. Fortunately, Jordan tells me, she still has all her teeth. I can't get into the car fast enough. I feel like my husband is moving in slow motion and I want to scream. He's not, but I've got to get to my girl. The emergency room is, thankfully, only 20 min away. We meet her friends in the emergency room. Jordan is behind a closed door and the doctor is setting her wrist. Finally, we can go in. She laughs when she sees us, then cries a wee bit. "I'm sorry, Mom." For what, silly? I'm just grateful it's not worse.
As we sit and wait for the doctors and nurses to do all they need to before she can go home, I'm drawn back to a similar moment 23 1/2 years ago. Jordan was ten months old at the time. I'm getting ready for work when the phone rings at 6:30 in the morning. It's my mom. A drunk driver ran a stop sign and hit my sister, Suzanne's, car. She was thrown from the car, landed on her head, and had sustained brain injury. It was not known if she would live or die. Dad was already on a plane from Portland, Maine to the hospital in West Palm Beach, Florida. For months, her fate was uncertain. Jim drives my mother and me down, Jordan in tow. Day after day, we make our trek to the hospital. For two weeks, I watched my mom becoming debilitated with worry and praying constantly. I watched as my father tended to Suzanne's care, dealing with doctors, shaming the priest who gave her up for dead and talked about organ donation, and speaking lovingly into her ear. "Come on, little girl, wake up," he'd say to her. She was thirty-six years old, but she was still his "little girl." I remember looking at my beautiful little girl as she crawled across the floor in her diaper and blue & white striped t-shirt and thinking, "This is not an 18 or 22 year commitment. This is forever, this thing called being a parent. It hit me like a ton of bricks for the very first time. For the next 23 1/2 years and until his death, my father tended to my sister's care, never wavering for an instant.
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for the uncommitted. It is the most wonderful, joy-filled, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, frustrating endeavor on the planet. I wouldn't trade it for the world, but I hope and pray to God that I never receive another phone call in the night like this or, even worse, like my parents received.
My girl is sleeping. Vicodin has become her best friend. She will be healed by love, with a little help from modern medicine. I look at her, but I don't see the grown woman she has become. I see a ten month old girl in diapers and a blue & white striped tee. My heart is pinging.