Yesterday was the birthday of a new friend of mine. We've only recently met, but I can honestly say I adore him. I think he likes me too. He smiles at me regularly, though he doesn't say much.
Of course he's only 1, so that is to be expected.
He spent his first birthday, and much of his first year of life, in the hospital. It brought me back to Maggie's first year, the majority of which was spent in the hospital. She didn't spend her first birthday in the hospital, though.* The fact that my new friend had to is spectacularly unfair. Of course he didn't care. He just gave smiles to all and snuggled with his mom.
I know from experience how surreal and difficult it is to spend weeks in the hospital with your little one and I admire this mom, and all the others, very much. Perhaps it helps them to see me, a veteran of the war they are fighting, perhaps it doesn't. I did realize something as I was walking home the other day. It is very different to have BEEN THROUGH something than it is to BE GOING THROUGH something right now.
While I remember the exhaustion and the surreal nature of that existence, I am acutely aware that I am not experiencing it right now. And believe me, the existence IS surreal. You adapt to the new world but can't remember how to live in your old world. Parents in this situation can converse easily with doctors and nurses using Latin terms like Caeser himself. But if they are like me, they might have a hard time making a coherent sentence to family and friends. You know that the earth is knocked a bit off its axis and spinning unevenly, but you also know others don't feel that. They want to help and they do help, but they are not experiencing what you are experiencing. I felt like we were alone in this new world. It can be very lonely.
I remember the feelings. I remember the fear and the helplessness and the exhaustion and my general lack of "place" in the world. I remember the odd day when I would actually get OUTSIDE and breathe fresh air and the way that felt for the first minute or two. It is not fun to remember those times, they were the hardest of my life. But I know I wouldn't be where I am now if we hadn't gone through them. And I know these other moms will look back the same way I am.
Fast forward 18 years and here I am - on the outside looking at parents who are doing what I did. I can relate and empathize with these parents, and tell them I really do know haw they feel, but I can also be happy that I don't have to feel like that everyday.
So listen Buddy, I have a birthday wish for you. Get better. Get out of there. I want your second birthday and all those that follow to be at home with your mom causing all kinds of trouble. I want her to forget all the anatomy and Latin she has learned because I don't want her to need it anymore. I want her to buy you trucks and cool clothes and I want you to give her fits when you are a teenager. That's a tall order for such a little kid, but if anyone can do it, I know it's you. Happy Birthday.
*If I remember correctly Maggie only spent one birthday in the hospital and she was admitted on her actual birthday. When you consider the hundreds of admissions she's had and the length of time she's been hospitalized, that's pretty good.