“Mama,” Col whisper-squeaks after choking down a droplet of juice, “can you make me an apple pie?”
Which is a strange request, coming from someone whose tonsils have been newly hacked off, who’s mostly given up on talking and eating. Earlier, he asked for chicken noodle soup and also refried beans. I flew to the store, honoring his culinary fancies, and he slurped one nano-molecule of broth, grimacing like he was swallowing a chicken whole.
On the way to the hospital Col was chatty and cheerful, wondering bravely, “what do you think my mouth will look like after my tonsils are out?” “Oh, maybe like a smooth cave,” I replied and we all laughed as if we were actually headed to the carnival ride, “tonsillectomy,” and not to the operating room.
In the waiting room Col rode a wooden horse meant for toddlers, and Dan and I watched as children got whisked away and then returned, slightly altered, to parents who appeared sort of disembodied, waiting alone with fuzzy blankets and stuffed animals on their laps. We eventually got called into the pre-op room, thick with medical personnel and paper-signing. Dan read theatrically to Col from a National Geographic, “oh wow, look at that” about humongous whale vertebrae, while nurses bustled around us. Soon we were waved off to the lobby to eat elk sausage and egg sandwiches, disembodied ourselves, with our stack of children’s books, stuffed animals and empty arms.
After the toothy grip of anesthesia wore off (during which Col was simultaneously trying to burrow inside of us and flee), we transported him home and he quickly fell asleep on the couch.
He woke up an hour later, snuggled into me and whispered, “but, did they actually take my tonsils out?”
“They really did honey.”
“I didn’t feel them do it.”
“I know. You were sleeping.”
“No I wasn’t.”
The last thing Col probably remembers is being wheeled away from us on the big bed, crying and protesting, flanked by a team of green-scrubbed staff who were so gentle and friendly they could have been auditioning for Sesame Street goes to the OR. I stood by the lobby door watching the big bed sail down the hall, sniffling to Dan unconvincingly, “I’m so excited for how Col’s life is going to improve.”
And that was the hardest moment. Sending Col off alone and afraid. Now it’s just extreme caregiving, which is like returning to the germination of my own motherhood, when my seed-shell cracked open and a root threaded its way underground and I understood, instantly, that my singular job was to love and care for this baby.
And caring for post-surgical Col is almost like caring for an infant. We cheer when he eats, pees, sleeps and smiles. Our house has become a cocoony nest where we only leave to restock ricemilk; yesterday the four of us watched the entire, original Wizard of Oz movie in our bed while the sun bounced around the outside world invitingly.
When you ask Col how he’s doing he frowns and shakes his head, but he doesn’t complain. To communicate he nods and points from his post on the couch, while his sister narrates, loudly, every thought that tickles her brainstem. Every few hours Col gears up to speak, wincing and swallowing, and we all wait like the Dalai Lama is sitting before us, clearing his throat. “I’m ready to talk about it now,” he said the afternoon after the surgery. “To talk about what, honey?” “To talk about getting my tonsils out.” And then he went silent for the next few hours. Yesterday he asked me, “what did they do with all the blood?” “They suctioned it out of your stomach and then cauterized your throat so it would stop bleeding.” He nodded and didn’t say anything else.
I’m so grateful for my parents who flew out to help, to Nana Judy and cousin Barb who sent so many thoughtful gifts (including chocolate for the Mama), the local friends who lent us puzzles and movies and books, our community who sent prayers and virtual smooches during surgery, the Mamas who’d been there and answered all my questions, the blog friends I’ve never met who sent gifts and books, offered support and checked in via e-mail, the balloon lady who read my newspaper column and twisted up animal balloons for both kids. I felt like I had this team cheering me on from the dugout of parenting, ready to step into the game at a moments notice. And to parent with this back-up support feels like the only sane way.
And now we snuggle and heal and give thanks.