The Children’s HospitalThat thing I built in my head,That sandcastle where we would live, you in yourSmoking jacket and me in my glass slipper,Has crumbled in the bottom of my purseBeside the old chapstick and crumpled bills.It sticks to the pen I always carry, gumming up the tipSo I can barely sign my name on one more form.It deposits itself in inky clumps on my third medical historyThis week, as if my handwriting stutters.But it’s just the residue of my gutted expectations that I insist onBringing with me everywhere. Monday afternoon andThe doctor must be busy. Mothers in ponytailsPretend to read last season’s magazines whileTheir broken little birds hop around the waiting room,Those precious things in tiny sneakers and back braces,In pink jumpers with radiated scalps too bald forThe matching barrettes. June’s Good HousekeepingLays open on my lap. Page 128 is “Fall Fashion Made Easy”But we all wear the same uniform here: jogging pants,Some bottom of the drawer t-shirt, that look of summoned bravado,An old purse filled with worn insurance cards, keysTo a used car, peppermint saved for a coughing fit in church,Pens choking on the debris of our misfortune.
That was four years ago, and today, though I remember that sense of gutted expectations, I also laugh at the tone of despair I took back then. It's true that Linc's diagnosis smashed my expectations to pieces and at first I was painfully tiptoeing around, always expecting to get a shard of glass slipper lodged in my heel. But what I didn't know at the time was that getting to face life without being burdened by some preconceived notion of how it's supposed to go is incredibly freeing.
I still hate those waiting rooms. Lately it's been a cruel string of them, prenatal visits that gave way to ER rooms and hollow, grating follow-ups. Just the thought of filling out one of those "what are your symptoms" charts seems overwhelming at this point. But this week, I had to take Lincoln in for a presumed infection. I knew it probably meant another long round of antibiotics, knew it meant the whole family could soon be infected and we would be back in the doctor's office one by one waiting for our very own prescription. I was so angry that morning, angry that I had to go back to the doctor, angry that something else was going wrong and that life just wasn't cooperating with my plans.
But by the time we were parked in the familiar waiting room chairs, the anger evaporated, was swept right away by the sweet, soft hands of that baby we used to think would be a broken thing. Linc climbed into my lap and grabbed my cheeks with both hands. Look at me, he said without saying a word. I need your attention now.
He pointed to his nose and said "nose," asking to play our pass-the-time game. "That's right," I said, "That's your nose. Now, where are your ears?"
"Ears," he said, touching both ears. As we worked our way through his beautiful little body parts, his beautiful, functional, not at all broken body parts, Nico sat beside us reading about mythical creatures, interrupting us every few minutes to tell us about hydras and minotaurs.
Sometimes I forget how far we've come. I forget what we thought this journey was going to look like, that we were expecting a lifetime of choking on our misfortunes. But no, instead we are exploring healthy eyes and ears with healthy fingers. We are journeying into the world of mythical creatures on a weekday afternoon. We are laughing so loud in the waiting room that other patients look over at us and smile, too, overcome by our joy and love and hope. We are sick sometimes, yes, but we are not broken, not a single one of us. And on those days when we are stuck in the waiting room, we always know who to lean on, who to read to, and who to laugh with to pass the time.