The Waiting Room

We've spent a lot of time at the doctor's office lately, and the waiting room always makes me think of a poem I wrote right after Lincoln was born.  Back then, we were inundated with doctors and tests.  EKG's, blood tests, hearing tests, Down syndrome clinics: we were sent to a slew of experts who were supposed to tell us just how broken each part of our baby's body was.  Sitting in all those waiting rooms and looking around at the other mothers, I felt I had been initiated into a terrible club for parents whose blissful expectations had been smashed up against the reality of a fragile and ailing child.

The Children’s Hospital

That thing I built in my head,
That sandcastle where we would live, you in your
Smoking jacket and me in my glass slipper,
Has crumbled in the bottom of my purse
Beside the old chapstick and crumpled bills.
It sticks to the pen I always carry, gumming up the tip
So I can barely sign my name on one more form.
It deposits itself in inky clumps on my third medical history
This week, as if my handwriting stutters.
But it’s just the residue of my gutted expectations that I insist on
Bringing with me everywhere.  Monday afternoon and
The doctor must be busy.  Mothers in ponytails
Pretend to read last season’s magazines while
Their 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 for
The matching barrettes.  June’s Good Housekeeping
Lays 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, keys
To 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.


  1. I'm definitely an awfulizer when I get sick...I am the sickest person ever! I will never recover! Someone shoot me!

    And then a few days later I feel magically better...

    I should probably work on my "sick attitude." Not my best quality.


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