Way back in November (is it just me or does November feel like a lifetime ago, seriously?) I wrote the following:
As some of you may remember, I used to write once a month for a site called Hopeful Parents. I loved my time there. I adore the site and everything that it stands for. The name says it all, really – a community of (special needs) parents who choose to view the world through a lens of hope.
I stopped writing for them a few months back when I realized that I was desperately overcommitted and really (OK, really, really) needed to pull in the reins where I could.
Over time, I plan to repatriate the posts that I wrote there – to bring them home to Diary so that they will be a part of the collection of stories here. My greatest hope is that someday Katie and Brooke and I can look at all of this together. That we can talk about these moments in time and that they can tell me what they were experiencing through each of them. That they can tell me where I got it right and where – inevitably – I got it disastrously wrong. I hope that they will see that even when it all went awry, I loved them more than anything.
And so today begins the process of bringing some of the twenty-seven posts that I wrote on Hopeful Parents back home. I hope you will indulge me on this walk down memory lane. I don’t plan to publish them in any particular order. I will just put them up here and there as they resonate.
I went on to publish a single post that same day and then forget all about it.
Until this morning.
When I remembered one that, to put it mildly, resonated today.
So here it is. Right on time.
Right on Time
Originally posted on Hopeful Parents in May of 2010
When I was thirteen, I broke my leg while doing gymnastics. My mom had brought me to practice that night, just as she always did, and my dad was due to come three hours later for pick-up time, just as he always was. I broke my leg right in the middle of practice.
As soon as I felt the flat of my shin crack against the balance beam, I knew. This wasn’t a run-of-the-mill, put some ice on it and quit your belly achin’ injury. Something was really wrong.
As my coach lifted my head, our team trainer created a foam splint and rigged up some support under my leg. As the trainer tried to calm me down, I yelled to the nearest gymnast.
“Darci, go get my dad!’ Everyone looked at me sympathetically. They assumed I was in shock as I obviously wasn’t making sense. It was my coach who spoke.
“Honey, your dad’s not here. He won’t be for a couple of hours. We’re going to try your house and see if we can reach him.”
I understood why they thought I was losing it, but I simply knew I was right.
“Darci, please just go out into the waiting area and get my dad, OK?”
“Just go,” I added emphatically, “He’ll be there.”
Moments later, much to the surprise of everyone but the girl with the broken leg, Darci walked back across the floor with my dad.
He never could explain why he was there. He just was. Love – particularly the love of a parent for a child who is hurting – sometimes defies all reason.
Sometimes, it just shows up when you need it.
Last night, we went out to dinner as a family. Or at least we tried. Halfway through our meal, Brooke and I pulled the ripcord. Despite the familiarity of our favorite (and only) haunt, despite the usually soothing music coming through her headphones, despite the presence of our favorite waitress, despite the crayons and a favorite meal, she simply couldn’t handle it.
The restaurant was busier than usual and much to our dismay, was filled with young children. One little boy within spitting distance of our table had a cough. Fight it as she might, Brooke finally couldn’t handle it anymore. I watched her little body tense. I watched her face contort into a pained cry. I watched helplessly as she screamed a blood-curdling shriek. I brought her onto my lap and tried to soothe her. I gave her the long, slow squeezes that sometimes help. I rubbed her back. I stage-whispered in her ear, just loudly enough to be heard through her headphones.
She shrieked again and looked to me for help. “I WANT TO GO WALK!” she yelled loudly enough to be heard three states to the south. And so we walked.
Luau and Katie stayed behind to finish their dinners. Winnie packed up my meal along with Brooke’s and gave them to Luau on their way out. I came home and wrote the following in my Facebook status:
Just as over time the ocean’s waves insidiously claim its shore, so it is that watching one’s child continually struggle slowly erodes the spirit of the parent. Yeah, it’s ludicrously poetic. It’s that or throw something.
This afternoon, I found an e-mail from my dad waiting in my inbox. Its tag line read, What Love means to a child. The body of the e-mail explained that what followed were children’s answers to the question, What is love? I read through the quotes and, not surprisingly, got teary at a few, like ..
‘When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.’ ~ Rebecca- age 8
‘Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.’ ~ Bobby – age 7
I laughed at others, like ..
‘I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.’ ~ Lauren – age 4
‘Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.’ ~ Danny – age 7
But it was the story at the end of the e-mail that did me in. And oddly enough, it brought me right back to that day at the gym – the day that without knowing why, my dad showed up – almost two hours early and right on time.
The best quote of all came from a four year-old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, ‘Nothing, I just helped him cry.’
Love can’t always make things better. Or even different. I can’t fix the world for my little girl any more than my dad could unbreak my leg.
I can’t keep her demons at bay. I can’t find a way to convince her nervous system that she isn’t under attack when a little boy coughs.
And it hurts like hell when I can’t make it right.
But I swear I could hear my dad’s voice in the e-mail. Maybe just because after all these years, I know what he’d say.
You walked with her, Jessie. You held her hand and rubbed her back, You took her AWAY. You were THERE.
You helped her cry.
My dad isn’t on Facebook. He couldn’t have seen my status. I haven’t spoken to him in a few days. He had no way to know.
But he did. He showed up right on time.
He was there.
And simply by being there, he reminded me that sometimes that’s enough.