“A mother understands what a child does not say.” Yiddish Proverb
Our baby son, Jayson, was healthy and happy for the first two years of his life. Like rose petals, his pink chubby cheeks glistened in the sun and a finger curl waved “Hello” on the top of his head. Two front teeth, the color of seed pearls, gave him a slight over-bite that endeared his smile to the world. His first words were, “MaMa,” and “GaGa” touching our hearts forevermore. The letter “D” was hard for him to pronounce, but his daddy knew exactly what he meant.
This morning, after writing about my mother and brother yesterday, I remembered an incident that happened even before my little brother’s surgery. It was the summer of 1959. I was three years old, making him barely two, still wearing diapers. I can picture him, shirtless and barefoot, long before Pampers were invented.
“Each Difficult Moment Has The Potential To Open My Eyes And Open My Heart.” Myla Kabat-Zinn
In reflecting upon my life I’ve come to realize that Chronic Conditions have been woven throughout it since I was a very little girl. From the age of fifteen months, I became the big sister to the tiniest and most fragile of infant brothers. He was born barely weighing four pounds at full term with a hole in his heart. Deemed a Blue Baby, due to lack of oxygen, he was ripped from my poor mother’s arms, a young girl-wife of only 21. The physicians needed to treat him immediately while determining the extent of his illness.
Eventually, my baby brother was sent to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital http://www.mottchildren.org/in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Heart surgery on an infant was rarely done in the 1950’s. Never on a baby so small, not even at one of the best children’s hospitals in the country. For the next three years, my parent’s were told to, “watch and wait.” Every six weeks my little family drove several hours from our home, a 600 square foot, pink-shingled doll house, to Ann Arbor for my infant brother’s check-up. The roads were two lanes, hilly and curvy. I remember being dropped off at my maternal grandparents along the way. There I stood, small and brave, on the outside of my parents white 1950’s sedan, waving, “Good-by.”
Today, doctors would diagnose my brother, as a failure to thrive baby during those first years of life, all due to his heart condition. He little body was unable to produce the correct amount of oxygen it needed in order to thrive and grow. Finally, at the age of three, he was able to have his surgery. A slice was made the whole length of his chest, where the skill of the greatest surgeon’s hands sewed up the most fragile of holes in one of the tiniest hearts. My brother was one of the first pediatric patients to have open heart surgery at C.S. Mott children’s Hospital in the early ’60’s. It was deemed a great success. My parents felt blessed.
Today, babies with my brother’s condition are operated on soon after birth. Technology has changed for the better. Doctors have learned and medicine has improved. My brother was never quite able to make up for precious time lost. He struggled in schools that passed him before any kind of special help was put into place for kids who needed it. Relentlessly, he was bullied before the term became the “buzz” word for intimidation.
In spite of it all, my brother, David is a proud war veteran who has seen more than most people can imagine. He’s worked hard to support himself, has a great sense of humor, goes to church regularly, is loving and caring, and beyond smart in many, many ways. I can’t imagine life without him. He always will be my baby brother.
The three years that my mother, the young girl-wife who deeply loved and cared for two babies (not knowing day-to-day the health of the younger) took a tremendous toll on her own budding mind. Although she kept it hidden, she was tormented greatly from demons waiting to unlock hidden doors she never knew existed. Looking back, I understand it now. I have no doubt this period of her life helped trigger many years of inner turmoil. No one in our family talked about her condition or even had words to describe it. Not then, not for decades.
Our family never kept a pact to keep secrets. The truth is, no one was educated about my mother’s condition. Not even she. There were no names for what she suffered from, no doctors we could talk to, no symptoms to describe. We didn’t know any better, nor did she. It breaks my heart that she suffered so. And, it’s difficult for me to press these letters on my keyboard. I have stopped and started back up again several times.
My father told me that sometime in my mother’s early to mid-twenties, she had what would be the first of many nervous breakdowns. This fits the timeline for what I believe happened to her in life. It’s no one’s fault. Not hers, anyone’s. It’s life…….part of God’s plan.
From my heart to my baby brother’s to my mother’s and back again. I know this to be true.
Yesterday my husband and I helped to hold a Halloween Carnival in our back yard for neighborhood children of our subdivision. Since becoming grandparents to a darling baby girl we’ve realized how fleeting life can be. As we grow older our time on earth passes by in mere seconds rather than years. It’s as if I can hear the hands on the clock ticking faster lately as they move from one metal marker to the next, tick-tock…tick-tock…tick-tock.
My husband had just won the “Rookie of the Year” Award for being the “Top Salesman” of the eye-care company he worked for. He was scheduled to fly to Phoenix to accept it the day after he brought us home from the hospital. He didn’t think he should go, especially since I had just had a C-Section.
I, on the other hand, insisted that he pack his bags and get “on that plane!” He worked hard for his award and deserved to receive it in front of his peers. Over the next few days he’d have the opportunity to network with others from all across the country, which could only enhance our future. Thinking back on all of the years I had spent babysitting my brood of younger siblings made me realize I was prepared for this time in my life. I felt no reservations, nor anxiety about being alone with our 7 pound son. In fact, I relished the idea. I couldn’t wait to tip-toe into his room, peak over his crib and gently rest my palm on his beating heart. I looked forward to rocking him in my cradled arms, snuggling while humming hushed lullabies within his ears, alone.
Together, my infant son and I could survive for weeks alone. The refrigerator had been stocked with food of all sorts including gallons of milk for me to drink. As for my baby, my body held the only nourishment he needed. How convenient! His nursery was filled with diapers and clothes, blankets, ointments, and every piece of baby paraphernalia one could imagine. We would be fine. Of course, my parents were just a phone call away. Knowing my husband, he had arranged for them to “drop by” unannounced within the next day or so.
Every night my husband called from Phoenix, promptly at 10pm. He sat outside by campfire along-side a saguaro cactus, telling me tales of business meetings and award dinners. Still, I could hear the longing in his voice. He couldn’t wait to get back to the two of us, his new family who waited for him nestled among the snowbanks of Michigan. Across the country, on the other end of the line I lulled our infant son to sleep. Frosted ice patterns decorated our outside glass window panes. They seemed to whisper good-night wishes to my far away husband through shining shadows of the moon.
“Daddy’s coming home soon, I promise.”
The musty barn of the auction house beckoned us every Friday or Saturday night, sometimes both. It was an inexpensive way for our family to spend time together over the weekend. My Uncle Kenny and Aunt Helen owned the place which made it even more fun. Aunt Helen loved children. She didn’t have any of her own, so she delighted in spoiling us at every opportunity!
Long before marriage I knew pregnancy might be difficult for me. I lived with a Chronic Condition called, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polycystic_ovary_syndrome, which often causes infertility. My husband was aware and soon after the wedding, held my hand during medical consultations and accompanied me to doctor’s appointments where together, we decided on our first course of treatment, a low dose fertility drug. Squeezing my hand tightly we were ecstatic to learn a tiny heart might soon beat under my own within about four months.
Upon leaving the doctor’s office it was on to business. Thermometers, temperature charts, and pens and pencils were suddenly prized possessions, placed neatly in the top drawer of a nearby nightstand in order to chart monthly ovulation cycles. Whenever it was time, I telephoned my husband. We followed the ups and downs of my temperature chart to a T! Still, month after month it was not to be.
Eventually, I visited my doctor for another routine consultation. “It’s been nine months,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I can only keep you on this drug for one more cycle. Go home, relax and forget about it.” I left his office in tears. Fertility options were extremely limited back in 1980’s. I could only move on to an extremely powerful fertility drug with lots of potential complications or adoption. My husband and I had discussed adoption but knew it might take years to receive a baby.
That same weekend my husband and I traveled from our cozy bungalow in Bay City to northrn Michigan for business, leaving my temperature chart at home. Our car crested a hill where the blue waters of Grand Traverse Bay https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Traverse_Bay greeted us in the most beautiful of azure colors as far as our eyes could see. It was late spring, nearing summer. The windows of our car were all the way down. We giggled free as the fresh air blew our hair every which way. Scents of one season were ending while simultaneously, a new one was beginning. Nature was changing. Tall emerald pines danced among splashes of fruit trees on either side of the road with flowers budding into delectable delights of edible apples and cherries.
While my husband attended business meetings, I relaxed by the pool, read books, and drank sparkling water under the warming sun. Six weeks later I learned I was pregnant. Yes, nature was changing….
*photos courtesy of Google Chrome
Let us be of good cheer, remembering that the misfortunes hardest to bear are those that never happen.”
James Russel Lowell
“Surmounted difficulties not only teach, but they hearten us in our future struggles” James Sharpe
Growing up, my extended family on my father’s side included very Special Aunts who lived with “Chronic Conditions.” As a little girl, I never questioned such. When, Aunt “Mimi” was wheeled in through the front door of my grandmother’s annual Christmas Eve party, snowflakes whipping all around her, she beamed with delight at the sight and sounds of nieces and who waited for her. Reaching out, I quickly grabbed her petite hand to hold in mine. Her motor skills were dwindling even then. Often, I sat on the floor near her wheel chair to listen to stories describing her latest craft project. At her home overlooking the bay, she created all sorts of wonders ny gently crooked hands, taking precious time. She spoke slowly and deliberately, her speech difficult to understand by an illness that slowly robbed her body of her former self.
Taking our newborn home, the sun’s blinding glare bounced off waist-high drifts of pure white snow from a raging blizzard that took place the same night our son arrived. The words, “Blood Sugar” were never heard again until several years later. The only thing on my mind while riding in the back seat of my husband’s company “K” car, was the serene sight of the most precious gift before me. My baby’s pink face peeked out of a new blue blanket. He was safely bundled and buckled into his infant car seat, used for the very first time.
Once inside, we took turns unwrapping him much like a fragile piece of porcelain, or the most precious gift of glass. My husband took him from me then. He held him up with both arms, going around the house, introducing him to each room within. Afterward, he lay him down gently within the confines of his crib, where colorful teddy bears and matching balloons danced all around him.
“Jayson Paul, we’ve waited so long for you,” he whispered near his dwarfish ear. I started to cry then, uncontrollably.