There have been a couple instances in my life where I know I lost a few years to sheer worry and panic over my children. I blame my early gray hairs on those times, even as I deny that I ever had a gray hair – thank you Loreal Hair Color!
I never really knew what it was to be a parent until my oldest daughter, Bella, went with me one day to a cookout at a friend's house. Bella was somewhere in the ballpark of 18 months old at the time and I adored her, but I had never really had to worry about her. After arriving at my friend's place we went inside and I asked my friend to keep an eye on Bella while I went back to the car for the cupcakes I had brought with me – yes, once upon a time ago I actually baked! As I left her house, down her front steps and off to my then boyfriend's car, I heard my baby calling for mommy. My friend, having gotten caught up in her hosting duties and not realizing how fast small children can move, lost track of my daughter and I turned in time to watch her panicked little face teetering at the top of the steps trying to get to me. I was too far away to reach her in time and my heart got caught somewhere in my throat when I realized what was about to happen. Sure enough, she began to tumble head over feet down those stairs as I ran to try to get to her. Babies and small children are resilient- thankfully. When I reached her she was scared and crying, but fine. There wasn't a scratch on her, thankfully. And while she was going to be okay I had just been initiated into the part of parenthood no one wants to think about. We can't always be there, and even when we are, sometimes situations are just helpless. You never really understand that or feel the full impact of it until something happens. I understood in that moment why my own mother had been so over-protective of me growing up. I swore in that moment that I would never again have to feel so helpless. Of course, life being as unpredictable as it is I couldn't honestly keep that promise to myself.
A few kids later my youngest daughter, Lexy came along. Just before Christmas in 2006 we were staying with family in Elizabeth City while our house in Key West was being fixed after Hurricane Wilma flooded it. Lexy woke up one morning, having had a slight cold for a couple days, and she couldn't turn her head. She was just a little over two years old and the first thought that popped into my mind was meningitis, because we had just seen a news story about how it was going around and a couple teenagers had died from it in Virginia. So, immediately we took her to the emergency room. I thought, okay, we caught this early. She'll be fine! I was not worried, beyond the norm. So while we were there it was made clear that this was not meningitis and that there was some sort of growth in my daughters throat. The worry was that it could enlarge and restrict her airflow. Instead of telling us that, the emergency room doctor came in and told us she needed us to sign a form to have an emergency transport set up for my daughter to go to a hospital in Virginia. She said “if we don't transfer her soon she's going to die.” There it was again, the lump in my throat that was my heart. Again, I was reminded that I have no control over the fate of my children, despite how much I like to think I do. In the end she was transported to Portsmouth Naval Hospital where she received excellent care. Her condition was nowhere near as dire as the emergency room doc had insinuated. She was treated with some medication and the growth shrunk itself back down over a couple days. This is actually something that the pediatricians told me happens with young children from time to time. It was scary at first, but we got through it. My lesson learned anew that I won't always be able to keep my children safe.
I had been thinking about writing this blog for a while, with the intent to write about the absolute craziness that is parenting. I had intended to cover the frustrations of feeling helpless as well as the absolute adoration you feel as a parent for your child. I had planned on adding the funny little anecdotes with the silly things that children say that make you smile with pride, or laugh until it hurts.
I had planned on doing that until yesterday when my family received some tragic news that made me think about my own children and how thankful I am to have them in my life, and how given another set of circumstances those stories I told a moment ago about my girls could have ended differently. My cousin lost his step-daughter yesterday in a tragic accident. She was 14 years old. Knowing how I felt in those moments with my girls, where I knew my heart had been dislodged, makes it unfathomable to understand what my cousin and his family are going through right now. My heart goes out to them and I wish there were words to properly express how terribly sorry I was to hear the news. Words are small comfort in situations like this though. No amount of words, or hugs, or crying can get you through. I understand that much. I hope they are able to heal and in that healing I hope for the pain to lessen and become bearable.
I hugged my daughter Bella last night, before I told her what happened. They were, after all, the same age. They had hung out and swam together at my parent's and my uncle's house in South Carolina. We talked last night, my kids and I about being safe, and cautious, and careful. We talked and I hugged them all, with the understanding that you just never know how long someone will be in your life.
No matter how long they have been here, it is always too soon. There are always things left unsaid or undone. I hope to remember that as one of my life lessons. To remember to never end a conversation in anger, no matter how frustrated I get. I hope to remember to hug my family and appreciate them everyday that I have them. I hope that I will be more understanding. I hope that I can find the balance between letting them go as they grow up and move on to knew things and keeping a close vigil over them so that I may protect them from the world. I hope to one day reconcile with myself that I can not always be their protector. I know that there are times when I will forget, and I hope that when I do I will only receive a gentle reminder to stay vigilant in my promises to myself and my family. Being a parent is the hardest job in the world, being a parent in the midst of tragedy is what makes it so.
Don't forget to love the people you have while you have them! Life is too short and unforgiving to do anything less.