Saturday, November 21

Notes on a Dinner

I sit and stare, nervously taking a large a sip of wine. I'm concerned I'll run out too quickly, and one of my dinner companions will make a mental note to tell her husband later on in the night: Drinks too much/fast/loudly. 

I need to pee, but I'm hesitant to stand up in case the server comes back and I miss my chance to order another glass of Rioja. Because I'm going to need another glass of Rioja (maybe 3?) to get through the night. Fuck, let's be honest: I'd like to get through the next 5 minutes without either bursting into tears or saying something cruel and irrevocable.

Oh why did I do this? Why didn't I just say no? I'm fine with close friends. Terrible with casual acquaintances. Small talk is my worst enemy. Why did I come?

The server comes again, takes our order. I'm having the special.

I suddenly realize I'm doing plenty of listening, like, all the fucking listening, but not a whole lot of talking. They ask how my son is doing.

FINE! HE'S FINE.

I hate hearing these words, regretting them so fast I internally scold myself. I can't expand on what "fine" actually means tonight, or tomorrow, or ever. I can't share the fact that my son cried for 40 minutes today while I tried to coax him away from the living room, away from his protective bubble of toys, towards the kitchen table so that he could eat dinner. That this morning we took him for an extra vaccination for kids with impaired respiratory function that required two giant needles, given simultaneously, one in each thigh. He gets to repeat this each month, all winter long.

That sounds brutal! Can't they space them out? Do one right after the other? 

I can't tell them how I've been searching for winter boots for a year now, in order to find ones that fit over his leg braces.

Have you tried contacting blank-blank-blank store? A friend of a friend of a friend works there. 

I can share only the most basic and bare-bones facts: he needs major surgery in less than a month to replace rods in his bones that his 4-year old body has now outgrown. I feel somewhat proud that he's outgrown something, like this surgery is exactly the same as if he had outgrown a pair of jeans and we went shopping for new ones. I feel a waft of kinship with my dinner companions. It lasts half a second.

I'm sure he'll be fine. Those doctors do this sort of thing all the time!

I so desperately crave these words. But I'm met with worried faces that scream, I'm glad I'm not you. 

I'm glad I'm not you. 

The pretend conversation in my head is always so much nicer, easier, tidier. I don't have to go home feeling anxious, or fear the shitty platitudes every special-needs mom is forced to swallow: I just don't know how you do it/You're awesome/He's awesome/I can't even imagine/God-blah-blah-blah what you can handle.

I listen, I nod, I'm mostly silent. I secretly count the number of times the conversation winds back to the woes and tribulations of my dinner companions. I hear the problems of their typically-developing children.

Haircuts, potty-training, tricycles, Too Much Netflix, skinned knees, runny noses, trips to Florida, back to school shopping. 

Nobody prepares you for how painful an innocuous list of normal parenting stuff will sound.

Tired? Really? You're tired. Try sleeping on a shitty hospital cot for even ONE night. You wouldn't be able to do it. I just know you couldn't handle it. Not the way I handle it.

I try to remind myself that things are just different for me now. I can't listen to another parent complain about snow or new glasses or ear infections. But I'm so good, an expert really, at placating the gnawing urge to crawl under the table. 

I listen, I nod, I'm mostly silent. And I still hope they invite me again.

Tuesday, November 17

Top 5 Reasons Why I'm Super-Excited to Spend the Holidays in the Hospital

My son, Branko, can accurately be described as medically fragile. The rap sheet for all the scary stuff that's happened to his body is beginning to sound fictitious: multiple fractured femurs, pneumonia, lung failure, rodding surgeries, and more. My husband and I have spent an extraordinary amount of time in the hospital with him. While most people would rather experience a rapid succession of mouthburn induced from piping hot pizza than a night in a children's hospital, it's become our reality, one that we can't change any time soon.
First (Hospital) Photo with Santa!

Branko's next surgery is conveniently scheduled for the middle of December. He will have brand-spanking-new rods put in his lower leg bones and left thigh bone. Before you feel sorry for us and get all oh-my-goodness-I-can't-imagine-the-horror-Can-I mail-you-a-gift-immediately, please understand that any holiday, especially the big kahunas like Christmas and New Year's Eve, are the most perfect times to be stuck in the hospital. Even though it was difficult to narrow down my list of the hundreds of things that are just super awesome about staying in the hospital during the holidays, I was successful in culling my top 5 for you:

1) Parking Becomes Slightly Less Awful.
I usually cringe with horror when I enter the parking garage of our hospital, which is located in the heart of a major metropolitan city. You see, the parking rates are actually pretty great compared to the 3 million dollars per day charged at most of the other lots. This means that our parking garage, which is supposed to be reserved for patients, is always full. Always. It's a nightmare. Even with an Accessible Parking pass - aka the best thing to happen to my stress levels in 5 years - we rarely find a spot.

But something magical and downright spirit o' Christmas-y happens to our downtown core towards the end of December: People Disappear! This is the only time of year when I don't have to circle the garage like a vulture, slowly and awkwardly following pedestrians to their vehicles. I especially appreciate not having to stifle my urge to yell "could you go any slower?" at snail-paced stroller folding.

2) Celebrity Sitings! 
I live in Canada, so my chance of a celebrity siting is much lower than yours, America. But, if you play your cards right/have a medically complex baby, CANADIANS CAN MEET CELEBRITIES TOO.

Everyone knows how famous people love to be seen with all the sick children of the world. Two years ago, after my son had a cardiac arrest, my family got to meet Rob Ford, the infamous crack-smoking former mayor of Toronto, in our hospital lobby. While meeting Rob Ford didn't quite alleviate all the pain, fear, anxiety, and splashes of PTSD that went along with almost losing my son, it was still so exciting. I never meet anyone famous!

3) Saying No Thank You to New Year's Eve Shenanigans.
By far, the best by-product of having a sick child is saying "nothing" when people ask what I'm doing for New Year's Eve. It's much preferable to just sit in a stuffy hospital room consuming KFC and chardonnay instead of seeing my closest friends. I look forward to sleeping on a vinyl cot/torture device while my friends are out dancing and laughing and having a pretty great time.

I will especially appreciate the nurse's sad Tommy-Lee-Jones-eyes after she informs me the hospital won't allow two cots in the room, meaning husband and I will be forced to spend our first New Year's apart in ten years. And while I sit alone, covered in chicken grease and cursing myself for running out of chardonnay, I will definitely remember to tell myself over and over: at least I'm not out in the cold waiting for a cab! And the more I say it, the more I might even believe it.

4) The Ultimate Excuse to Avoid Every Annoying Thing About the Holidays. 
Being stuck in the hospital caring for a sick child absolves parents of all responsibility with the outside world. Finally, I can confidently say "no thank you" to lavish holiday parties, warm hugs from family and friends, and especially, buying nice things for the people I love. Blech! Gross.

5) No Line at the Hospital Cafeteria.
This is anyone's dream come true. Since there are usually fewer people around during the holidays, there's rarely a line. Instead of waiting 10 minutes to pay for my fifth bag of Doritos that day, I might wait only 7 or 8. In addition to reduced line-ups, I will especially appreciate the random holiday hours. Even though I have no comprehension of why they need to close at 4 pm on December 23rd and then 3 pm on December 24th, I like the added challenge of having to race downstairs before the doors lock. (It's called cardio, people.)

I feel like I need to apologize. Here I go again, bragging about all the wonderful perks and special treatment us hospital parents get during the month of December. I should really stop trying to make everyone jealous of this glamourous life I lead. I would never want to be one of "those" moms.

Forgive me?