I watched my son walk away down the clinic hallway. I’d tied the gown in the back as tightly as I could but there was still a gap, and I could see his shoulder blades and plaid boxers. On his feet were bright blue socks that the nurse had given him. Walking beside him was the anesthesiologist, a woman a bit older than me who I liked because she hadn’t babied him. He is ten going on twenty; he doesn’t need babying.
He looked back and I waved. I kept looking but then my phone slipped out of my hand, and I bent to pick it up. When I looked again, the double doors had closed behind him.
I sat in the recovery room waiting – talking to Chris about the house and trips, about the possibility of summer and the realities of work. I deleted messages from my phone and sipped super strong black tea. Out of the sliding glass doors that reminded me of the hotel room at Adventureland where we stayed when I was six, doors that I’d run into two or even three times in a weekend causing my parents to laugh and call me a klutz, I saw a gurney.
Tobey’s eyes were closed. I took his hand and they opened, grey-blue and tired. We’d gotten up at 5:30 and he’d just had surgery on his foot. Of course he was tired. His face was chalky white. It’s been below zero for days; outside it’s blowing snow over colorless ice and tufts of lifeless grass. We’re all pale. But he looked drained. I thought of his lively soul – witty, curious, insouciant, and yet sweet. It seemed like his body was there but Tobey hadn’t entirely arrived yet. Where are you my love?
In the next hour, he managed a few sips of Sprite and a bite of applesauce. His skin tone returned to normal January white instead of creepy sick gray. He still seemed to be nodding off, but as the nurse went through the aftercare instructions, he opened his eyes and thanked her. When another nurse wheeled him out of the clinic, pushing as slowly as he’d requested, he thanked her too. Genuine, heartfelt gratitude from a kid who had just had two fused bones separated.
You see your kids every day and if you’re like me there are plenty of times when you think, “Am I doing this right? Am I messing up?” Tobey doesn’t jump up to help with the groceries when I come home weighted down with bags. He can spend hours on Minecraft – which, yes, I allow with a guilty conscience. He swears. He doesn’t always brush his teeth. He sometimes has to be cajoled into reading.
When I heard Tobey thanking these women, it felt as if his truest self was there – a solid, confident and very kind soul. Both nurses melted a bit, grateful to be recognized by a boy sporting a mammoth ace bandage and with a vomit bag laid across his lap “just in case.” It wasn’t a thank you prompted by a parent but the real deal, what thank you’s are at their best. Not perfunctory but one soul recognizing another.
Tonight, at the end of my yoga class , I pressed my hands against my chest and felt the rise and fall. What amazing contraptions bodies are – able to be cut open and put to sleep, woken back up, drugged and iced, kissed and massaged. And beneath the skin and bones: the heart. Beyond the skin and bones: the spirit. Mind boggling when you stop to really notice it.
I got home to find Tobey propped on the sofa watching an old Star Trek, his foot elevated on a stack of pillows. “Hi mom!” he said, clearly glad to have me home. The mom part of me kissed his head. But another part sat down next to him with total respect for his journey. How he picked me, I’ll never know. But what an amazing gift he is. Thank you.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable. – Kahlil Gibran