“You’ll be breathing through a mask like this. You can put stickers on it if you want. And when your surgery is over, you can take it home with you.”
To say I had mixed emotions about Liam’s pre-surgery prep class is a bit of an understatement. I sat perfectly still looking forward, perhaps subconsciously thinking if I didn’t move, my face wouldn’t give away the rush of thoughts that were entering my mind.
I looked around the room. Liam looked tiny compared to the other children. Liam rarely looks tiny. He is very large for his age. I am used to seeing him in the company of his younger brother. He’s the big kid, Kellen is the baby. But in this setting, he just seemed so small, clutching his Curious George doll for comfort. He hadn’t wanted to come to the class. He had been napping and I woke him so we could attend. He was still wearing his pajamas and a faded white t-shirt I had drawn robots on during his robot phase. The nurses commented on how adorable he looked, what great fashion sense he had. He began to eat up the attention.
We viewed a very outdated film about a puppet having surgery. The other kids were too old to enjoy it; they rolled their eyes to visually demonstrate to their parents how lame it was. But Liam was smiling ear to ear. I reminded myself that my first surgery was when Liam was born. He will be just three years old when he has his first surgery.
I was overreacting a bit. It is an outpatient surgery. He’ll be home and tormenting his brother by the afternoon. I am not really frightened about the surgery (although I will be very glad when it’s over and I know he’s ok.) It’s that as his mother, I am programmed to never want to see him hurt or scared or worried. For some reason, I thought they would let me be in the room when they gave him the meds to ease him to sleep. Instead, he will be awake when they take him to the operating room. He’s excited because he gets to drive a toy car down to the room. But what happens when he gets in that room with the huge lights and instruments, and his mommy isn’t there to comfort him? Will he cry and call for me? Or will it continue to seem like the fun adventure the hospital is making it out to be?
I cannot be there to hold his hand through every experience. Just today on the playground, Liam politely asked a little girl if she would share her crackers with him. She had a whole box and her mother had told her to share them a few moments prior. But she actually looked Liam up and down, sizing him up, and replied “no.” Liam turned and gave me a look of disbelief, relaying to me that he HAD asked her nicely. I shrugged and told him we’d have a snack at home. Later, the same girl advised the other kids that Liam was a horrible monster and they should run from him. Liam didn’t care- he thought it was a game. But I wanted to grab that little four year old, shake her and yell “you be nice to my boy!!”
Instead, I started talking to another mom. Her child had started at Liam’s preschool just a few days earlier, and I was not acquainted with her yet. I had initially judged her as being one of those perky Texas cheerleader types, whose smile comes across as REALLY tense instead of warm and inviting. I mentioned that Liam was having surgery and she asked what kind. We chatted for a few moments and then she let it slip that her son, Kevin, had been through all kinds of surgeries. He lifted his shirt to show me his “special belly button”- a port where a feeding tube could be inserted.
Sounds cliché, bordering on a very special episode, but I internally switched gears and became thankful for my situation. I don’t know if he’s going to cry when he enters the operating room. I can’t say if he’ll wish I was there. But I am blessed that with any luck, he’ll go through this once, and be back to negotiating making friends on the playground. Maybe my grin is a bit more at ease than that other mom’s, but I have no idea what it is like to deal with trying to engage your child in normal school activities while wondering if he is going to have another surgery.
Kevin fell climbing on the playground equipment today, and at first, she took a normal “shake it off” attitude. But as he continued to lay there, she calmly went over to check him and make sure he had not had a seizure. She didn’t even really seem worried about it- it was just par for the course. I’m stunned and shaking my head just remembering it. What must my life seem like to her? My stress would feel like a vacation.
Hold those little ones close to you. Thank the stars that they are in your arms. Keep a positive thought for my Liam on the day of his surgery, but mostly send that energy out to the kids and parents who really need it. Stay strong, mamas, stay strong.