It was two-thirty a.m. and my son was feeling no pain having been given a nasal sedative an hour earlier so that he would be still for the emergency room nurses to place an IV catheter in his arm. The lights were off in our bay and the thin curtain was drawn. There were probably ten staff members on duty and they were passing the time telling war stories at the nurse’s station. There was that three-year-old who got his penis stuck in a bottle.
“Those crazy, wild toddler-sex acts,” a doctor chortled.
“How did you get the bottle off?” someone asked. (They used some sort of fancy well-loved cutters. Dad was terribly embarrassed.)
Then there was that kid who spit in Dr. So-and-so’s face. Doc So-and-so got in the kid’s face all feisty-like, “you shoulda seen that, man. It was a side of her I’ve never seen. Hilarious.”
“Remember that kid who bit me?”
“Did you bite him back?”
“No, I punched him in the face.”
“Hahahahaha,” the laughter echoed hollowly through the other bays, all of which were then empty.
It would be several hours before we would be settled into a hospital room where I could sleep on a vinyl fold-out chair. I had been sitting on the same uncomfortable stool, draped over the bed rail stroking my son’s hair or arm, in the same curtained antiseptic-scented cave for hours. The immature (and hopefully somewhat skilled) hospital staff were telling their inappropriate stories so loudly that my droopy son’s eyes kept fluttering open, but I was too weary to care.
I was thinking of how things might be arranged next day so I wouldn’t have to miss my daughter’s special day in church. It was Youth Sunday and she was to give a personal statement and be formally dedicated to the church in a ceremony which always makes me cry even when it isn’t my own child on the dais.
The next day I couldn’t leave my son who was limp on the hard, high hospital bed, speckled, scratching, swollen, and scared. The hour approached for the service to begin, and I was found pacing the hallway outside my groggy son’s door making calls to arrange for someone to cover my Sunday school teaching obligation. I watched the numbers change on my phone’s time display. She was probably speaking already. I was still waiting for the doctor to see my son, who was feeling somewhat better, but was still splotchy, itchy, and puffy. I looked at my phone again. A church friend had sent a photograph from his smartphone of my daughter standing with the minister in the dedication ceremony. She was smiling. I dissolved into tears.
Before I even left my husband, I was already well on my way to single parenthood. Early in our family life, Ex was in law school, and after that he had a long commute for longer hours at the office (many spent masturbating). One day with young, sick, fussing children and worn patience, the kids began to quarrel and shove over who got the lap. I wasn’t a person anymore, I was a piece of need-meeting furniture, the lap. This has been among the most heart-rending and sorrowful parts of my experience as a single mother; feeling torn asunder by the competing needs of children who can’t yet understand that I’m a person, too. There is one of me and I am always outnumbered. Nightly, we practice determining who needs most at homework time, whose needs have priority on any given evening and they are rarely, if ever, mine. We have to work out who gets my energies, who gets the lap. It wasn’t the Mother’s Day I had planned, one son was in the hospital, wheezing, on my girl’s special day. My daughter was disappointed, but she understood. She nearly always does, which is heartbreaking.
My cell phone rang a hour later. It was Little Man, “I don’t need my sister to take care of me, I need someone who knows how to run a household.” (She was only left “in charge” for part of an afternoon.)
No doubt, the house is a shambles and the kids are feeling insecure and afraid, but my son is better. He is showering and we are going home. Mother’s Day is over, but the mothering days are seemingly without end.
Thank you to all those who called, visited, or left kind messages of one sort or another, and to the friends who took photographs and video on Sunday, to those who stood in and helped out. It has buoyed all our spirits to know that we are loved.