Friday, March 14

Expect the (Hard) Unexpected

Dear Jacob,

These are some things in my life that I've never fully adjusted to:

  1. Having a son in high school.  
  2. Causing an accident that could have killed your brothers.
  3. Lying to my boss once.
  4. Getting kicked out of my church.
  5. Having a husband without two toes.

I know I haven't adjusted because when I think of them all I get a little short of breath and I feel some remorse or some fear. Any one of them would be a good story to tell you and maybe I'll use that list for future reference.

(As if I need a list; these things are locked in my memory, Buddy.)

None of them are things I wanted.  Except that son in high school part. I actually love that you're in high school because I always thought I'd be a better mother to teenagers than I was to toddlers.  Don't get me wrong, I was just looking at pictures of you guys when you were little and it made me smile, big and silly, while working in the library today.  But before, and just after, you were born we'd always worked with youth groups so I thought I'd be a natural at parenting someone who might attend a youth group. (And you can just let me keep thinking that, okay?)  The part that I never wanted was for you to be gone one day and we both know that high school is really just this slick funnel that spits you out into college so that's the thing that makes me short of breath.  And a little sweaty.


The day Dad lost his toes, I was six months pregnant with Sam, wearing a pink maternity shirt and some tan capri pants. My outfit is lodged. in. my. brain. I was busy at work in the bonus room where I was putting away and sorting through all of the school supplies and curriculum we'd used that year. We were done for the summer and I had my head down, focused and intent on rectifying that mess. Dad was out back mowing the lawn, which was not very big but it was prolific as is all grass in the Pacific Northwest.

I remember what Dad was wearing too: thick, leather boots to start and a hospital gown to finish. When he yelled for me he had to do it a few times because 1. I was upstairs facing the front of the house.  2. I was focused. 3. I'm a little deaf.  But when I heard him, I instantly knew what was up because Dad doesn't usually yell for me. He comes and finds me. I love that about your dad.  My body knew what was up and that means that Sam's body was clued in too. Maybe that extra adrenaline rush I had that third day of June is what makes him so chill today; that boy experienced fear before he even came out.

Outside, Dad hopped over to the deck while grasping his booted foot, sat and looked at it and he, the bleeding man, gave me instructions. "Grab a towel. Grab my phone. We need to go to the hospital.  I can't fix this at home." We left you boys with Grandma Lou, terribly confused and, Ben in particular, very afraid, and left.

As I drove I had to figure out exactly where I was going.  I knew how to get to the hospital (pregnant ladies memorize that route), but how bad was Dad's foot?  I had to ask him, while he sat breathing deeply next to me with a death grip on his foot, and I decided that blood and gore was probably emergency room worthy.

When Dad let go, he swooned and was promptly pumped full of pain meds. He was in this condition when the ER doctor laid out the options and when, in the end, Dad had to say, "Ok. Let's cut them off."

How do you do that?  How do you make the instant choice to permanently remove a part of your body that won't ever return? Your dad is amazing, but I knew he wanted to cry. And this whole time, I was just in an emotional buzz because of what was charging through my body and I was sort of sitting outside myself staring down at the ridiculousness of the situation. Other people might cut their toes off in a lawn mower, but your Dad was -- and is -- pretty astute and orderly and conscientious. I was sitting in that crazy place of the now and the not yet, that place just before you know many, many things will change before you could see them coming.

When they wheeled Dad into surgery, they handed me what they call 'incidentals.'  It's a big plastic bag of all the things a patient walks into the hospital with but can't have again until they're ready to go home. Wedding rings and everything. I had a bag like this once before in my hands, the day of Mema's heart surgery.  So you can probably guess that when Dad's gurney was gone through those double doors I completely lost it.

As I walked down a hallway-that-would-never-end to the post-op waiting room I cried over Dad's toes.  I'd married him with those toes, hiked mountains with those toes, went to the beach with those toes and made footprints in the sand. I cried for you guys who'd have a father forever altered and now with wickedly bad balance (I assumed).  I cried for me because I had to care for him and I couldn't lift him because the baby was enough to strain my groin. And I cried a little for Mema too on account of that bag.  When I got to the waiting room the T.V. was on and the movie showing was Jaws.  Ridiculous.

You know how it ended up.  Dad's pretty fine and he has balance after all. We had friends around us who gave him new nicknames right away in the waiting room and showed up at our house with dinner and chocolate chip cookies.  We inducted Dad into an Evergreen (our church) Amputee's Club, along with Tom the woodworker who is missing several fingertips and Tarver who elected to cut off his leg years after he met up with an some supercharged power lines. Tarver was president, because just a few weeks later Dad was going to get to walk on both legs again.

There's so much of this story that I never wanted.  I never wanted to be six months pregnant with Sam and sent into an emotionally charged situation that would alter your dad forever.  I never wanted to be afraid to touch his feet.  I never wanted to brace my heart every time he groans after kicking his bare toe-stubs on the stairs. And I never wanted to have to console you guys on my own when I left him overnight and came home alone.

You guys responded so differently.  Ben's tearful question was, "Why did Daddy do that?!"  Your angry statement was "I'm so mad at Dad for doing that!"  Ben needed reassurance.  You needed facts:  how it happened step-by-step. And I had to adjust to each of you and let you feel what you needed to feel and be as complete as I could be in the moment.

What was difficult for you, and I think is difficult in other situations even now, is that you couldn't expect the unexpected. You are orderly and precise like your dad, all except your room -- in that respect you're more like me -- and you thrive on structure and knowing what's next.  I wish I could tell you what will happen for you.  But all I can say is, "Maybe."  Maybe you'll have a great Junior and Senior year and get a full ride scholarship to college.   Maybe you'll go to Colorado Film School after a fifth year of high school.  Maybe you'll drive one day. Maybe not. Maybe you'll have a beater first car and a sweet first girlfriend.  Maybe you'll work during the summer and earn money for said car and girlfriend.  Maybe.

Or maybe you'll get really sick and have to go through a lot of medical treatments.  Maybe you'll get in an accident and hurt your brain.  Maybe you'll make some bad choices like trying drugs, or watching porn or cheating on tests in school.  Maybe you'll be the victim of some crime I'm not even going to try to imagine.  Or maybe one day you'll get lost and we'll never find you.  Anything can happen. And this is the stuff Mom's fear.  Right there.  All of it.

When you were born I sat up in the hospital bed with all six pounds eleven ounces of you + blanket in my arms, and I told God, "As cute as he is, as much as I want to be the best Mom I can be for him, I know he belongs to you, not me. And I promise you I'll do my best to be the Mom he needs me to be so that one day he'll know without a doubt that he's safer in your arms than he is in mine."

And you know what?  You are. But that doesn't mean that unexpected things won't surprise and change us. There's probably some very un-fun things in the future and we have to expect that life will, in fact, be hard. If it's easy, we are just blessed.  But if we keep waking up, we need to do the best waking up we can do.  And we need to do our best to help others wake up too.  Because if the hard things don't happen to us, they'll happen to someone else.  And there but by the grace of God, go I.