Deep, deep sigh.
Here I sit, our last night at the Ritz-Carlton, our last night in Philadelphia. We've spent tonight packing, watching the end of the Olympics, eating dinner, and saying goodbye to our RC friends. It's bittersweet, surprisingly enough.
This has been an extraordinary journey. Bringing Ben here for a surgery we were feeling both hope and dread about was beyond hard. Without the care of Shriners, the Ritz-Carlton, the VBS forum, the internet, and our friends and family it would have been a long and lonely experience. Instead, this has been a healing journey complete with attention, tenderness, smiles, room service, calls, emails, long baths, adventures, and hugs both virtual and real. Tomorrow we leave feeling so tended to, so cared for (so sad to leave, in fact!). And with a straighter spine (in at least one of us)!
The last couple days we’ve been coming to grips with the end of this adventure. Ben has been feeling pretty well. Mornings are harder than later (but, heck, they’re harder for me, too!) and he’s needed less and less medication to still the pain. Even so, he still has occasional muscle spasms that send him to tears. He has perfected the helpless child routine, as well. Our poor old middle child has loved having mama and dada to himself (and to do his bidding) and I’m sure when reality hits back home it won’t be pretty. He’s also loved having the celebrity status that has encircled him here. I would love to tell you about every time he got the royal treatment, but I can’t…there were too many times! Today, though, he was truly blue and very cranky. He was sullen and uncooperative until I asked him if he was sad about leaving Philadelphia. He nodded his head and said he didn’t actually want to go home, he just wanted all his friends and family to come live here with him. He is going to miss the ritzy life and he’s going to miss Dan (the concierge) and all of our friends here at the hotel. The royal treatment, I have to agree, is beyond belief.
I don’t know what this place is, but it surely isn’t like any hotel I’ve ever experienced before. Clearly, something happens behind the scenes at the RC that is all about taking care of the guests. Every single person here has smiled at us with the most genuine of smiles. We have developed personal relationships with so many of the staff. My mom teased me tonight that I could write their biographies. (Dan, the concierge is out tonight with his mom for her birthday which he’s going to miss next week because he’ll be in Hawaii with his girlfriend. Kylie from the front desk celebrated her mom’s birthday today with a brunch in her teeny-tiny studio apartment. Violetta, our housekeeper, returned home tonight with a bag of yarn from me, knitting being something we bonded over these past two weeks.) I know it’s not all them, I know that some of this has to do with us. We are real, we care about people, too. But, honestly, they all started out with a directive, I’m sure of it, to treat Ben (and his parents) with the utmost of care and concern, to tend to his every need and desire. And they don’t just deliver. They clearly mean it, too.
Violetta and me
Kylie and James (concierge) and Ben
Two days ago I sought out Mike Walsh, the General Manager, to thank him for everything. Our conversation started with an update about Ben and his surgery and Mike shared with me about his niece’s spinal fusion surgery that took place in December. When I started in on my “thank you’s” (thank you for making this possible, thank you for having such a great staff, thank you for your generosity, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you…) I got choked up and said, “I don’t know if I can say this without crying.” And he said, “Now don’t do that, you’ll make me cry!” and sure enough, his eyes filled up with tears. What a mensch. I mean, really. This place is incredible. I told him what I just told you. I told him that we were made to feel like family here. He interrupted me then. “You are our family now,” he said. And then he told me that if and when we need to return to Philadelphia we are to contact him first and we will get exactly the same treatment, the same price, everything. He said that the Ritz-Carlton takes care of all of their clients, the conventions, the patrons at the restaurant, the hotel guests, but our story, our experience is what they call a “Wow Story.” It’s apparently, what the RC is all about. They are the Wow Story, though, in my opinion. Wow, is about all I can say.
Two days ago we had dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, 10Arts. It’s very chic, great menu. When we were seated our lovely waiter, Joseph, brought Ben a pillow for his back. He called Ben by name (Ben's fame precedes him, we've noticed). We had our meal, ate almost every bite. We were stuffed by the end, but Ben insisted on dessert, so he ordered bread pudding. Out came the bread pudding and then…out came THREE. MORE. DESSERTS. The chef comped us three desserts. They just wanted us to taste it all. We managed to squeeze it all in (ohhhh, I was soooo full! But how could I be rude and turn it down?!). One of the desserts included something exquisite, something I’d never tasted before that was so delicious: passion fruit marshmallows. So sweet and tart and fresh. A marshmallow! Amazing. So, last night we went down to the restaurant just for dessert. I had to have another passion fruit marshmallow. But, lo and behold, they were all out. Oh boo! I wept faux tears. The waitress, Olena, felt so bad for me but I laughed. That’s just the way things go, of course. We had something else delicious instead, something with blood oranges. And chocolate beignets. Mmmm. Mark, clairvoyant as usual, said, “They’ll probably make us up a little bag of those marshmallows for our flight home.” Well, who should come knocking on our door tonight, but Olena, with two plates of dessert: 12 passion fruit marshmallows, passion fruit sorbet, a mini passion fruit cupcake, and a large marshmallow blob covered in candied pistachios! In the center was a ribbon of chocolate with the words “Fondest Wishes” in icing script. I tell you people, we are going to miss this treatment!
Olena, with the tasty passion fruit marshmallows!
I’m so glad we decided to stay a couple extra days. Yesterday Ben was definitely not ready physically to tackle a day of travel across the country. (We spent a lovely afternoon with cousin Hana and her husband Ira who live nearby in a suburb of Philadelphia.) But tomorrow will be easier for him. We will dose him up heavily with pain meds and hopefully the trip will be easy for him. We fly from Philadelphia to Phoenix and then Phoenix to Oakland. A wheelchair will meet us at the curb and take us to the gate. The break in the middle will give him a chance to stretch his legs, a good thing. My sister, Mara, will pick us up at the airport and drive us home. Thank you, Mara!!! The boys and my mom will be waiting for us in Sebastopol…everyone is looking forward to the reunion.
Hana, Ira, Ben and me
And soon enough this will all be just a memory.
But, we’ll be back, for our second Wow Story. And amazingly enough, we’re looking forward to it.