I am sitting in the parent lounge at Shriners. It’s about 9 am, I gave Ben a kiss and we sent him off to the OR about an hour ago. You might say Mark and I are troopers…being brave for our kid…but really, Ben’s the trooper.
I feel like there is so much to tell you, the moments that were standouts over the past day and a half, and yet you don’t want just a chronology of events, do you? Writing is therapy for me, though, so I may just tell you what I observed.
Ben is amazing. But I guess you knew that. (In fact, all three of my boys are. The reports I’m getting from the folks caring for Harry and Toby back in Sebastopol warm me, buoy me. They are who they are and apparently who they are is pretty beautiful. My cousin Ruth told me today to call her whenever I doubt that, and for those of you with teenagers, you know those moments do tend to pop up. But in the crunch times, it’s so good to hear they are being caring, responsible, compassionate, and real.)
But Ben is tough. He hangs in there through the dark and the light. This trip is such a double-edged sword for him. A host of contrasts. The Ritz-Carlton/the OR. Bubble baths/sponge baths. Philly cheese steaks/hospital slop. Happy, cheerful, upbeat/blue, scared, anxious. Lots of attention/major surgery. We kidded him about how hard he had to work to get some “only child” time with us. Everyone’s been asking him, “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” and when he tells them one older and one younger brother they reply: “Oh, so you’re the guy in the middle.” This place in the sibling constellation has never been easy for him. I think he hated it from the time Toby was born. Poor Toby, it wasn’t his fault. So, our middle child is the one with all the medical issues…and thus he gets Mama and Dada to himself for a while.
The past 36 hours have been full of those contrasts. The red carpet treatment at the Ritz-Carlton helped relax Ben the night before we checked into the hospital. But as soon as we tucked in for the night his anxiety levels rose. I snuggled into bed with him and asked him to tell me about his “Safe, Quiet Place,” the place I have him “go to” when he is stressed or anxious. We’ve been focusing a lot on its details of late so that we could easily go there at the hospital in the stressful or painful moments. There will be many, it’s just the nature of the beast. And we know this from experience.
His SQP is a beach house somewhere tropical with sand, blue skies, surfers, and whales splashing in the surf. A sandcastle contest and palm trees on the beach top off the exterior. Inside it’s every boy’s dream with comfy furniture, a foosball table, a pool table, every video game device known to mankind, a loft bed in the bedroom, a maid making dinner, and a butler to tend to your every need. His friends are all there for a tour and a celebration.
Telling me all about it was distracting, but also too invigorating for midnight, so I got him to quiet down, visualize his SQP in his head and he relaxed, settled down, and fell asleep pretty easily. He slept well all night, even late into the morning. I, on the other hand, had a fitful night, my SQP isn’t working for me and I instead went to my WFP (my Worried, Fearful Place). There I was distracted by images of my baby post surgery, coming out of anesthesia, the knowns and unknowns of what lies ahead.
We ventured out to the Reading Terminal Market for brunch…the greatest place to find good eats and a short walk from our hotel. It’s a real scene. Much like the Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo in Florence, it is filled with colors and smells, sounds, and a unique hustle bustle energy. Food vendors, book sellers, Amish farmers, and chatchkie purveyors have stalls inside the old Reading Railroad Terminal Station (if you know your Monopoly you’ll recognize the name…and by the way, it’s pronounced “redding”). We had some favorites the last time we were in Philly and headed straight to them: the Thai food stall for Ben and Tommy Dimic’s sandwich counter for Mark and I. Yum is all I can say.
Returning to the hotel, meant getting one step closer to The Hospital, and his mood switched to subdued. He hopped back in the tub for another bubble bath and Mark and I packed sweats, pajama bottoms, slippers, a few of Mark’s Hawaiian shirts (because they open in the front) for Ben, some clothes for Mark and lots of technology for both of them to take to the hospital. By 2:45 pm we were in a taxi on our way there.