Tuesday, December 11, 2012


The other night I dressed up fancy and took Toby to his first Holiday dance with Nordquist, the ballroom dance program that he just started in October and that Harry was a part of for the four years previous. Harry came with us, spiffed out in his Steampunk bowler and goggles, vest and bow tie. Toby was in his suit, with the addition of pocket bling (a silky blue hankerchief). It was lovely to watch my youngest man dancing the box step with adorable little girls (and some bigger ones, too) in stockings, white gloves and pretty dresses. He even danced with me (as did Harry, who spent the evening tripping the light fantastic with old friends). A treat.

The truth is, what I really wanted to do that night, the night after returning home with Mark and Ben from Los Angeles, was to curl up in a ball under a big cozy quilt with my whole family and fall asleep. I didn’t want to have to make small talk. I didn’t want to have to go out in the world. I didn’t want to think or be polite. But, I did it anyways…being a mama oftentimes (I almost said sometimes—ha!) requires me to do what needs to be done, rather than what I’d prefer to do.

The aftereffects of Ben’s latest hospital drama are so familiar, and this time, rather than push through and do everything, I am trying to honor the messages from my mind and body as much as I can. I have thought so many times in the past seven years about the time post-brain surgery when I looked back first at about a month, then three months, then six and so on, each time thinking, “Sure is amazing how well I thought I was doing last time I checked. Now, I’m doing so much better!” Each time I realized with greater clarity how far I had come, and how long the process actually was. Saturday night at Nordquist, after telling an old friend about what we’d just been through, she said, “But…but…you look great!” Meaning, “How come you don’t look beaten down and falling apart?”

Friday Ben and Mark and I flew into Oakland from LA. Ben insisted that we stop in Chinatown on our way home to pick up dim sum from a few of the Chinese deli’s there. Mark raised our boys on all the treats in those shops and since moving away from the Bay Area, our family finds any time passing through Oakland to be a time to stop in Chinatown and fill up a cooler with shumai and pork buns. (Did I mention that Sonoma county has a dearth of good Asian food?) We arrived home a couple hours later laden with pink and white bakery boxes and all sat down at the table for dinner. The brothers had a joyful reunion, everyone wanted to sit near each other, there was so much smiling and laughing, and I was full of relief and love.

About an hour later, everyone had dispersed to their various chill time activities and Facebook updates, and Harry came to tell me, eyes brimming with tears, how upset he was that Ben had already started being harsh with Toby who was only wanting to hang out with him while Ben played his new video game. There had been a lot of bickering before all of this unraveled a week and a half before, and Harry was despondent that, “We’ve just gone right back to all that arguing. Why can’t Ben be nice? Toby and I didn’t fight the whole time he was gone!” It came out after a bit of unpeeling, that Harry was feeling quite blue and he didn’t know why.

Another hour later and Toby came to see me, eyes brimming with tears, unhappy that Ben had excluded him from a game he was playing, that he’d promised to play with him. More than anything he wanted Ben to spend time with him.

I went down to see Ben, but my heart was torn. I completely understood Toby and Harry’s grief after over a week of worrying about their brother, wanting nothing more than a nice, long, happy connection. I also felt that Ben, who had his birthday ripped right out of his hands when his surgical wound started leaking, who had just spent a week in the hospital and had had two surgeries, deserved the space to call his own shots, play anything he wanted, with or without whomever he wanted and not have to worry about anyone else’s needs. And, I also understood that Harry and Toby had held it all in and together for the five days they were on their own while I was in LA (I stayed past the two days I’d originally planned to stay AND in the process missed Harry’s 19th birthday) and they had to let those feelings, those very BIG feelings, out. Thank goodness Mama came home! Somewhere to unload!

I held all of their hearts tenderly in my hands. I listened and hugged and respected their wants and needs, while trying to help them see each others’ perspectives. I listened to Ben when he said Toby was spoiling the story line in his game and helped him to see that his brothers just missed him so terribly that they wanted to play with him. I encouraged him to make some time, in the future, to be with them. I helped Harry unravel the conflicting feelings he had about his birthday being missed by the family, about having to grow up and be an adult before he felt completely ready (which he did, by the way, with flying colors), and about the let down following such a huge and traumatic event.

And after sharing this story with a dear friend she said, “Well, no wonder you’re exhausted!”

Mark and I have come home and collapsed every night since Friday. We’ve hit the hot tub every morning and evening. My body is aching like I was in a car accident: neck, shoulders, back, hips, hands, arms, head. My gut feels bloated and of course, chocolate has been on the menu a bit too much. I suppose I have been in an accident. An emotional car wreck. It’s amazing I’m not black and blue.

I could keep writing and tell you about the week at Shriners LA. I could tell you about our wonderful surgeon there, Dr. Cho. I could tell you about the nurses and our family and friends surrounding us with love and care. But that will have to wait for another time.

For now, I will go rest and nurture myself and my kids and save my energy for healing.

Harry dancing with a friend Saturday night.
Toby dancing with his mama. So sweet!