BY: Kathleen E Frey
When my third son was born, the expression on the nurses’ faces told me something wasn’t right. I instantly panicked and they saw. The doctor reassured me he was okay, and he was. But, he did have a club foot. When they told my husband and I this was the case, I sighed with relief that he was strong and breathing. I smiled and held his tiny, purple, curled foot in the palm of my hand. I told him he was perfect and loved. All of this is true and beautiful.
It is also true, and brutal, that his condition caused him much discomfort and pain throughout his infancy. The process of casting, surgery, and bracing began when he was just three weeks old. All babies cry, but not all babies sob as my son did. We cried very much and slept very little for two years worth of nights. My husband and I didn’t feel capable of functioning with such a sleep deficit, but somehow you do, and somehow we did. If my first son made me a mom, and my second made me a multitasker, then my third definitely made me resilient. I have yet to see what number four will make of me. As I recall those long nights, my muscle memory kicks in. There’s a deep ache in my shoulders and a heaviness on my chest…
He whimpers in his sleep as I pat his diaper softly and whisper, “ it’s okay, it’s okay”. This isn’t the truth. It isn’t okay. He hurts and I’m helpless, which means I hurt as well. I would embody his pain to take it away. Any mother would do the same. I ask God to bring him comfort and a few hours of peaceful sleep. Strengthen me, so I can be who he needs me to be. No, it is not okay. And it feels like it will be not okay forever. But, this isn’t the case.
This is temporary. I repeat the mantra that has carried me through so many tough times, reassuring myself that someday he will no longer have to deal with this pain. I will no longer have to stand by feeling powerless, watching him suffer. The discomfort is “normal” and part of the process of making him stronger, so he can reach his full potential. Yes, his disfigured foot is a temporary condition. Thankfully, modern day doctors and technology have the answers to make that happen. In the not-too-distant past, my son would be unable to walk normally or without pain. Just this patch was rough, right? Just this time I was powerless, right? Just this experience would reap pain and discomfort to sow strength in my boy…right? Oh, so very wrong was I.
Turns out, there would always and will always be trials in his life, and therefore, in mine as well. Teething, bruises and bumps and scrapes, hurt feelings, bullies, rejection, insecurities, broken hearts, betrayals, grief. Correcting his tiny foot was just one of the hard parts, and not even his first. Birth itself is a trauma—a miraculous, beautiful and brutal trauma. Turns out, it’s not only the “hard stuff” that is temporary either. Sometimes, I think this hurts more than anything else.
The worst of this particular ordeal is over. My son now runs and jumps and climbs like a typical 3-year-old can and should. He can kick a ball (and his big brothers’ shins). He can splash in the water and ride a bike and cuddle up to me at night. No more cold, heavy bars hold him stationary. If he has a bad dream, he can get up and walk to my room.
I think back to those eternal nights, when all I could do was hold him tightly against my chest. Our cheeks pressed together, our back-and-forth sway to the static of the bathroom fan, the music to our slow, slow, slow dance. Closing my eyes, pretending actual rest, hoping my “shh shh shh” will remind him of the cozy home he had for nine long months. Feeling our hearts play patty-cake against one another. Smelling the sweetness of his sweaty head. The decrescendo of his gentle breaths as he finally drifts off. The warmth of his tiny mouth searching for the comfort of my breast milk. The squeeze of his fist around my finger. Much like these moments of eternal nights, it’s all temporary…
my growing belly,
first butterflies and kicks,
sciatic pain and leg cramps,
first smiles and chats,
first crawls, steps, walks, runs, words,
cold and fevers and new teeth,
drawings “just because”,
each birthday celebration,
and all that is yet to come.
I look at my son now, climbing hills in our woods and running to keep up with his bigger brothers. Those long nights feel so far away. Even farther away than my imagination takes me…
In my fantasy, he and I are dancing a slow, slow, slow dance once again. My head could rest on his shoulder rather than the other way around. A beautiful young woman in a white dress smiles at us from beside the dance floor. He and I sway back-and-forth to a song whose words don’t matter so much. What matters is the embrace we share. I’ve never seen him so happy as he is today. He smiles with his whole face like he always has, my only hazel-eyed boy. I am thinking back to those nights from decades before—our first slow dance together. I am thinking about how few and brief those nights now seem. It feels like they only lasted the length of this one song we share on this joyous evening. It turns out, the slow dances—those that feel the furthest away in time—are truly the quickest to end. Their rhythm plays on only as a melody of our memory, a beautiful song of our soul.