I didn’t think life could get any crazier.
Joke’s on me.
The craziness began two weeks ago, on Wednesday, August 18. At 4am I awoke to a strange sound which took me several seconds to process. It was Becky gasping for air. I snatched her from the crib and began slapping her back, trying to help her get some oxygen. Sam took over while I grabbed some things for the drive to the hospital. Since Becky was born, I have been frightened twice. The first time was when her lung collapsed and the PCICU team prepared to intubate her. This was the second time.
When Sam tried to put her in the car seat, she began gasping for air again. We had no choice but to drive with Sam holding Becky upright. I didn’t feel comfortable driving to the further-away children’s hospital, so we opted for the closest emergency room.
Thankfully Becky’s oxygen saturations were good. Her x-ray was inconclusive, suggesting a possible pneumonia. She tested negative for the big three viruses: Covid, Flu, and RSV. We were sent home and instructed to follow-up with her pediatrician. Sam and I rushed home, grabbed Veronica for her first day of high school, and made the long drive to the city. We attended the opening Mass and parents’ reception. It was a wonderful morning. But it’s hard to believe that our 5th child is beginning high school.
I returned home to take Mary Frances to another immediate care. A nasty infection had been festering in her big toe, the result of vanity in the form of a pedicure. By the time I returned home from this appointment, I was exhausted. Veronica’s Confirmation sponsor was coming for a rehearsal that evening. I texted her that I was lying down for a 20 minute nap. Which turned into well over an hour. When I finally dragged myself downstairs, I found Stef sitting at our kitchen table, taking a business call while petting the dog. Knowing how things run around here and wanting me to sleep, she had let herself into the house. She came bearing cookies from the kids’ favorite bakery from our old town. She’s the best kind of a friend.
It was Michael’s last night at home before leaving for college. The final loads of laundry were folded and odd items tucked into bins for the trip. Unfortunately, by 10:00pm, Becky was struggling to breathe again. Sam and Michael took turns throughout the night comforting her, graciously allowing me to sleep.
The next morning we followed up with the pediatrician. I wanted to make sure it was okay to travel with Becky. It wasn’t. Her doctor told me that plans were going to change. Another ER visit was in our future and most likely an overnight observation. I called Sam to give him the news. It was immediately apparent to both of us that I would miss taking Michael to college. I wasn’t sad at this moment. Just resigned. I returned home to settle a few things and grab an overnight bag.
When my bags were pack, Angela loaded Becky back into the car. It was time to say goodbye to Michael. We were alone in the kitchen as I prepared a cup of coffee for the road. I knew I had a long afternoon ahead of me in the ER. I wasn’t sure what to say but knew the moment called for something. My eyes filled with tears as I loaded the French Vanilla K-cup into the slot. I started the machine and then turned to face him. With a catch in my voice, I said, “Do you know what I’m thankful for? I’m really grateful for your sophomore year at Marmion. For all those long car rides.” He responded, “We hardly even talked.” I grabbed my travel mug, poured in a splash of milk, and said, “I know. But we were together.”
He gave me a half-smile and a little head nod. That’s the universal teenage boy sign for “Gotcha Mom”. I heard him swallow hard as he turned to climb the stairs and walk out to the car. I imagine that he was thinking back to that long year. And the countless trips we shared. Michael wasn’t able to drive until the very end of his Sophomore year. Drill team practice began every morning at 6:45am sharp. The afternoons were slotted for cross country, basketball, and volleyball practices in their respective seasons. If he was going to participate in these activities, we were going to have to drive him. And no one else lived near us to form a carpool.
We left the house at 6:00am each morning. Michael would shuffle to the car in his clunky patent leather drill shoes, arms overflowing with various equipment for school and sports. As we pulled out of the driveway, he would unwrap his breakfast tacos or dig into a bowl of cereal. After wolfing down breakfast, he slumped into the seat trying to steal another 20 minutes of sleep. I prayed a rosary with my Relevant Radio app and then caught the NPR morning headlines.
As we pulled into the school, he said a quick thank you and goodbye, grabbed his mound of stuff, and ran into practice, hoping to avoid pushups or laps for being even one second late. We repeated the same process 12 hours later, minus the breakfast tacos. He was more talkative in the evenings and often drove us home, piling up the drivers-ed practice hours. Sam helped when he could, but more often than not, I was behind the wheel. I dropped him in the dark and picked him up in the dark. But the memories of this time are nothing but light to me.
As I drove towards the hospital, I began to feel sad at the loss of taking Michael to college. Truly there was nothing I could do or say in the next 48 hours that would be more meaningful than the last 18 years. And I realized that the sum total of the little moments made the loss of this big one bearable. Raising children is the slowest growing investment on the market. You pour years of principle into your kids. But at this time, when I had to say goodbye to my son so quickly and unexpectedly, a whopping dividend was paid. I was at peace, knowing our investment in Michael was sound.
Back to the crazy day, well in progress now. I arrived at the emergency room connected to the children’s hospital. Assessments were made, x-rays taken, and the cardiac team consulted. At the suggestion of the heart failure team, Becky was admitted to the hospital. Ultimately, it was determined that Becky had croup and rhinovirus, essentially the common cold. But her narrow airway and laryngeal cleft complicate things and she needed some additional support. Her ENT surgeon told me that this will likely happen again until she grows bigger and stronger.
It was providential that Becky’s cardiologist was on the service for the week/weekend. Over the next three days, Becky was seen by the entire cardiac team and she had another echo. Dr. Roberson gave me the fantastic news that her heart is in excellent condition. As soon as she recovers from this respiratory infection, he will begin weaning her cardiac meds. Her pulmonary hypertension is under control and Becky now has the pressures of a normal child. A normal child. I asked him to repeat the phrase. That news made the entire stay worth it.
While I stayed in the hospital with Becky, Sam moved the kids into Notre Dame. He made sure to send lots of pictures so that I felt a part of things. And he called frequently to update me on everyone’s progress, knowing that I craved every piece of the day’s minutia.
I teared up a bit at the pictures of the Campus Ministry picnic. There’s nothing like a bad hot dog and a bag of chips after a long morning of moving. You finally sit, too tired to talk. But you take in the surroundings and it all begins to feel real. I also missed the opening welcome in the stadium.
After the move, Sam drove home. Veronica’s Confirmation was the next morning. As I held Becky on Friday night, my thoughts turned to the other kids. I took a moment to inventory my people: Sam was driving home from South Bend. Greta, Angela, and Michael were tucked into their dorm rooms. Mary Frances and Rudy were staying with friends. Mom Rauch was driving Johnny back from Camp Sanity. Becky and I were in the hospital. That left Josephine and Veronica.
Josephine and Veronica. Now where were they?
I figured they were driving home from school after Rocky’s volleyball practice. I was curious how things were going. I checked the location tracker on Josephine’s phone. They were on the highway. I sent a quick text reminding them to pick up Mary Frances and the dog. Some time passed and I checked on their progress again. Strangely, they were in the exact same location: 4241 W. Congress Parkway. I’ll admit that my first response was annoyance. I figured those girls had heard the siren call of Target. I decided to check Google Maps.
Do you know what is at 4241 W. Congress Parkway? Pavement. Something was wrong. Eventually Sam called and informed me that there was a little mishap on the way home.
They had run out of gas.
In the middle lane of the highway.
During Friday night rush hour traffic.
I texted my friend to let her know about the delay. She sent a fabulous emoji and the following statement: “You weren’t supposed to know about that.”
In stop-and-go traffic, the girls were blissfully unaware of their pending situation. As traffic inched slowly forward, Josephine depressed the gas pedal but nothing happened. Veronica had the presence of mind to tell Josephine to put on the hazards. Angry drivers laid on horns to signal their frustration. A kind soul in a business suit pushed the car to the shoulder where the girls waited. For 2 hours. For our friends from Roadside Assistance. Apparently, Veronica began singing show tunes at one point, resulting in some happy honks and waves. When I spoke with Josephine later, she told me that she never even noticed the gas light. She also reminded me that she is a new driver and unlikely to make the same mistake twice. We can only hope.
The next morning was Veronica’s Confirmation. Thankfully, Becky’s godmother came to the hospital to sit with her, allowing me the opportunity to attend the sacrament while sneaking peeks at my phone for updates. Attendees were limited but we were grateful Mom Rauch could join us.
Afterwards, Sam and Johnny headed back to ND for the opening Mass. Johnny was hesitant but mildly intrigued that he was going to the stadium. The football stadium. Disappointment awaited the little man. That look on his face sums it up. He was expecting something else.
Shortly after I returned to the hospital, Becky’s cardiologist discharged her. Christy helped me pack things up and then helped me to the car. Becky and I were finally going home. A whirlwind of five days had blown by. But we were all safe and sound. And in our respective homes.
At one point during this whole fiasco, I remembered an email I received shortly after Becky’s birth. My parents’ friends are raising an adult special needs child. They have been great cheerleaders for me from cyberspace. I pulled the email up and read it again. Their sage advice had finally come true in my own life.
“Over time, we improved at moderating our responses to any news, good or bad. We learned that things would likely not always go for us or against us – it would be a mix. As a result, bad news was less devastating. We focused on longer trends.“
The longer trends.
What might those trends look like for our tribe of 10? Well, for starters, I will likely have enough material to blog for the rest of my life. I imagine future emergency room visits and hospitalizations. Heart wrenching goodbyes to children.
And, inexplicably, more rescues by Roadside Assistance.