Thursday, April 9, 2009

I Am the Adult

Yesterday, we took Joel to the Ear-Nose-Throat doctor to get to the bottom of his persistent ear fluid problem. She looked in his ears and declared that the fluid was still there, and it had "bubbles" in it. I can't imagine that's good. She explained that babies are "God's gift to ENTs," because by an anatomical quirk, their Eustachian tubes do not descend until they become older. Consequently, some babies collect fluid unless artificial tubes are surgically implanted. Without the tubes, sounds are muffled, the way things sound when you're underwater. This can impact speech and language development.

So, Joel is scheduled for surgery on the 27th. The procedure is so easy and quick that they do it in the office for older people. The nurse told me that the entire procedure will be over and done with, "by the time it takes to get a cup of coffee."

That nurse speaks my language.

Yet, I still know that on the morning of the 27th, I will walk next to Joel as he is on a stretcher. We will walk into a sterile, cold, bright operating room. They will put the laughing gas dispenser on his mouth. He will close his eyes, fall asleep, and be still.

And then I will have to wait.

God will protect him and give skill to Dr. D, and all will be fine. Nevertheless, this is one of the times that I realize that I am the adult in the room. This isn't something that my parents or Paul's parents can do. I am Joel's mother, and it will be either my job, or Paul's job, to be the strong, reassuring presence he needs.

I am the adult. I can hardly believe it either.

It reminds me of the time that we had to put Molly down. Molly was the first and only dog Paul and I had together. She was with us through one engagement, one marriage, several house parties, cacti attacks, a cross-country move, three houses, one pregnancy, and one baby.

Owen was about ten months old, when Molly started getting ill, unable to hold down any food. Her ribs jutted our sharply, and her eyes were vacant. We tried making our own dog food. We tried surgery. We spent more money on that dog than we've spent on clothing in three years. Nothing helped.

We finally realized that we needed to give that dog the mercy and rest she deserved. I made the call. I was fine. The lady on the other line explained to me the options of what to do with the body. I said, "Whatever is cheapest," because this was just a dog, and I wasn't going to blow this out of proportion.

Then she explained to me that the "basic package," (aka "cheapest") option was cremation. "We will spread her ashes over an apple orchard on the Eastern Shore. It's a beautiful place."

At that point, I was an incoherent mess as I attempted to tell the lady that that option sounded "very nice." I'm tearing up, almost three years later, thinking of it.

I know, logically, that Molly was used as industrial fertilizer. But, I like to think of her romping happily through the apple orchard, drooling happily, her nub of a tail wagging back and forth. She was a good girl, and she deserves that.

So, that morning, when I put Owen in his car seat and then watched poor weak Molly do a diminished version of her joyous leap into the back seat, I desperately wanted my Mom or Dad to appear from the bushes and take this difficult thing from me. But I was the adult.

The vet was compassionate, and the procedure itself was peaceful. Paul had taken an extended lunch to be with us as we said goodbye to Molly. We were all tragic messes, except for Owen, who was happily chewing on a teether. We gave her tearful, final pats, and said goodbye to that Big, Dumb Black Dog.

We did a hard thing, because we were the adults, and it was our job. We know that Molly's last moments were calm and she could finally rest.

I'm not comparing Joel's minor surgery to putting Molly down. They are very different events, with very different results. One is ending a life, the other is bringing out a new world of sounds and clarity. But both take steely nerves and the peace of knowing that this is the right decision.

I know that this is just the beginning. My parents were the adults through surgeries, broken bones, putting down of family dogs, death, stitches, learner's permits, and sending their children off to college. It never occurred to me that they were terrified on the inside.

That's a blessing. That's being the adult. Being brave for those you love, and doing the hard things because they need to be done.


Coby Goesling said...

It's a hard moment when you realize that you have to be the adult, and all you want to do is crawl into your mom's lap and have her make it better. Except you're the mom this time.

Tom Mohrman said...

That was beautiful. This American life worthy. Well said, and heartfelt.