DAD TO THE RESCUE — The Final Installment
For those of you diligent enough to read along thus far, we’ve had a semi-successful prom proposal, a trip to Paris and then an emergency appendectomy just when it all started to sound “Up With People” perfect.
After spending the few remaining night hours post-surgery upright in a vinyl version of a crippled barka lounger — dawn broke. We had made it through the night minus one appendix. Thank the goddesses.
I had been on the phone and emailing back and forth with Bob. “Maybe you should come,” I offered tentatively. “Now don’t come. She’s going into surgery. Now she’s not. Don’t come all the way here, I’m OK.” You get the idea. Chick indecision. The familiar “I don’t want to inconvenience anyone” baggage of the oldest child.
What’s that you say? My oldest sibling was never thoughtful? Well, how could you possibly understand the burden and curse of being the firstborn; the damage to one’s psyche from functioning as the parental “tester” model.
The last space shuttle mission was launching and Bob was supposed to be covering it for ABC–News later that week. But I felt about as strong and together as a mesh bag full of Jell-O. I needed him.
When your husband is a journalist, there is always news breaking in the world. One of the things I love about my man is that as much as he loves the pursuit of a good story, he loves his family more.
I’m not Janet Reno or Lara Croft Tomb Raider tough, but I do take pride in being capable. I can figure out what to do in most situations. But this one had worn me down. It had frazzled all my mother board-wiring. I was in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, my baby had just come out of surgery and no one seemed to be able to tell me when we could go home. I needed back up reserves. I needed my MAN.
And frankly, what man doesn’t want to be needed? What dude in modern America (especially one who drives a Nissan Hybrid) doesn’t want the opportunity to channel Marlboro Man charging across the plains to rescue his Wo-man and little’uns. What Grimm’s fairy tale raised boomer-gal doesn’t succumb to an occasional Camelot fantasy, no matter how many women’s studies courses she took?
“I’m coming over there,” he said. “I’ve already booked the flight.” And that was all it took to lose it. His impending arrival was now a good thing because the doctor on rounds announced there was no way we were getting out of here before Friday. He looked at me like I was poodle pooh on the sole of a shoe when I suggested maybe, well, we could move it along and go home in two days. It was only Sunday morning. There was no way we were putting her on a plane, he said. NO way. Non. I felt desperate. I’d never wanted to taser somebody into submission so badly.
Let me add as an aside here that the desperation was fueled by our room being located on the “Digestives” ward of the hospital. If I’d smelled smells in the ER downstairs (see previous blog entry), it was nothing compared to the natural gas leaks happening on this floor. All up and down the hallway, patients tooted and pssssfffffted away like a symphony of little helium balloons releasing. It was an assault on the olfactory system.
Friday? I thought. Five more days in France after successful laparoscopic surgery? At first the country’s chilled out attitude toward long hospital stays, the wine bar in the downstairs’ cafeteria all seemed tres groovy. I liked their style; don’t push it mon ami, take it easy, reeelaaaax, have some Boone’s Farm.
But now, facing a prolonged exile from my homeland, my twins, my dog, house and returning college-aged son, my lip began to curl back in Teutonic distaste at these softies. Wimps. Buck up, I thought. No wonder you Frenchies needed the Yanks in WWII. Perhaps our own Pearl Buck medical system of birthing the fetus in the fields, washing it with spit and going back to the crops was a bit more….. realistic. Our American hospital policy of “stitch ‘em up and kick em out” suddenly looked more workable.
Really? You’re thinking. You were balking at being marooned in France? With a doctor’s excuse note and all? Yes, I say. Remember we were in a hospital, not smoking unfiltered cigarettes in cafes and picking up bouquets on our evening stroll. The best food I had access to was in a vending machine. And remember. I smelled smells.
I began to hatch a plan (as only the sleep-deprived or deeply disturbed can) to bust her out of there, Bruce Willis style.
I’d unhook that IV, grab a banana off the breakfast cart, shove it under my sweatshirt menacingly and scream something dramatic like “Don’t nobody touch us!” as she hobbled out the front doors, me “covering her” and growling for them all to “stay back.” That’s right people. I was a Cagney and Lacey devotee and I dug Peggy Lipton on Mod Squad. I have a recurring fantasy that I’m Mariska Hargitay on SVU. I aspire to look that hot while packing heat and perp-busting.
But luckily, we didn’t have to go the Dirty Harry route. Bob informed me all this waffling and demurring was no use. He was already on the way. Dad to the rescue.
Of course, none of us could have known that while he was flying from NY to Paris, the Navy Seals would attack Bin Laden’s not-so-secret compound and kill him. Big story. Bad timing.
What I love about my husband is that even though this was a giant kahuna of a story, even though our family had been personally touched by the evil actions Bin Laden had set in motion, Bob never once opened his mouth to his daughter. But I knew how much this was killing him. He did what all awesome Dads have done throughout time. He stuffed it down. And I love him for that.
In 2003, Bob and our friend NBC reporter, David Bloom, were each embedded with the military as they advanced on Baghdad. It looked like easy victory then to the layman. But on April 6, just outside of the final push into the city with the Army, David collapsed from a pulmonary embolism and died.
Twelve miles away from the fulcrum moment of the war, embedded with the Marines, Bob stood on the cusp of being one of the first battalions into the city. He was near the tip of the spear. And then he got the call from his news desk about David. He walked away from the tanks, over to a sand dune, sat down, put his head in his hands and called me. Three little girls had just lost their daddy. My friend and journalist wife Mel had just lost her husband.
And then he did something for which I will always love him, but which certainly couldn’t have earned him much love from his supervisors. He told ABC he needed to go home.
“I need to be there for David’s girls and my kids,” he told his bosses. “ I need to be there for his wife and I need to carry that coffin with his brothers.”
He pulled the plug. Leaving the story was probably one of the hardest things he had to do. And the easiest.
So when Bob told me he was coming to Paris, that he wanted to be there for me and for Cathryn, I thought back to this particular time in our lives, eight years ago, back before the war had left its own personal traumatic stamp on our family. My husband was coming. And my heart skipped a beat all over again.
I would never want someone to write on my grave “she was an awesome tweeter” nor would my husband want to be remembered first as a journalist.
“They were good parents. They did their best,” is what I think we’d both choose to chisel on our headstones. You don’t get yesterday back and you have no idea how tomorrow will unspool. That old Harry Chapin “Cats in the Cradle” song becomes a little less cheesy when your kid is about graduate in a few weeks. There aren’t a lot of do-overs you get as parents.
I don’t expect our daughter will quite understand exactly what all of this felt like to watch her in pain in a foreign place until one day she becomes a mother. The selfless acts we undertake as parents are somehow hard wired into our ancestral unconscious. They are part of the fight or flight instinct to wrap our wings around our babies, protect them at all costs, or hurl our bodies in front of the speeding car while pushing them to the curb.
Were we there enough? Did we listen and not just nod distractedly? Did I wave them away at the computer, so focused on finishing my deadline that I didn’t really hear the story about their role in the school musical? Oh the many ways we torture ourselves as parents. They will end up in therapy some day no matter how diligent we were, no matter how many times we Indian-styled it on the rug playing Apples to Apples.
But were you there in the pinch? Did you fly across the ocean when your daughter had surgery? Did you let them know in all the important ways how much they come first? Did you touch them enough and tell them you love them at every good turn? I hope I did. The proof will be in how they walk through the world, whom they choose for a mate and the ways they parent their own children.
Eight hours later, when I saw that hunky homo sapien of my heart walk into the French hospital room, throw his suitcase into park and fling his arms open wide, I felt the last bit of the frayed rope snap inside of me. Cathryn grinned, I smile-cried and everything in side of me turned gelatinous. In a really good way.
NOTE – this is the last and final installment of the Paris-Proma-Appendicitis trilogy. But if you’ve enjoyed the blogs, come visit again. You can also subscribe on the website.