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In the backlog of drafts I’ve written but failed to publish, I now submit, almost a month too late, the article I couldn’t quite finish for Father’s Day. I noted, that weekend, the number of pictures and posts around all forms of social media, celebrating dads. I didn’t join in but I didn’t feel left out. Re-reading this just now actually made me (again) swell with a little bit of pride and maybe a tear in the corner of each eye. I’m changing nothing, so read this as if today was June 18, 2017.
Normally at this time, I’d be celebrating surviving the first week of summer vacation. You know. That transitional week of kids not knowing what to do with themselves, wanting to eat every time they feel bored, and the spontaneous combustion of every single room in the house if anyone occupies a space for more than 7 minutes.
Add to this the inevitable attitude-whiplash resulting from the unfounded pipe dream that summer vacation from school is somehow equivalent to summer vacation from chores.
I have finally learned to expect this, and am now fully ready to combat it quickly and usually pretty effectively.
Until John threw his back out.
A week ago Friday, he had plans to drive (solo) to Michigan for a very short 72 hours, to play in his high school alumni soccer game. I was actually looking forward to a weekend of having the bed to myself. *We are weird like that.*
But he woke up Friday morning with above average lower back pain. After resigning himself to the the accurate prediction that 14 hours in the car would ultimately make all this worse, he canceled the trip at 9 in the morning, and went to work instead.
What he should have done, was nothing.
By the time he came home, his back was so stiff, he went straight to bed.
At 7:30pm, he asked me to send out the Bat Signal and “get someone over here to help me out of bed and down the stairs.”
At this point I was still in a mild state of disbelief. How bad could it really hurt, after all?
I admit I lack empathy. I also admit my processing time here to be a bit slow. I also had a very difficult time, in this moment, summoning words of support and kindness.
After arguing that I thought he might be acting a little dramatically, I finally sent a text to the three biggest neighbors we have and hoped for the best.
I watched my phone. Nobody responded.
And then, all three of them were in my living room at the same time. One had come straight from the restaurant where he was eating, another had jogged from the other side of the neighborhood. (The third used the secret tunnel we have connecting our two houses for just such emergencies.)
It took all three of them to get John hobbling down the stairs and into a chair, where he spent the night.Note: it is virtually impossible in the year 2017 to get a doctor to prescribe pain meds or muscle relaxers over the phone. Don't even waste your time.Click To Tweet
The next morning, Saturday, after an hour of trying to get a physician on the phone, he declared, “I think you might need to call an ambulance to get me out of this chair and to the hospital. I need medication and I can’t move.”
Again with my inability to empathize, react quickly enough, or find any words of support and kindness.
I was at a loss for all things basically human at that moment.
But there I went again with the Bat Signal, and again, three neighbors were nearly immediately in my living room (this time a wife in place of her husband). While the two men very slowly (and weirdly patiently) got John out to the car, I found myself sort of vaguely advising Eliott, “Grab some books for everyone to read at the hospital.”
I’m not sure why this made sense at the time, but thankfully, that last neighbor simply said, “Do you want me to just take all your kids to play at my house?”
To be completely honest, the entire thing came on rather quickly. I kept thinking that this would somehow magically go away if I did nothing.
I wasn’t thinking exactly clearly, but thank God there were more than four families nearby, who were willing to think for me.
My kids mistook the medical emergency for party day, complete with a slip and slide, pizza, and hanging out all day with friends. Someone even remembered to take Avery home for her nap. That night, a group text went out saying: “Love this fantastic neighborhood and all the wonderful people who came together to help out today. Burgers and hotdogs at our house, bring a side.”
And we came. And we ate. And all of this, because my husband threw his back out and left me with four kids and what would become more than a weeklong reminder of how small I am in the face of moving large objects.
The following week did not necessarily go swimmingly.
I did not magically grow a new set of patience, and John did not magically develop a newfound ability to be graciously helpless.
There were fights.
There was whining.
The house was a disaster. The kids were out of sorts because we were out of sorts. And let’s be honest, Daddy was sleeping most of the day on a futon in the middle of the living room.
It was weird.
But phone calls and encouraging texts continued daily. And there was more food. And then there was kinesio tape and borrowed back braces and a few more drugs and a few more hours at the pool with friends. And every day got a little better.*
Last night we attended the annual Father’s Day Rustinburg Ribfest, and John refused to let me help him with his ribs.
The last decade of married life has been a mixture of celebrations for my husband and my own father once a year on Father’s Day. Admittedly, some years I do better than others at planning, finding the perfect gift, or cooking the perfect meal.
This year, I failed three-fold, but thankfully my sister and brother-in-law were both ready to pick up some much needed geographical slack.
This year I am celebrating all of the dads who have repeatedly chucked one (or more) of my kids in the deep end and indulged squeals and demands for more. All of the dads who have opened another juice box or reached that last chicken wing for two eyes barely reaching above the table. All the dads who have instinctively shot out a hand, arm, or leg to catch a falling drink, plate of food, child. All of the dads who take care of my kids from all angles. All of the dads who have now taken care of me from a few more angles.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this concept of “family” has maintained a fluid definition; it morphs and changes regularly, but in my corner, has not yet ceased to grow.
*Fast forward a month and we returned home from church to find some surprise lawn-maintenance in action, and I was again, overwhelmed by the amount of raw love and goodness that continues to exist even when I complain the entire Earth is going down the crapper.