My son recently had a small operation at Westchester Children’s hospital (he’s fine; they were great) and I took him by myself. This is how I do most things (hence the title: Single Mom). Occasionally, when I’ve gone to events at his school, birthday parties, or weddings, and I’m sitting alone among couples, I feel awkward or lonely; this time I felt something different, something I haven’t yet been able to name or get over.
I had done such a good job early in the day of making Julian laugh while we were waiting for his surgeon. I was making funny faces, tickling him, and talking in this silly monster voice he loves. I got to hold his hand all the way into the operating room. They put a mask over his mouth and nose with, what I assume, was laughing gas. He slowly breathed in, still laughing, then his eyes closed and he started to spit and drool. I panicked. The anesthesiologist saw the look on my face and assured me this was all very normal and that as soon as I let go of his hand, they would begin.
So, I let go and walked back to the waiting room where I sat, still feeling the phantom weight of his hand in mine. When that feeling faded,it was replaced with a deep longing for another hand to take it’s place. I looked around the waiting room hoping someone would read my mind and come sit by me, or at least give me a reassuring smile. No one did. They were all with their loved ones, waiting on a child, too, feeling some of the same feelings I was.
I pushed mine down to that pit in my stomach where all bad things live, texted my mom, and then power-walked to the cafeteria. I was starving because I hadn’t eaten since the night before in solidarity with my son and it was now 2pm. Plus, food has always been a comfort. I waited in line at their version of a Subway, trying to force feed my mind with anything but worry.
I mentally picked out toppings for not only my sandwich but what Julian would get if he ate here (just bread and cheese I guessed). I started debating which of their pre-made sandwiches I thought sounded tastiest, had the lowest calorie count, highest calorie count, most disgusting combination, etc. My mood was lightened. Then, I had to decide on size. There were two options: a small and a large. I was sure the first wouldn’t be nearly enough – I was starving – and the second would be too much. This added a new layer to the longing I was feeling. It was a sense of shame that I don’t have someone to split a sandwich with. Embarrassment that here I was, laughing to myself about banana peppers and eating alone; how silly and sad.
I went with the small and finished quickly, then made my way back to the waiting room. I stared at the screen on the wall which updates you on each patient’s status via a secret code. Julian was still in surgery. His code was blinking, indicating that they had gone over their allotted time. I began to feel anxious. What if something went wrong? What would I do? If we had to spend the night here, what would I do with my car? I was in temporary parking. I couldn’t leave it; I’d get towed. I didn’t bring clothes for either of us, or toothbrushes. Who could I ask to pack us a bag and bring it? This anxiety turned into anger. Julian and I deserve to have someone who would bring us our toothbrushes and park the car when we needed it.
That bit there, resentment, I’d felt that before. It’s mostly when I have to pay all the bills on the 1st and 15th of every month and my individual checking account stares back at me with just two digits, asking why am I not a joint checking account? Those must be so much bigger and better. I, once again, pushed the feeling down to mingle with the others, and stared at the board until Julian’s code stopped blinking and changed to “in recovery”. It was all done. I felt relieved, but that was overshadowed by this other thing.
My chest filled with longing, embarrassment, anxiety, anger and resentment. I couldn’t help but think moments such as this are not something people are meant to stand alone in, but here I was. I didn’t need his dad to be there (although that would have been nice), I just needed someone. I have a tribe of beautiful people in my life who I know would have come if I’d just asked. I should have asked.
The nurse who was attending to Julian as he woke up from anesthesia must have recognized the turmoil that was brewing in my belly. So she sat with me a little longer than the other families, offered both of us ice pops after he said he was hungry, and then went to a storage closet and brought a stuffed dog they had leftover from Christmas 2016. “Something to squeeze on the ride home,” she said.
Riding home, the dog sat shot gun; I made a mental note to hide it under Julian’s bed when we arrived. I never wanted to see it again. Then I made a promise to myself that I would write about this so hopefully another single mom wouldn’t shrug off something like this as just another thing she could “handle” all on her own. Some things we shouldn’t have to do alone. Ask for help, ladies. You deserve it even if you don’t need it.