Comparing Lives, in a Waiting Room

Today I took James to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Crestview Hills location for a simple ophthalmology follow-up. (No glasses necessary—he passed.)

In addition to the normal waiting room time to get into the appointment, I had an extra 30-minute wait in the waiting room once drops were put in his eyes to dilate them. So James and I watched people come and people go—infants, toddlers, teenagers, parents, grandparents, siblings, caregivers.

Initially we sat across two women—one was a nurse. I wasn’t sure if she was the mother’s sister or, simply, a nurse, there to help the mother with her child. The mother was sweetly mothering her beautiful nine-month-old girl. The mother and I talked about teething—her daughter had just gotten her first two teeth. While the mother was away, filling out paperwork, her daughter made a terrible noise and grew extremely red in the face. The other woman, the nurse, calmly started up a portable machine, inserted a tube in either the baby’s mouth or nose (I couldn’t tell which), said sweet nothings to the small child and slowly, slowly, the baby’s red, scrunched up face softened, grew paler, and less afraid.

Shortly thereafter James and I noted an older man enter the waiting room with his teenage son, who frequently shouted, who was clearly nervous and who garnered a lot of stares. The older man—the boy’s father—looked rough. If I saw him on the streets, sans son, I would have never guessed he’d be the type of man who could calm his panicking, yelling child with calm words, a rubber ball for distraction and a gentle hand on the shoulder.

Near the end of our wait another teenager entered the room with what I assume wasn’t his mother but his caretaker. He was tall and solid—a big guy. He wore baggy blue sweatpants, a dirty white shirt and old leather shoes. I could see plastic braces on his ankles. His pants were wet. His caretaker noticed and began trying to convince him to go to the bathroom to change. Finally, he agreed. At this point I was walking around the room, bouncing James in my arms, trying to keep him calm. A few seconds later the teenage boy returned, eyes locked on James.

I smiled at him. I said hi. A couple times. I smiled again. Yet his eyes remained locked on my son as he continued walking toward us. His caretaker rushed behind him.

“Look at the beautiful baby!” she said. I couldn’t help but take note of the nervous tone in her voice.

She inserted her small frame between me and the teenage boy, using all her strength to push him back. While pushing, the boy kept his eyes locked on James. And then, something snapped. He softened. His gaze dropped. He turned around and walked away.

Sometimes, after I’ve had a long, trying day with my children, and everyone is asleep, I collapse in my big leather chair, with a big glass of red wine and think about how hard my life is right now.

I’m a fool.

My children are, for the most part, healthy. I don’t have to travel with a nurse and special machinery. Their infantile behavior will be short-lived—something I only will have to deal with while they’re infants. Potty training will end before puberty hits. And I doubt I’ll have to deal with panic attacks in crowded waiting rooms or one of my sons charging a stranger’s seven-month-old. And the very physical aspects of mothering will someday end for me. My children will (I hope) grow up. They’ll become independent, not require machinery to function. They’ll move away. While there’s a sadness to that, there’s also great pleasure, too. And so many (too many) parents never, ever get to experience that. For parents of handicapped children, often, they’re mothering, and fathering, in that very physical sense, until they’re gone.

And yet. I heavily sigh. I sip. I long for more time to do nothing.

Yes. I’m a fool.

“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” —Scott Hamilton