Margaret Grace completed her first full week of school and already we’ve seen changes in her. We are humbled by the excitement our public school system had to receive her into their 3-year-old program, offering us a space in the classroom in recognition that interaction with her peers would be the best motivator for her to catch up on speech, gross motor, and social delays she has from her complex medical history and long-term hospitalizations.
They understood while they could provide early intervention in the home until Kindergarten that preschool was the right time to tackle these delays. As parents watching our older child struggle with the fickle friendships and experimental competitions of kindergarten, we wanted Margaret to try to use her voice and refine her speech when preschool kids were still trying to love peers as they love their parents with goodbye hugs and random acts of sharing. We felt an urgency to intervene in Margaret Grace’s social world before she became self-conscious and perhaps stop trying to talk.
We’ve often wondered where her arms-wide-open attitude comes from as David, James and I are all more reserved and preschool has been no exception. On Monday when I went to pick her and the nurse up, I met them in the hall as they traveled between the special education classroom and the inclusion classroom where she spends most her time. Margaret ran to me: “Mommy.” As I opened the door to the inclusion classroom to retrieve her stuff quietly as the kids were resting on cots with the lights out, Margaret Grace burst into the middle of the room saying as loud as she could (a harsh whisper really): “Hey Guys, That’s My Mommy.” It was the proudest moment of my motherhood journey so far.
There are many ways that Margaret and I have not gotten to claim each other as Mother and Daughter. She was 2 months old before I was able to do more than cup my hand around her head without touching her thin skin. She was 4 months old before I was able to hold her in the NICU. She was 2.5 years old before she answered the question I held in my heart, “will I ever hear my child say “mommy.” Because of her medical needs, she spends more time getting her physical needs met by nurses than by me. I am as much a manager of her case for doctors, insurances, therapies, medical and nutritional supplies and bills, as I am a mother. Because of this, Margaret has been loved by many and I suspect it is why she opens her arms so readily to new friends.
Even as I celebrate her coming into her own, other details lurk in the back of my mind.
Today, when I picked her up the nurse reported on what they had learned at school. She said they did the “Intruder” drill and learned to hide in a corner of the room invisible to the hallway as the room teacher locked the door when the word “Intruder” was given over the loud speaker. Two days ago, James explained that for his elementary school the signal was when the principal announced “Code Red,” and the class of 24 piled into the bathroom. I understand the important of preparation in terms of emergencies and for liability. I wonder the effect that the vigilance has on our imaginations when we are waiting for the day that disembodied voice comes over the loud speaker and says “Intruder” or “Code Red.”
David and I are dealing with the gap between preparation and trauma. Yesterday what we knew could happen but hadn’t did. Margaret yanked her trach out. She needed to cough and wanted her speaking valve off so she could pass mucus through her trach so she reached up and pulled it straight out of her neck. She has more reserve than two years ago when an accidental decannulation landed us in the ER for a harrowing evening. She stood there breathing through her nose and stoma as I panicked expecting her to go into respiratory failure right away as she had before and wondering if I could get to the emergency trach in the next room which suddenly felt miles away. With coaching from David who stood several feet away, I took the trach from her hand and put it back in, easily…thank goodness.
Minutes later, I couldn’t remember what happened. Did I catch the trach before it hit the ground? Was she breathing or retracting in her chest? I replayed the scene and could see her like a china doll on a shelf, silent but calm. I was floating above her with no body or hands to help. As I groped for what just happened, I looked ahead to what could. For months, we’ve been lulled into a feeling of normalcy. Now I was seeing why she needed a trained adult AND a back-up trach right next to her 24/7. The close call was just a warning of new risks, risks that always existed but now strengthen with Grace’s own strength.
Although I was a little rusty and clouded by panic, preparation saved us yesterday. And yet, I am aware of the ways that our vigilance against trauma has chopped up my memory and wiped my imagination. So that I can be someplace and not really there at same time. There are whole rooms in my brain that I can no longer access. And I keep expecting the Intruder to walk in and not mommy.