Big bang - FamilyEducation

Big bang

December 02,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Willa's surgery went very well--thanks for the well wishes! On Wednesday evening, after a long, long day--with an afternoon meeting, and a rush to throw together a simple meal in twenty-five minutes for me and the kids (Scott was teaching late), I tried to take the kids out to the vet hospital for visiting hours. We got lost (driving at night + following directions = disaster for me) and took forty minutes to get to the hospital which couldn't have been on a more tucked away, off-the-beaten-path side-road, dwarfed by towering car dealerships. By the time the kids tumbled out of the car into the cold night I felt we'd been on some long, perilous journey. We waited ten minutes, only to be told by the kind front-desk lady that we wouldn't be able to get back there to see Willa for at least an hour, because the doctor was dealing with an emergency.

And, in fact, there in the waiting room was one other person, a woman about my age. She had red eyes from crying, and a pinched, anxious look to her face. She clutched her iPhone in one hand.

It was already nearly 7:50. The kids were clearly holding it together by a thread. If you're a parent, you know that being in a waiting room with unraveling kids is like being in one of Dante's circles of hell. It must be. T. burst into tears, and I felt like crying, too. Then the woman waiting there began to cry.

"I'm so sorry," she said to me, clutching a tissue to her nose. "I'm so sorry you can't see your dog."

I felt terrible. The last thing I wanted to do was add to this woman's grief and stress; yet I felt miserable, too--sorry for myself for having had such good intentions, for having at last found the place by myself, in the dark. All I'd wanted--all we had driven forty minutes to do, was to get the chance to pet Willa for even just a few minutes. 

It was a sorry threesome that headed back into the van. T. was still crying big, sad sobs, and L. had kicked into hyper gear, the way he gets when others are unraveling emotionally around him.

I struggled to find some words of wisdom for the kids, so I could ease T.'s disappointment, but I was coming up empty.

"That poor lady." I said in the end. "I hope her pet is okay."

T. sniffed back more tears. 

"You know Mama," she said. "We get to take Willa home tomorrow."

"We do," I said. Then I sighed. "I still wish we'd been able to see her, though."

"That lady might not ever get to take her pet home," T. said. "That lady's pet might be dead."

We drove in silence for a few more minutes. But I was thinking: it was one of those amazing-rewarding moments you feel so lucky to witness--one of those moments when your child suddenly seems so much wiser; when you can see she gets is--empathy and compassion and this business of putting others first. You see her universe expanding with a bang right before your eyes, to fold in other people's lives, other people's sorrows.