When I was 6, my biggest concerns were, getting to ride in the back seat of the bus, if there were Dunkaroos, and if I could sleep overnight at my cousin’s house. To me, these were the big things. These were the things I thought about, among others, now minor and of little value to me.
What my own 6-year-olds biggest concerns are, are far more painful, anxiety inducing, and serious. Topics that no one wants to address, no one wants to recognize as actual legit concerns, and something that many would push under a rug, shrug aside, and avoid discussing.
Except I have to.
On December 10, my daughter, in a journal full of all things unicorns, pink ice cream cones, and all things happy, drew a picture of her brother in a hospital bed.
It reads, “My brother will have surgery soon. I am worried.” A beautifully accurate drawing. One she could not have fabricated with her tiny 6-year-old mind. One that most children wouldn’t understand if they looked at it. One many adults would also question.
But my 6-year-old, she has lived it. She’s been living it for over 3 years. She has watched her brother in and out of hospital beds, with lines and needles coming from all parts of his body, with cuts, scars, bloody openings, oxygen, and everything else that comes with congenital heart disease.
A few days ago, she came upstairs fairly pale. I asked her if she was ok (this was prior to my knowledge of this drawings existence). She said yes, with a cold sullen look. I asked her again what was going on. “I’m worried about Charlie having surgery.”
Well ya know what babe, so am I.
She asked me if it had been scheduled yet. I told her it hadn’t and that as soon as I knew we would talk about it. I had already been proactive in getting her some materials from the hospital to start preparing her for the inevitable surgery.
And for days she has held this, we’ve discussed it. She’s acted out, she’s been upset, she’s been having anxiety attacks. And this morning, she visited with her friend Rachel. When I was called in to discuss their visit, she said, “don’t tell her.”
Now what could my daughter possibly not want to share with me? There is nothing I don’t want her to be comfortable discussing with me. We talked about a few of the typical things. And then she said, “Rachel can tell you.”
What was it she didn’t want to share? What could a 6-year-old possibly be hiding that was so scary for her to tell her own mom? Well, her real and legitimate fear, of her brother dying.
In the visit, I acknowledged it as a real concern. Slightly caught off guard that this is the thought she’s been holding onto so tightly. The secret she hasn’t felt comfortable enough to share out loud. Was she trying to pretend it wasn’t real? Was she trying to wish it away? Was she trying to protect me?
I don’t know. The truth is, it took her an entire month since that drawing to gain the courage to even say it out loud to someone. That someone, wasn’t me.
My first action was to let her teacher know there was this concern before I returned her to a full day of learning. What a way to start a Monday, she’s freakin 6!
I’ve mulled on this all day. Ran through my brain the best way to approach it. How do I address something that is so raw and so very real? The risk that comes with every surgery. Something…something that even I don’t want to say out loud. Something that only I can hold in the teeny, tiny, part of my brain I’ve shoved it into, because once it surfaces, it fucking hurts. It rips at your very soul and continuously burns in your chest at the very thought. And now, I’m not only worried about the reality of her concern, but the reality of her having to deal with its poison sitting in her young mind.
Tomorrow, tomorrow is the day we may actually get some answers. Tomorrow could lead us forward, or it could hold us in the same pattern of waiting, the same anxiety game we’ve been playing. “When will surgery be?”
Tonight, I dropped her off at my aunts for the night to play with her cousin and have a sleep over, a safe place. 4am is just too early to trade her off before we head to his appointment, so she needed to spend the night. And she was a hot mess, and at this point, I am completely helpless to fixing that. I hug her over and over again, and then, I have to just trust that she can handle this for tonight. She is my child after all, she can do this.
But, how do you match a 6-year-old hot mess? Well, you turn into one yourself. I got home and I sat on the deck, because to heck if I’m going to worry the 3 year old inside, and then with the tears. ALL. THE. TEARS. I felt them stream down my face, warm as they came out, and slowly turning cold on my cheeks. They dripped onto my chest, as I continuously wiped the after math from my face. And then, as always, I picked myself up. Because no matter what happens, we have to do this.
This, this is our reality. A painful, real possibility, I pray to God I never actually have to physically deal with. Those moms that have, those moms are pretty damn amazing.
I still don’t have the words for that 6-year-old. I don’t know that there could ever be words that could buffer, or mend, or stop that feeling, that very real fear. The only thing I can offer her is to pray. Pray often. Pray long. Pray hard. That’s it.
And dear God, if someone can find me some Dunkaroos, my 6-year old-self would be forever grateful.