Sitting around the sticky table of a local frozen custard shop are my daughters and husband, each of them with a mountain of gooey dessert: piles of custard under clouds of whipped cream and rivers of fudge. My younger daughter, aged 5, is grinning ear-to-ear. I’m snapping pictures like the mother of a baby trying solid food for the first time. At one point, I step outside to breathe the fresh air of a world restored.
For the ten months prior to today, my little girl has been on a path to discovery, she and her team of doctors searching for the food protein that’s causing the strange patches of white blood cells in her esophagus, the patches that were keeping her from swallowing well. For ten months, she’s been avoiding a list of common allergens — dairy, soy, egg, nuts, and wheat — and undergoing tests to see if the culprit could be found. Earlier today, we got the news that only one food was left to be added, since all the others had seemed to cause her no ill. Adding that last food — dairy — means that she can eat out at any restaurant she liked. It means that, for the first time in ten months, we can travel without worrying about her food.
We leave the frozen custard shop and embark immediately on a road trip. We feed her everything she’s been missing: restaurant pancakes with butter and syrup, cheese popcorn, candy bars, pizza, string cheese and yogurt. For the first time in nearly a year, I don’t carry a big insulated bag full of food for her. We rejoice, but under the rejoicing is the knowledge that this is just another food trial. It’s both a first meal and a last — this is the last food trial, and everyone expects it to be a failure.
Spring break, 2011: last meal.
It is April 7, 2014, and my family is scattered, frayed, and anxious.
My younger daughter has just returned from her grandmother’s house, where we’ve stashed her for the past few days to avoid the germs streaming out of her older sister. After all, it’s unwise to subject a child about to have cardiac surgery to another child with a bad head cold.
It is the Monday of spring break, and in four days, my younger daughter will undergo her second cardiac surgery, the surgery turned out was needed because she never actually had the disease that required that strange year of diet. We spend the days after her sister’s cold stops being contagious in a strange limbo. There are tests to be done — blood tests and chest X-rays and the handing-over of pre-surgical instructions — and also packing, planning, and avoiding of public spaces where germs live.
We play games. We put on extra jackets and walk to the nearby park, not yet green, where I watch my girls play together outside and dare not hope for them to play together this way ever again. I flip through potential complications of cardiothoracic surgery on my phone as they climb the slides and improvise dances in the sandbox. Three days and counting.
I snap a photo of my little daughter with her friend at the top of the slide. It transforms instantly into a fuzzy, dated black and white watercolor painting in my head.
Spring break, 2014: last good day.
It is spring break, 2017. My husband and I, with our daughters, sit at the booth of a restaurant in a no-man’s-land between the midwest and the mid-south.
We are on a road trip to find what’s interesting about the country that surrounds us. My little daughter sits next to me, demolishing a plate of food. Across the table, my husband and older daughter raise their hands in the air, laughing, and a fresh roll comes hurtling through the space above my head toward them. They catch it, hoot, drop it on the table and commence to slathering it with fresh sorghum.
“I’ll have some,” the voice next to me chirps, and someone passes her a piece of it, steaming. I watch her, and us, and as it often happens for me these days, I am overwhelmed at the immense gift of every bite, every giggle, every greasy glorious bursting alive moment with my family. I think of the bag of food I do not need to carry, the moments I do not need to count and hoard, the worry I do not need to hold, and I bend over my plate of candied yams so she can’t see me drag myself back into the moment by the edges of my dampening eyelashes.
“It’s so good!” she says, her mouth full.
And it is.
Spring break, 2017: so good.
I no longer live in the world of the completely relatable video below from Sick Kids Hospital, but I remember my life there very well. When it comes to memorable times like spring break, that world sneaks back into my consciousness and I can picture myself in many of these scenes. Our happy ending comes from grace and luck, entirely the will of a universe we can’t control. What we can control is how we respond to people still living in that world. At the end of the video, you’ll see a link to https://getbettergifts.sickkidsfoundation.com, which lets you make donations to that hospital to improve the lives of the families being treated there. There are similar funds at many other children’s hospitals in the country — please look for your local hospital and consider a Mothers’ or Fathers’ Day gift that might help a family struggling right now.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday Post hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee. This week’s sentence is “When it comes to Spring Break…”