I’m heading back to the hospital.
The Advocate – our six year-old with the arguing abilities of a big time lawyer – has been through one open heart surgery in the past six months. He had a small hole in the heart, which the team at Toronto’s Sick Kids repaired with brilliant efficiency.
The surgery worked too. In some ways, it worked a little too well. Before the operation, his heart wasn’t functioning as well as it could. Now, it beats better, and in the better, a second problem has become a bigger problem. This one will require a more significant, riskier surgery. It should cause no lack of fear in us as parents.
Except. Except I’m not specifically afraid. Yes, there is this gnawing worry that rears its head from time to time, but for the most part it’s simply not there.
What has worried me is this lack of worry. I find myself concerned that I’m a stepdad and I’m falling into that stepdad stereotype – that you don’t love the new kids as much as the biological kids. I wonder that in his heart surgery, have I revealed that I don’t have one myself?
And then I remember this one moment.
When they came to discharge us from the hospital following the first operation, they had to do one final, awful thing. They had to remove tubes that were draining excess fluid from around his heart. To remove them, they literally had to slide them out of his tiny body. No pain medication could have prepared him for those 15-seconds. I was there with him, holding his hands. They counted down and as they pulled then free, he screamed loudly. No tears, just the terrifyingly, loud echo of his voice.
I’ve had to stop writing for a few minutes because I’m doing the same thing now that I did as I clutched his teeny fingers. I’m crying. I’m crying partly for the sadness of his pain – it was nearly unbearable to watch. But I’m also crying with a sense of pride. In my 42-years on earth, I’ve never demonstrated the level of strength that this child did that day. It was breathtaking.
That moment jolts me into a sense of understanding. It’s not that I’m a stepparent who doesn’t care. I care a great deal for all of my children, biological or otherwise. I love The Advocate deeply and wholly. I never use the word “step” to describe him or any of my other kids. They are my kids and I treat them and share with them in the ways that mean the most to them.
That’s an important statement for anyone blending a family. Blended parents have a lot of conversations about how they treat the kids – they’re conversations in which both sides are commonly hypersensitive. Over a number of those chats, I’ve come to learn that it’s most important for your partner to understand that idea of doing things the way that mean the most to them. The two-year-old likes to be chased. The seven-year-old wants hugs. The 13-year-old wants someone to listen. So I do that. I fulfill that.
And so it is for The Advocate. The six-year-old facing down a new, terrifying surgery needs someone to believe. He needs me to believe him when he’s arguing any particular case. He needs me to believe in him when I take him to Beaver Scouts. He needs to look into my face and know that I believe.
This is why I don’t fear. Because with every fibre of who I am, I believe. I believe that as scary and awful as this next march will be, everything is going to be ok. I know it’s the optimists blurry sense of reality, but I’ve done ok this far because of that blurry sense of reality.
I love. And because I love, I can believe hard enough for all of us.