A Luxury I Took For Granted

We had hours to kill between the hearing test and the follow-up appointment with the ear, nose, and throat specialist. Five months after my first grader's tube surgery, she heard perfectly (albeit selectively), so this would be a routine visit with the doctor. What wasn’t routine was the gap between appointments — they didn't tell me we would need sleeping bags and a toothbrush.

I was peeved they wouldn’t just squeeze us into the morning schedule so we could get in and get out. I had a million things I should have been doing, and we all knew the actual appointment with the doctor would last about thirty seconds. But no matter how nicely I asked, the schedule could not be changed because the computer said it couldn’t. It may as well have been etched in Greek on the outside of the building.

So lunch it was. The nurse directed us down the hall to the cafeteria that served the medical complex, where we crossed the main lobby of the children's hospital. We knew we were on the right track because she said we'd pass a statue of Big Bird, and here it was.

There, sitting next to Big Bird in a well-worn wheelchair, was a boy of about four. His bright eyes danced under a baseball cap resting atop his thick, curly hair. He was dressed in soft sweats, surrounded by bags of toys and helium balloons.

His face was happy and eager, but profoundly disfigured. He wore a shiny, plastic mask designed to keep his skin intact as it healed from what must have been a horrible fire.

I took a big breath and hoped my daughter wouldn’t say something loud or insensitive. We walked within two feet of his chair, but even after we passed, she didn’t say a word. I sensed she was thinking about him, so I asked, “Did you notice that boy wearing the mask? It looks like he was burned in a big fire and he's going home now. I'll bet he's really brave.”

We talked about fire safety as we ambled toward the lunchroom. It was a crowded, busy place and before we know it, we were swept into the line, deciding what to eat and where to sit.

I was munching my chicken salad, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that little boy. The suffering displayed behind the mask was unspeakable, and the fact that he sat in the lobby with his mom waiting to go home was a testament to his heroic determination and her incalculable love. She must be grateful for every breath he takes.

Suddenly, I was glad for the time with my six-year-old to eat a leisurely lunch and await an uneventful visit with the doctor. I am so blessed it's embarrassing.

Most days, I don't remember this. I'm too busy lecturing about unmade beds, towels on the bathroom floor, toys on the driveway, and dishes in the sink. My kids are expensive and exhausting, and they talk to me through the bathroom door, which is really annoying.

But being annoyed is a luxury I take for granted.

My daughter and I finished our lunches and cleaned our table, moving together in a familiar rhythm. As usual, her hand slips easily into mine as we stroll down the long corridor toward the doctor's suite. Back in the lobby, Big Bird towers from his pedestal, but the little boy and his mom have moved closer to the door. His hat and mask were off. He looked like he was getting tired.

We were just about to take the corner when the mom leaned across the wheelchair, tickled her son's tummy and gave him a big snuggle. “I love you so much!” she said. Her voice was pure joy.

I know just how she feels. I squeezed my daughter's hand, and we headed off to spend an hour together with nothing to do but live gratefully.

This Story appeared in Amazing Grace for Mothers

(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 17 years and mother of four children from second grade to sophomore year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She currently writes a column for the Washington Times. Learn more about Marybeth and her work at www.marybethhicks.com. This column first appeared in and is reprinted with permission from the Washington Times.)

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