“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” ~Ernest Hemingway
“Hi, Jennifer. This is Coach Karen. How are you?”
I knew when I heard her voice that this was not the call I wanted to receive. It was 9:00 on a beautiful Sunday morning, and I had just pedaled my bike into my driveway. We were celebrating that warm, sunny morning – an early breakfast out followed by a ride around the duck ponds, just chatting and excited about the day. Our girl was returning home after a summer away working in Oregon, and we were counting down the minutes until we would drive to the airport. I had a morning’s worth of preparation before our ‘empty nest’ would start to fill again.
It was that kind of morning when it was hard to feel anything but happy.
“I’m fine…how are you?”
This felt strange – I had never spoken to Karen before. I’d never even met her – we only knew her as the new coach.
“Well, I’m afraid Cameron has had an accident. He’s loading into the toboggan now. We’ll let you know more once we get to ski patrol, but we think his leg is broken.”
I sank to the stability of the black metal porch chair. No. Wait. What?
“Did he hit his head? Is he conscious?” My mind was racing to the worst possible scenario. I’m good at that.
“He’s awake. It’s just his leg. They’re taking him down now, but…they wouldn’t have said that if they didn’t think it was broken. I’m sorry. I’ll keep in touch.”
It was the phone call no mom wants to get – the call that says your baby is hurting, your baby needs you, and you’re 600 miles away.
I’m one of those moms who goes to every game, every race, every meet. I could count on one hand how many times I’ve missed a competition. I’ve dug my nails into my skin when there have been falls and crashes, and whispered quiet thanks whenever they’ve gotten up and back on course.
This time, I wasn’t there. As my stomach began to clench, tears began to flow. Then I sprang into action.
I’ve been struggling to write about this for weeks, which is strange to me – writing is my meditation, my coping mechanism, my way of digging through this life and coming out the other end. Somehow, the words churned in my mind but couldn’t find their way to the paper; instead, they remained trapped inside, almost as if writing them would make them real. As if I just kept them in the safety of my mind, they would transform into a bad dream. I would wake up, rewind back to our bike ride and our conversation about the future…I could pick up my Sunday to-do list, change the sheets, buy the groceries, bake her favorite pumpkin scones and head to the airport full of joy at seeing my girl and spending her last ten days together before she left for college.
Instead, time stopped. His body was broken. Broken badly.
The days passed in a whirl of plane flights, painful drives and hovering over my son as I hadn’t since he was born. I had surrendered, placing him in another mother’s care until I could reach his side. My gratitude was endless, my heartache terminal. I had entered a parenting sphere which tilted me on my axis, tossing me in a sea of emotion. Every part of me wanted to suck up his pain, to make it my own. To fix his broken leg and mend his broken dreams.
But all I could do was look at what was right in front of me – a boy, my son, in pain and in need of care. In survival mode, I was unable to look past the next hour, the end of the day. This broken leg had simultaneously broken long-held dreams, had cracked the future just big enough to keep me from wasting one second on it. When tears welled up I called for gratitudes – three, right now. It became our ‘thing’. It became our way of making that moment ok. My fourteen year old, once so gloriously independent, had been reduced to asking me for nearly everything. Humbling, to say the least – for both of us.
Humbling, in that the very struggle I find myself chasing every day had now been taken away – another struggle in its place, but for these moments, I was present. My boy, me, and the gift of time together. A broken leg had shattered dreams and shuttered any thoughts beyond right now.
As the weeks have passed, we’ve returned to a ‘new normal’. My girl got to college, I made it back to school, and Cam passed the first hurdle and replaced his full leg cast with a short one. Our days are filled with lesson plans, laundry, walking the dog, homework and dishes, and our nights are peaceful. We’ve learned how to navigate these new moments, and find joy in the smallest of blessings – a pain free day, ‘walking’ on a cast, and watching movies side by side.
And in the mysterious way that the Universe has of giving me just what I need, just when I need it, the talented writer/mom Katrina Kenison posted on her blog. Turns out, her summer has been ‘broken’ too. As I read her words, I finally found my own. She writes,
“Even so, finding meaning in a situation that seems utterly meaningless, random, and unfair is hard, slow work. The “new normal” keeps changing. It’s human nature to want answers and plans and promises. And instead we have only the present moment, mystery, and hope. (Of course, we’re kidding ourselves if we think any life is predictable, any outcome assured, any promise a guarantee.) But slowly, bit by bit, the incomprehensible becomes more manageable.”
Right now, answers and plans and promises are for another day. Right now, right this moment, as he sits behind his closed bedroom door, homework completed with music shaking the walls, I know all is well. I know he is here, safe, and moving forward. I know, although broken, slowly, bit by bit, he is becoming whole again. And slowly, bit by bit, so am I.
Isn’t that all that matters?