Words for Parenting has been on a break for a few weeks while mama and lettering artist Alanna has been settling in at home with the family Alex, James and Tristan after Tristan’s birth and care at BC Children’s Hospital NICU.
Jacquie (that’s me) has been holding the fort when needed, doing laundry and trying to keep up with her own doula clients (with time out for some Norovirus escapades).
Tristan has been a true valiant knight throughout, and turned one month old just a few days ago. He is still receiving paediatric care, and will be for some time, but there are glimpses of normalcy, and it’s time to reflect and give thanks.
Since this is all about words for parenting, I want to thank Tristan’s older brother James first, since he is the only one who didn’t have a clue what he was in for…
James (2 1/2) stayed at our house for a couple of weeks at the beginning of March. He was angelically easy, almost too easy — he ate well, played well, cried rarely and slept through the night. Something told me that he was holding onto all his big feelings and saving them up for his mum and dad.
Then he let loose. Tears. Lots of “Go away!” to his dad. Screaming for his mum. Random karate chops in the air and grrr-ing faces. Yup, the dam broke. He loved visiting his mum and dad at the hospital with his new baby brother, but it was all too new, too different. He didn’t understand why his parents couldn’t take him home to their own house. After two weeks, he released his emotions in a flood. Daddy, at the very least, had to come home soon.
Rather than feeling overwhelmed (well, there was that one moment in the NICU on the first day and another at the Valet at BC Children’s…), I felt calm, and such gratitude after James’ tears came. He needed those tears. I thank Alanna for her grace and strength and the freedom to shed tears herself and to share them with her son. I thank my son for his easily expressed love, hugs (totally the best in the world) and open communication. I thank them for their trust in the entire family, the clan, as we take turns to support them. I especially thank them both for understanding when I had to carry their screaming eldest son away from the hospital.
As I walked away with James in my arms, I thanked James for expressing his feelings. He held on tight. He stopped crying as soon as we reach my car in the hospital parking lot. I opened his door and waved him forward. “I can climb up by myself. Thank you for letting me climb up by myself.” “You’re welcome, James.”
I sat in the driver’s seat as we both dried our tears. “You are resilient, James. You don’t really know what that means yet, but you will one day. You’ve had lots of big feelings today. Leaving mum and dad was hard. I hope all these tears make you feel a bit better. I love you. Thank you for letting us all know how you’re feeling. ” We drove home for dinner. Before bed, he stood in the shower, letting the water run over his face, eyes closed, smiling and releasing big sighs as he lifted his hands into the air.
Children are mimics. They imitate what we do. The best way to encourage authentic expressions of gratitude or support in children is to model these behaviours ourselves. After these past few months, James has seen so many people hugging and giving thanks with courage and love that I think he is well on his way to understanding how expressing gratitude works!
James might not say “Thank You” all the time, and he certainly won’t say it on cue like a robot, but he does say it enough to surprise us, and that’s perfect for now. His expressions of thanks come from the heart, spontaneously. And, whether he uses words or hugs, thanks that come from the heart are the best thanks of all.
When his mum and dad came through the door after Tristan was released from hospital for the first, then second, then third time…there were long deep hugs for all. Everyone gave thanks. I’d like to say that things were really easy from that moment, and everything was normal again for them, and for James. But the adjustment wasn’t easy, and it will be some time yet before we all reach the “new normal”. But, each day, we think we can see it getting a little bit closer, and for that, we give great thanks.
From Alanna and Alex…
…Thanks also must be given to Carolyn and Andrea of Strathcona Midwives for everything including teaching us the practice of deep long hugs and their continuing supportive care.
…Thanks to the Maternal Fetal Medicine Team at BC Women’s Hospital, especially Dr. Marie-France Delisle for being BOTH a soccer mum on weekends and a rock star perinatologist skilled in the precision procedure of in-utero transfusions during the week, and for hearing and respecting our wishes, and to Dr Nancy Kent for trusting us to give birth undisturbed on the day Tristan was born.
…Thanks to all the BC Women’s and Children’s nurses we met throughout, plus special thanks to Katherine for providing such continuity at the MFM Clinic and Lizzie in the Teck Acute Care Centre for her respectful and near-invisible support.
…Thanks to the BC Children’s NICU teams, especially in Hedgehog (now Tristan’s spirit animal) and Rabbit
…Thanks to the Blood Services team and all those who give blood so Tristan could thrive after two transfusions prenatally, IV immunoglobulin, and another transfusion at 3 weeks of age
…Thanks to all the Pediatricians and Residents, especially Dr. Shawn George for his deep dives, explanations, and focused continuing care for Tristan.
…Thanks to the designers of the new Teck Acute Care Centre at BC Children’s hospital, where all rooms allow parents to sleep beside their sick children in quiet, dimly-lit home-like comfort.