First published May 2014
At six months pregnant with a toddler starting at daycare a few days a week, I was finally about to enjoy some long-awaited peace and ‘normality’ before the arrival of number two.
Until … my two-year-old fell off his scooter and broke his femur bone in two.
Yep – I wrote about the trauma of that horrible episode in my recent blog post Looking For That Silver Lining: How to Find Goodness in the Difficult Times.
The poor little thing was promptly put into a full body cast to give his femur the best chance of recovery. But it meant that he was bed-ridden and stuck in the same position for five long, whole weeks. At the age of only two years old, they were five looooong weeks. There were two positions he was able to lie in; either on his stomach with pillows propped under his chest, or on his back with pillows propped under his leg. And he needed us to turn him over each time he wanted to move from one side to the other.
For a little toddler who loved the joy of independence – he could run around by himself, play football, fly around on his scooter, feed himself, play with whichever toys he wanted when he wanted – this sudden reversion to complete dependence on us to do everything for him again, including moving and feeding him, was a big shock to his little system and a big frustration for his young little psyche.
How do you explain all of this to a toddler so that they understand what’s going on in a way that makes sense to them?
We were overwhelmed in the first week by all the support we received from our little community here in Korea. Our friends brought in home-cooked meals each night to the hospital, we had many visits from Jack’s little friends who brought along new toys, to Jack’s temporary delight. This buoyed our spirits and helped us get through that tough first week of shock and disbelief at the situation we were now confronted with.
And then the long recovery period set in.
Each day seemed eternal and was spent watching movies, playing with toys and gadgets, in between turning him from one side to the other. Nights were horrendous, the poor little thing couldn’t get comfortable and woke every two to three hours in discomfort from not being able to move and needing us to help ease his discomfort. My husband and I began to feel like parents with a newborn baby again, surviving in a haze of sleepless nights and stress.
My mantra became “This too shall pass”.
Each night I would collapse into bed and sigh with relief that we were one day closer to the end. We still received the occasional visits from friends, but as with all chronic, long-term illnesses or situations, people have to get back to their own busy lives and you’re left to wallow in your own miserable situation alone. I’ve experienced this before in life with losses; the high of friendship and support when something bad happens, and then the loneliness and desperation when everyone gets back to life while you’re still stuck with your suffocating grief, with nothing to do but endure it alone.
It was just Jack and I at home alone while my husband was at work, toughing it out together, crying and sometimes laughing together, like two mad hatters; riding the extreme emotional roller coaster that it was.
We had good days and bad days. And let’s face it, the bad days really sucked. Some days he would have an outburst of anger and frustration that could last up to an hour, desperately trying to release the negative emotion that had pent up in his little body. He would throw things and bite, hit things and scream with flailing arms and legs. The more I tried to comfort him the angrier he would get, so I would just sit next to him and cry myself, feeling completely powerless to help him, except try to explain again that he would be better soon and to let him know I was here for him. It was always a matter of letting him ride it out, express his anger and frustration, and be there for him to cuddle once he calmed down, which he always did, like a duck that’s shaken off the frustration after an angry encounter with another duck.
I learned a lot from his ability to rage and rant, express the furious emotion he was feeling, and then revert back to happy acceptance shortly after. Amazing.
It’s now seven weeks after the incident and he’s wearing a full leg splint now, the awful cast has been removed and his hips and other leg are now free, giving him some mobility again. His mood has improved out of sight since he’s been able to roll around on his own, crawl and even walk a little. His little face lights up with delight when he manages to stand up by himself, it makes our heart melt. He’ll be so happy when he’s able to walk again by himself. Each week at the check-up with the surgeon we secretly hope the surgeon will say he’s ready to walk freely again. And then at the sound of “perhaps one or two more weeks” my energy drops, I cry inside, and then I muster up the energy to get through another seemingly eternal week. With any luck, they’ll be able to remove the splint this week and he’ll be back to normal, with a little rehabilitation.
In the midst of all this, I was unable to do any work or any of the many things I’d planned before the incident. At first I resisted this enormously, trying to squeeze in a work module while he was watching a movie, even though I would be interrupted every five minutes when he wanted a cookie, or a different toy, or just to feel my presence and not my distracted half-presence.
Eventually, I had to give up hopes of achieving anything and surrender to the situation. I was being asked to let go and be with what is, as hard as that is for many of us.
When we get thrown a curve ball, we have to let go of the ideal goals or future we had in mind and accept the situation that’s right in front of us.
The easiest days in this past seven weeks have been those where I’ve surrendered to the day ahead and embraced the chaos. There were days where I screamed into my pillows myself and beat the hell out of them in sheer anger and frustration, or where I spent half the day in tears feeling so sad and powerless to make Jack feel any better. And then there were days where we both felt peace with the situation and even had fun together, laughing at silly videos or his dad’s funny evening dancing episodes. The more we embraced the chaos, the easier things seemed to be. Perhaps that was my lesson in all of this? Don’t fight it. Surrender and go with the flow, as undesired as that flow in life may sometimes be.
Is surrendering any easier? Not really. It’s tough and challenging too and frankly just sucks sometimes. But it’s also strangely liberating when we realise we can’t actually control any of this, so why bother?
As Elizabeth Gilbert says so well:
“If you can get some stuff done in the chaos sometimes, God bless you. If you can basically hold it together, propping yourself up with duct tape and glue, rock on. If you can manage to stay upright even one hour a day, you’re doing pretty great, as far as I’m concerned. And if you can be kind to the other stumbling fools around you half the time — well, that’s just heroic.”
Amen to that.
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In service to helping you live your brightest life,
Global Career Coach for Thriving Professionals
Inspired Careers International