Boom! Boom! Boom!
I awoke in darkness this morning to the sound of one of the kids pounding on my bedroom door. My first thought was that one of the younger two needed to tell us they’d had a bad dream. Zombies, snakes, and aliens make a regular appearance around these parts.
Instead, it was Ellis looming in the doorway, the light of the hall bathroom glowing behind him.
“I need help!” he sputtered and as I glanced past him, I could see the bathroom full of blood.
My stomach twisted as I told Richard, “I need you.” He was up in a flash, putting on his pajama pants and rushing to Ellis’ side.
Last week, Ellis had intensive gum surgery to repair some problems that he’s had since birth. The periodontist cautioned us that there might be bleeding in the first day or so, but we are 9 days out from surgery and I think we all honestly thought we were home free.
As I rushed into the bathroom, all I saw was the sink full of bright, red blood. Ellis had blood running out of his mouth and down his arms. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. Not because of the scene, but because my child was hurt and scared and I didn’t know immediately the best, right thing to do.
Actually, I did know not to cry. That was it.
I checked my phone to see the time (it was 4:12) and noticed that Ellis had texted me about 30 minutes earlier.
“I need help” at 3:48 a.m.
“Wake up. I’m in the bathroom” at 3:58 a.m.
Then two missed phone calls from him.
I’m not sure why he didn’t pound on our door immediately, but my best guess is that my son, the one who is soon to leave and face the big, bad, wonderful world, was doing his damnedest to try to solve his problem on his own. For thirty minutes he bled, applied pressure, worried, and bled and bled some more.
I don’t think I handle stress well. I got sweaty and clammy and rushed to the kitchen to look for tea bags to use to apply pressure on the site. The doctor had given us plain, old Lipton tea bags and all we had were herbal types like Rooibos and Peppermint. At 4:15 a.m. and in a state of marginally controlled panic, I had no idea if those bags would even work.
I decided I needed to rush to the ex husband’s house (conveniently he lives one street over and I knew he was out of town) to get Ellis’ post surgical care sheet. At the very least, I knew it would have the doctor’s cell number on it and I could call him. I scrambled to find Ellis’ house keys, then couldn’t find my keys at all, so I grabbed Richard’s truck keys and zoomed off. I was shaking and losing my shoes and dropping things and trying to remind myself to just breathe.
All the while, Richard was back at our house tending to Ellis, giving him the tea bags he needed, cleaning up every ounce of blood in the bathroom, and making him a ‘nest’ on the couch to rest and continue applying pressure. During it all, he was the picture of cool, calm, and collected. Meanwhile, I felt like I could throw up at any minute and was on the verge of tears the entire time.
I didn’t want to scare Ellis, so instead I gathered up some wet paper towels and began wiping the dried blood off of his hands and arms. I wiped from his elbows to the tips of his fingers, where the blood had caked around his nails. It was an immediate throwback to his baby and toddler days when I’d clean him after a messy, afternoon snack. In that moment, I realized that even though he’s leaving soon, he will always need me. And if not me, he will need someone. We all do. And we always will.
I needed Richard and he was there for me, for Ellis. For us. He might be a step father, but I’m convinced more than ever that the step represents immensely more than stepping into the father role when the other father isn’t around.
It is so much more than that. I step into shoes every day. I step into the kitchen to do the dishes. I step into the bathtub at night. Those are just motions I take to make a means to an end.
Stepping in to love and care for another person’s child is one of the most unselfish, giving, and possibly under appreciated roles ever. Richard didn’t just step in this morning, he leaped, bounded, dashed, and took control of a situation that Ellis wasn’t able to handle on his own and one that I would have floundered in for far longer than need be.
When we knew Ellis was fine and we realized we could still possibly grab another hour or so of sleep, we crawled into bed and I laid my head on his chest and sobbed. The emotion of it all just finally got the best of me.
Loving people is hard work. As one of my sheroes, Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery says, life is ‘brutiful’. It’s brutal and beautiful all at once. At times, it’s scary and full of things in the dark that you are terrified to face. But, it can also be the most amazing and rewarding gift ever. For me, life is loving and loving is life.
As I tried to fall back asleep, thoughts kept rushing through my mind.
I learned that Ellis does still need me. Maybe not in the same way as before, but I know I need to make sure that I am always available for him. I will reconfigure the settings on my phone to make sure that if he ever cries for help in the darkness of the night, I am able to hear him and get to him as soon as possible.
I learned that Richard is so much more than just a ‘step’ parent. He is willing to be there for my kids 100%. He is there in sickness and in health (because those vows are actually, I see now, for the whole family), and will do whatever it takes, whenever it’s needed to make things better. My kids and I are so lucky to have him in our lives and I love him more than words can convey.
And I learned that, in the end, we all still need somebody. I’m pretty sure that none of us ever truly ‘grow up’ and stop needing care and love. If my mom were still alive, I would have already been on the phone to her (more than once) to ask for advice or hear her comforting words or just tell her how incredibly scared I was this morning.
Ellis is still asleep and Richard is working in his home office and I am here. Just breathing and thinking and being thankful for the lessons I find in the brutiful, dark moments that somehow always seem to dawn into light.