Three times it happened during Nathaniel's recent hospitalization.
"He's in here with Grandma," said the Emergency Room attending to the resident as they discussed Nathaniel's case outside the partially opened thick sliding glass door.
"Are you hanging out with Grandma, today?" the respiratory therapist asked Nathaniel when she came into his room to administer a treatment.
"Grandma, will you be staying the night instead of Mom?" asked a night nurse new to Nathaniel's case just after shift change.
"I'm Mom," I replied.
Once I added a smack, "A twenty-something Mom or Dad couldn't handle this kid."
But I am not convinced that is true. At twenty-three, I handled my first newborn's repeated kidney infections, hospitalizations, testing for bi-lateral ureter reflux, and Ureteral Reimplanation Surgery. At twenty-four, Rich handled his second born child's death. At twenty-five, he handled his third born child's pre-mature birth and extended NICU stay. We did the same together with two additional children. Truth is more often than not parents tend to rise to the occasion and handle whatever necessary for the sake of their children. Parents continue to grow up through the adult years as the process of having and raising children stretches and demands more of them.
Rich and I noticed very early in Nathaniel's hospital stay that everyone in the elevator who looked like us had GRANDPARENT on their visitor's sticker. It made us laugh. Not the fall on our faces laughter that Abraham and Sarah demonstrated when confronted with old-age parenting. Rather an elbow to the ribs. A smirk. A smile. A tousle of the gray hair by the other's hand. Then the elevator doors opened and we stepped forward into the task at hand as parents. Getting a quick bite to eat. Going to the Ronald McDonald room to shower. Returning to the Pedatric Intensive Care Unit to sit again beside a crib. Yes, we are older, but we are the parents.
It did not take a hospital stay to remind us of our age relative to Nathaniel's age. We are reminded of it often. Friends make comments in passing. Comments they probably regret saying after we part and we struggle to forget. "You'll be both parent and grandparent, huh?" said a friend the first Halloween we took Nathaniel to his door to Trick or Treat. "I don't want to adopt," said an older mom in regards to a foster baby she was caring for. "I want to be free to enjoy my grandchildren when they come along in a few years." "I pray for Nathaniel's health, but I also pray that you and Rich don't face any serious illnesses until you're like seventy-five or something." These are the comments that can cause my mind to wander and to worry late at night while I watch Nathaniel sleep. The oximeter blinks Nathaniel's oxygen level with a red light and heart rate with a green light and questions come and go like cars at a one traffic light intersection in a rural town. Slow. How will I juggle this intense care giving and being a grandma? What if Rich or I face a serious or life threatening illness? In my tiredness I am tempted to ponder long each what if. I try them on. I feel the weight as if the situation was already a reality. I have learned the hard way that God does not offer grace for the what ifs we contemplate deep in the night; rather He tells us not to worry about tomorrow. And He offers new compassion every morning.
With the sunrise, I blow dry my no-longer-blond-hair and notice the reflection in the mirror from a new picture on the wall behind me. I hung it there on purpose. It speaks louder than the friends' comments or the health professionals' labels. It speaks truthful words surrounded in a rich gold.
The frame was my great-grandmother's. For almost a century, it held a photo of her family. The collective set of photo and frame was passed to a daughter, and then to a daughter's son, and then to a son's daughter. Nobody, myself included being the final recipient, wanted to display the somber faces anymore, yet nobody wanted to dispose of it. Old photographs and frames have sacred jobs. They remind us of the generations we come from. This one reminded me of the women who lived before me. Women who worked late into the night on sewing projects for their family, who worked in church circles for community benefit, who worked in their gardens past the setting of the evening sun and past the getting of gray hair. I do not know their names. I do know their souls. I am one of them cultivating love deep into a little boy's tender heart. Sowing seeds of compassion on his medically worn spirit.
I daringly replaced the photo and created a new amalgam of family strength and eternal truth. I did the same with a second gold frame handed down from my grandmother. I like seeing them daily. They remind me of the fortitude and strength of my heritage both familial and spiritual. They chase away the fog filled questions of the night and evoke a more significant reason for being Nathaniel's mom than my trite answer that a twenty-something mother could not handle his needs. A reason I can not explain briefly to those thrown off by my gray hair and the wrinkles around my eyes when I smile, but that I believe is true not only for me but all those doing jobs that do not fit society's expectation. My friend raising six adopted daughters alone who long ago placed her dreams for a husband at Jesus' feet. The couple walking slow into church as their adopted school age boy pushes his walker ahead of them. The father loading his electrician tools into a twelve passenger van because the vehicle meets his blended birth and adopted family's needs better than the work truck sold. God created us, through Christ Jesus, to do good things. He brought each of us to a point today, through every life experience needed along the way, as a preparation for this time and these roles. Like His work of changing Sarai to Sarah, He changes and shapes and appoints us to jobs He knew long ago that we would do. For me, it is being Nathaniel's mother. Not his grandmother.
Prints purchased at She Reads Truth.