‘This belongs to’ … realizing who our special needs kids really belong to in a hospital cafeteria
I sit in the hospital cafeteria, a half eaten chicken sandwich and a bottle of water is positioned in front of me on the plastic tray that reminds me of grade school. My foot taps. A loud metronome sounds in my head. Tick, tick, tick, tick.
I scoop up another bite of chocolate pudding with whipped cream, an indulgence saved in my world for hospital cafeterias.
I look around for other parents. You can tell who they are, either by exhausted expressions, or by the white ‘this belongs to’ bag that carries their child’s things during surgery.
In the last seven years since I became a special needs mom, I’ve been in the hospital cafeteria countless times while waiting for one of my two daughters with Down syndrome.
Today Polly has two quick outpatient surgeries. Hopefully, it’s an in and out day; a tooth capped, a tooth pulled, and muck cleared out from the tear ducts in her eyes.
But there have been times when I’ve sat here for a reprieve during a much longer stay in the hospital; a brain surgery, or a scary test, or for recovery from a catastrophic stroke.
I put down my chocolate pudding spoon, and place my trembling hand on the cool white ‘this belongs to’ bag, the only thing left of my child; her scuffed up gym shoes, a pair of jeans, a plain pink shirt, and wait for a page that she is out of surgery, and that I can go to her, take her in my arms, and hold back her hair if she vomits from the anesthesia.
This isn’t the stuff parents dream of when we have children. No one thinks their child will be in need of life saving surgery. We all assume an extra chromosome or another special need will happen to someone else. But not to us.
But this is the stuff of life. Kids get sick. Kids are born with special needs. They fall off the monkey bars at school and break their arms. They wake up in the middle of the night with a tightening in the chest, or a stiff neck, or a fever of one hundred and four. They stop for pancakes with their mom and sister one bright Sunday morning, and have a stroke right there in the middle of the restaurant.
This belongs to …
And so we parents find ourselves sitting listlessly in hospital cafeterias, spooning chocolate pudding to our lips for comfort, gripping the white hospital bag of our child’s belongings, and wondering why in the hell God would allow such a thing to happen to them.
And to us.
I pat the ‘this belongs to’ bag like it is a loyal dog curled up next to me. After Polly gets out of surgery and recovers, God willing, I will take her things from the bag and put them back on her; her jeans, her pink shirt, her scuffed gym shoes. She’ll once again be mine, belonging to me, and we will toss the white bag in the trash and be on our way.
But the ‘this belongs to me’ bag will stay with me. It’s a reminder that my child isn’t actually mine, but God’s. Placed in my charge, at least for a little while, I am her white plastic bag that holds the precious treasure known as her life.
I will remember that there is someone who loves her too, loves her more, and has a good plan for her. And for me.
In the midst of crazy scary uncertainty in life, when kids get sick, when we parents find ourselves in waiting rooms or hospital cafeterias, I’ve come to learn that God is fine with our kicking and screaming, and fiery questions … “Why her? Why us?” We don’t have to be polite with God, or try to make it seem like our faith makes us strong and ready for these trials. No, we can be honest. We can be raw.
If we are able to get quiet enough to listen, and are patient enough to wait, he will answer.
And this is what he’ll say.
“This belongs to me.”