I’m going to throw out just one more post about those first few days after we found out about Oliver’s condition, and specifically thank my mom for her huge help and positive spirit. But first, I’ll share a couple stories from my younger years on our family’s farm, because I think they’ll help explain what my mom did for me.
When I was little, my dad started spending a few months every summer helping his dad on the farm in northwest North Dakota, which was about 3 hours from our home in Bismarck. My dad had a little land of his own, and he and my grandpa worked out a deal where Dad would help my grandpa on his farm in exchange for being able to use some of Grandpa’s equipment for planting, spraying, and harvesting his own land. Over time, my dad has purchased his own equipment and established his own farm. (Side note: My brother Dan is now taking over that farm, and my sister Rachel writes about life as a teacher in that area on her blog, Boomtown Diaries. I can’t promise it’s a must read, but sometimes there is a worthwhile nugget. Don’t hold your breath, though.). When I was around 12, I started going on extended trips to the farm and helping as much as I could. I learned how to drive on an old red and white dodge grain truck that we called the “Coke Truck”. I remember the sensitive clutch, the raw horsepower, the holes in the floor boards, and the permanent smell of mouse poison and mouse poop, evidence that the Coke Truck mice (of Nimh, probably) were a genetically superior strain of mice that actually had poison eating parties just to prove they weren’t going anywhere.
During my first few summers, we didn’t have radios or cell phones. If anything broke down or didn’t go as planned, you might be stranded for an entire day. Starting when I was 13, my grandpa used to drop me off, lunch pail and water jug in hand, at his open-cab Versatile swather, and I would swath most of the day without seeing or talking to a soul. He would check up on me once or twice just to make sure things were going all right (and bring me a coke or an ice cream sandwich), but depending on what he had going on, it could be a long time between visits. On several occasions my machine would break down and I would sit there for hours, nervously waiting for someone to show up and diagnose the problem, hoping that operator error was not the suspected cause of the breakdown.
Then we got two-way radios installed in our vehicles, trucks, tractors, combines, etc… and it changed farm life dramatically, much like cell phones have changed the way we all do things today. Suddenly we were always connected, never more than a radio click away when plans changed or someone needed help. Huge efficiency gains ensued, but just like with cell phones, there were drawbacks to being always connected.
For example, when you’re sitting in an air-conditioned combine on a 95-degree day and someone calls you on the radio to tell you that they spilled a bunch of barley and they need help shoveling it back into the truck, at that moment you wish your radio didn’t work.
In truth, the radios didn’t always work right. I overheard many conversations like this,
“Dad, you copy?”
“Yeah, I copy.”
“I think this tractor is overheating.”
“I didn’t hear that… it was all static.”
“Still static. Turn your radio off and on and then try it.”
“Still static. Maybe pull your radio out of the mount and then slam it back in.”
“Can you hear me now?”
“Yeah, that’s better.”
But sometimes, I’d hear conversations like this,
“Jack, you copy?”
“Go ahead, Dad.”
“I just plugged this combine, and I need you to climb in there and pull out the weeds while I try to turn the rotor.” (translation: I have a really really miserable job waiting for you)
“Can you hear me now?”
“Yeah, all clear, what’s up?”
“I plugged this combine and I need some help.”
“Sorry, still didn’t hear that… all static.”
“How about now?”
“Yep, go ahead.”
“I need you to drive over here; I need your help unplugging this combine.”
“Get your butt over here.”
I also heard this one several times.
“Dad, it’s quitting time… I’m going to shut down.”
“Sounds good, Rachel, but how about we all just make one more round?” (Translation: let’s all work for another hour)
“Very funny. Just make one more round.”
“Still static. You might want to get that radio checked.”
Getting back to Oliver’s arrival, I’ve already mentioned that those first few days were difficult. Monday, the day we were first told about Oliver’s condition, however, was by far the worst for me. For several reasons, I’m not going to share all the thoughts I was having at the time, but they were really depressing. I’ll share one example, which was that I remember thinking about how I didn’t want to spend time with or bond with a baby who was just going to be taken away in a week or month or year. Like I said… bad stuff.
I called my mom shortly after we were told about Oliver’s heart (around noon on Monday), and she hopped on a flight and arrived late Monday evening. I picked her up at RDU airport, and right away she started talking about how Oliver was going to be ok. It was nice to hear some positive thinking, but I still couldn’t shake the darkness, and I found myself arguing with her and verbalizing some of my depressing comments. Mom’s responses to any dark comments were consistent, and just what I needed.
She didn’t actually say that, of course, but she more or less ignored any dispiriting comments and kept highlighting reasons for optimism. We talked for quite a while Monday night, and I know I kept saying things during our conversation that I’m now ashamed to even think about. But my mom didn’t really try to debate me or my faulty logic (and if you know my mom and I, you know it’s easy for us to slip into some pretty unconstructive debates), and she didn’t let my comments get her down. She just ignored me and stuck to her message.
Later that night, on my drive back to the hospital, I started replaying our conversation, and I had what I’ll call an epiphany that snapped me out of my funk. By the time I reached the hospital, I had made a resolution that has changed my entire outlook regarding Oliver:
I’m this little boy’s dad. Period. Even if he has a lifetime of surgeries, and even if it’s difficult, I’m going to love him and do whatever I can to give him the best chance at achieving his own successes in life.
I’m not kidding that that one resolution has changed my outlook and made everything about this situation more bearable, including those first few days even when every bit of new we received was worse than the previous news. Once I had made up my mind that my job and my role wasn’t going to change no matter what was wrong or how severe the issue, it was easy to sort of let go and say, “I’m just going to love my son and do what I can.”
I’m thankful it’s been an easy resolution to keep so far, and I think a lot of that has to do with the continued prayers and support we’ve received from everyone. Oliver continues to do really well, and as I’ve said many times, there actually ARE many reasons for optimism. I keep hoping and praying that that first day was as bad as it will ever get. But I do have to give a shout out to my mom for helping me get to a positive place faster than I think I would have if left to my own thoughts.
Here’s Oliver’s 1 month picture that Shawna took and edited last week.