My cell phone let out an angry buzz that reverberated through the sticky Naugahyde, rousing me from my one-eyed slumber. I grabbed for the phone and checked the time, then the number. Home. Where exactly was I?
I punched the green button, took in the IV poles, antiseptic smells and insistent beeps in one breath. “Hello?”
“Mamá?” Laura’s hesitant voice came over the airwaves.
“What’s up, Sweetie?” It was nine o’clock in San Francisco, an hour later back in Bozeman—way past bedtime on a school night.
My voice triggered a series of sobs and snuffles. My heart broke. All I had was the power to listen, to sort, to try to make sense of the garbled story gushing through the earpiece. If only my arms were a thousand miles long and I could hold my baby in my lap, rock her gently and soothe her troubles as I had kissed her boo-boos when she was little.
I checked on Pedro, who appeared to be asleep, although it was always hard to tell because his eyes didn’t close completely any more. My mind multitasked while I murmured questions meant to help Laura calm down and speak coherently, and breathed gentle pats of compassion with my voice.
“She said what?” What I thought I’d heard Laura say couldn’t be true. How could anyone, even a twelve-year-old, be so cruel? My voice hardened and my hackles rose. “Tell me again what Susie∗ said.”
“She said that if my dad died, then you could marry her dad, and we’d be sisters.”
I did the only thing I could think of in a situation like this one. I conjured up a laugh and said, “Wow! Susie must really want some more sisters to suggest a thing like that!”
“But is Papá going to die?”
“He’s breathing right now,” I answered. “And the doctors say he’s doing better than he was yesterday.”
I could hear relief wing it’s way into my ear from a thousand miles and a time zone away. “That’s good.”
“Sweetie,” I assured her, “God is watching out for us, he hears our every cry and prayer.” My words felt empty without the closeness of my arms around her shoulders when I whispered words of faith.
“I know,” Laura whispered back. “But promise me, you’ll never marry Susie’s dad. Ever!”
“Now that’s a promise I can make, honey.” I started to giggle. Susie’s dad was twenty years my senior, divorced, and just the thought of being married to him…well, it made me giggle.
“O.k., that’s all I wanted to know.” Laura sounded better, more confident.
“There is no, no, no, no, no WAY!” I swallowed a snort and fought to gain control. Breathing out, I managed a hearty, “I love you!”
“Me, too,” she answered. “Bye.” I prayed that was a chuckle I heard as the connection died.
“That Laura?” Pedro turned to look at me, his face frozen expressionless by the lymphoma cells, his eyes dulled from the drugs. “O.k.?”
“She’s o.k.,” I assured him. “She just had to tell me something that happened at school today.
“Good.” His eyes smiled briefly, then he drifted off to sleep.
–Author’s note: Today, Pedro and I celebrate 25 years of marriage. We survived both cancer and caregiving and are the proud parents of two lovely young women who have also survived and thrived.
What parenting challenges have you faced on your caregiver journey?