Plans are moving ahead with my next open heart surgery. While I do not have an exact date yet, it will take place at some point over the summer. I am happy about the time frame for I know it will be easier to recover when the sun is shining in a blue sky, when my begonias are in bloom along my front lawn, and I can take my daily recovery strolls outdoors, hearing the fun of children in my neighborhood as I walk.
Once the date is chosen, there are different things I will need to do to prepare for my surgery. There will be plenty of paperwork to fill out including consent forms for both the operation and anesthesia. I will need to visit the hospital for preoperative testing, which will most likely be an EKG, a chest X-ray, and blood work. I will also have to stop some of my medications and be sure to get a good amount of rest and relaxation in the days leading up to the operation. In all of these ways, I will prepare myself and my body for this surgery.
Right now, though, I am more interested in another type of pre-op preparation: getting Rosemarie ready for my absence while I have the surgery and recover in the hospital.
Anthony and I have decided instead of staying in the city near me as he did during my last surgical recovery, he will be the one to stay home with Rosemarie. While my mother or his or any of our siblings would be willing to stay with her, we both believe it will be the most “normal” for Rosie to be home with Anthony rather than anyone else.
Actually, this will not be the first time Rosemarie is alone with Anthony for a few days. As a coach of competitive cheerleading, I accompany my team to sleep-away camp over the summer and a competition in Orlando in mid-February, and Rosie has never had a problem spending this time without me.
My concern, though, is that she has become far more attached to me since the last time I went away. She has always had a preference for me, of course, since I’m her primary caretaker, but in the past few months, the preference has developed into more of an attachment and she has a harder time away from me than she used to. Now when I leave her with my sisters, my mother, or even Anthony, she will notice my absence, calling my name as she wanders through the house and becoming agitated when she cannot find me.
All of this is normal for her age and is simply part of her development. But that doesn’t make it any less concerning to me when I’m faced with the task of leaving her for what may be the longest period yet and then returning home in a state that makes me unable to jump right into taking care of her.
And, so, I need to not only prepare myself for surgery, but I need to prepare my daughter as well. With others’ help, I have come up with some ways I can do this over the next several weeks.
In actuality, these ideas are not exclusive to moms having open heart surgery. Any mother may want to consider them if she must leave her child for a business trip, a vacation with her husband, or any other reason, especially if she needs to leave during the attachment phase.
Keeping My Distance
My first reaction when I realized I was going to need this surgery sooner rather than later was that I simply wouldn’t leave Rosemarie until the day of the surgery..for any reason. I would just spend all my time with her until then. I would miss cheerleading tryouts and a few birthday parties. Maybe I wouldn’t even need to shower. Whatever works.
Once my rational mind returned, though, I realized that is the worst thing I can do for her. The less time she spends away from me before the surgery, the harder it will be for her when I’m in the hospital.
I am not saying I will concoct reasons to go out just for the sake of being away from her, but I am not going to completely avoid leaving her. I attended four out of five days of cheerleading tryouts. I spent a night out helping my best friend plan her baby shower. As the weeks pass, I will continue to part with Rosemarie when I have something I need to do.
I do feel guilty leaving her for anything right now but I honestly believe it is the best thing for me to do. She needs to be used to my absence so that my time in the hospital is not a complete shock to her. As much as possible, I want those days to feel to her like any other day in her little world.
Anthony is a completely hands-on father, and he has been from day one. He has always fed her and changed her, dressed her and brushed her hair (which he somehow does better than I). He really does help whenever he can and lets me rest when necessary.
But he works and I stay home. And he works a job that sometimes has strange hours. So it is not often that he gets to sing her a lullaby and put her to bed. He is not usually home when she falls and needs comfort. He cannot always give her a bath and then wrap her up in a plush towel, rubbing her sides to keep her warm.
Even though Rosie loves Anthony and smiles each time he enters the room, it will be strange for her to suddenly have him doing all these daily tasks that I normally do with her. Therefore, instead of jumping right into this change when I enter the hospital, we will work on getting her accustomed to it over the next month or so. As the surgery approaches, Anthony will be sure to do some of these every day activities more often. He will put her to bed if he is here to do so and I will let him reach her first if she stubs her toe or takes a tumble. This way, once I am in the hospital, Rosemarie’s routine will not change entirely and she will be used to her father’s feeding her lunch and getting her pajamas on before bed.
Face 2 Face
Aren’t we lucky to live in such a technologically advanced time? Not many years ago, I would not have had ability to actually see Rosemarie “face-to-face” while I am away from her. Today, she will only be a touch screen away.
The plan is to try to video chat with Rosemarie at least twice a day. I FaceTimed with her once while I was in Florida for cheerleading this year. She did not understand the concept and reached her arms out to me, scrunching her eyebrows in distress, as if I could pick her up into my arms. (After this by the way, I was depressed for an hour while she happily went back to eating her lunch once my face disappeared from the screen).
I do not expect my not-even-two-year-old to understand the technology of video chatting, but before I enter the hospital, I would like her to at least grasp the idea of it. How can I do that? By practicing.
From now until my surgery, whenever I am away from Rosemarie (and she is with Anthony or a babysitter who actually understands the iPhone), I will FaceTime her. These sessions do not need to be long or even meaningful. I just want her to get used to the idea that she can see me and “talk” to me, but that that doesn’t mean I am actually there with her physically. At the same time, I want her to possibly make the connection that after we video chat, I eventually do return to her side and am able to pick her up when she reaches out those little arms.
My morning routine with Rosemarie is pretty varied. Sometimes she comes in my bed in the morning and we watch an episode of Barney while she drinks some juice. Other days she wants breakfast as soon as she wakes up, so we start off in the kitchen and she dips her waffle (or sometimes just her fork and, okay, her fingers) in her syrup while I empty the dishwasher. And still on other days, as soon as she wakes up, I throw her in the bath, dress her, and walk out the door.
Our afternoons are the same in the sense that they are always changing. The only time that is almost always consistent is bedtime. Rosemarie drinks her milk while watching Barney (she watches A LOT of Barney) on the living room couch. After an episode or two, we make our way to her room where she picks out a book. We sit in her glider and I read to her, turn out the light and sing “Baby Mine” before laying her in the crib.
Since this is our only daily ritual, I plan on incorporating it into our video chats while I am in the hospital. Kindoma Storytime is an app that allows you to video chat with your child while reading a children’s book. The screen displays both the pages of the book and a live video of your reading partner. When I turn the page at the hospital, Rosemarie’s page will flip as well. And if she points to a ball or bunny on the page, a shadow will appear on that object on my screen. Even though I can’t be in the room with her, we can still have our bedtime routine.
I am even considering developing another daily ritual before I enter that hospital that we can do together once I’m there. Maybe we can sing a certain song each day at noon or say a prayer before eating lunch. I am not sure what will work best but I think being able to do regular daily activities with me while I am away will provide Rosie with some stability at a time when things are going to be confusing to her.
I may be over-planning a bit. And the truth is that I honestly don’t know if any of this will matter to Rosemarie, if she will really need any of these things or just be perfectly happy hanging out with Daddy for a week.
What I do know is that I need them. I need to feel that I’ve prepared her as best I can for my absence. I need to leave the house the morning of the surgery feeling confident that she will be smiling and playing and giggling while I’m away. Because just as I was depressed after our failed FaceTime attempt in Florida while she was completely indifferent, I know our separation will really be harder for me than it is for her.
But I guess the reason doesn’t really matter. Whether it helps me or helps her, these are my plans and overall they will help our family make it through this summer a little more easily.
And maybe they will do something more. While this summer will undoubtedly be difficult, maybe all our preparation will help it be beneficial as well. Perhaps Anthony’s time alone with Rosemarie, doing all the things I normally do, and my time away from her, retaining our daily rituals, will bring us all closer in the end. Maybe somehow we can turn this obstacle into a blessing and by being well prepared, we can make this surgery something that doesn’t break us down but, instead, strengthens the bonds that hold us together.