Today she woke me up with a mischievous smile on her face as she pelted me with stuffed animals from her crib. She laughed as each small stuffed animal made its way across the six foot gap to the bed I was sleeping in. She just turned two a couple weeks ago, but her aim and accuracy shows promise of a future little league Madison Bumgarner.
“Dah-di, wake up! Hehe,” laughing diabolically and not in a cute toddler sort of way. Her laugh is lower and a bit more gutteral, like the kind you would hear from a James Bond henchmen.
I turn in her direction admitting defeat and smile in feigned resignation. I get up, still half asleep, and notice her right eye a bit swollen, but her peering, beautiful soul, still calling for my attention. I reach for her as she reaches for me and we fill the room with the biggest warm hug we’ve come to expect from each other. It’s become our morning ritual. It’s become a meaningful compass as my role as a father.
“Dah-di, carry” as she points to the bedroom window. She urges me to open the blinds as we continue our morning ritual.
Every morning we search for the squirrel in the trees of our backyard. It started as a way to distract her while I quickly changed her diaper and got her dressed. Now it’s become our little game before we start our day. I watch her face as she scans the trees with her eyes. Her finger waiting patiently against the window pane as she searches for our little friend. A few seconds pass and she hears the rumble of the garbage truck pass.
“What’s dat?” she mumbles in her mockingly fearful way. I pretend to be scared. She sees my cue and exclaims “No Dah-di , Truck!” as her way of pointedly ushering my silly fear away.
The games, the banter and the ritual all have become moments I’ve seeded, grown and loved every day. These are the moments I’ve come to prepare for, look forward to and nurture. These are the moments every parent relishes as their secret gift, behind all the clamor and ritual and monotony of parenthood.
So like that, I was chalking this day to be much like the rest. The start of this day exactly like most of the rest. No different than the rest. Please, God make this just like the rest.
Fast forward to the specialists office at Stanford Medical Center several hours later.
I stand holding my timid Samar in my arms, standing not at a window pane searching for a squirrel, but a hospital window. The room is smaller than her bedroom, with stickers of animals against the bright sunlit mid-afternoon window.
I pointed out the giraffe, the lion and the monkey while we patiently waited in the room alone, before the doctor walked in to give us the results of her CT scan an hour before. It was my distraction technique, to calm and ease her fears from all the poking and prodding the past two weeks. She was apprehensive but calm. I held her in my arms insuring her safety and trust as we waited for the doctor to return.
The doctor walks in with another doctor and welcome us back. Samar clutches my arm, her eyes beginning to water, as I assure her nothing is going to happen. She whimpers in her soft timid frame, “No Dah-Di.” As she burrows her face into my shoulder.
I carry her to the standing computer as the doctor positions the LCD screen in our direction. The results of the CT scan appear in detail on the screen. I smile and point at the screen saying, “Look Samar, daddy and doctor are just going to talk.” She continues to burrow her face in my shoulder.
The doctor proceeds to nonchalantly explain what I’m viewing on the screen. She orients me to the nose and eye regions of the scan.
I have no idea what’s normal, what to expect but I’m pretty positive it was just a plugged tear duct. It would explain the bump under her eye. It would explain the swollen tears that come from there. You know, because of allergy season. I’m expecting a prescription of children’s allergy medicine, and an explanation of how the duct was blocked and how it will take care of itself in a couple of weeks.
The doctor proceeds to explain the monochromatic color on the screen.
The black area is normal, it’s her nasal passage, that’s clear. The left side is what we want to see. The right side is currently blocked. There’s a tumor…
Instantly everything after that washes out in some weird perspective as I clutch Samar in my arms. Nothing can prepare you for moments like this. Absolutely nothing. My heart dropped thousands of feet into an infinite abyss. The survival instinct of fleeing, kicked in as I clutched her tighter in my arms. There is nowhere to run. There is no way I can protect her from this. This day started out like any other beautiful day and now it’s become a nightmare of fears, I have no control over. I’m lost in my own thoughts in what seems like hours but really just a few seconds since the doctor uttered that word.
I reply calmly to the doctor, trying to anchor myself to the present, “Is it malignant or benign?”
The doctor responds in her best bedside manner possible, “Those are the right questions.”
The weight of acknowledging the question hangs over me, adding to the deep sinking feeling of helplessness. My baby turns to the screen more calm than ever. I look at her and think to myself, there are no squirrels on this screen. She’s calm now and I’m not sure she grasps the levity of the situation. I speak calmly to the doctor, trying my best to mask the fear and sadness as best as I can as we talk through the different scenarios and expectations of the next few days.
The entire time I’m wanting to hit the restart button to this day, taking me back to an endless loop of our morning wake up ritual. Staying in our happy place, over and over and over again.
I am devastated by the news we received today. It’s been a day of disbelief, denial, sadness and anger. The outpouring of love from family and friends has strengthened our resolve and our determination that we aren’t alone in this. The texts and the messages have been extremely helpful. The offerings of love and support will definitely be needed.
I expect to journal and write as much as I can. It helps me deal and sort out what’s important. One day I’ll look back at this terribly difficult day and remember our morning ritual, and have that on repeat as the only thing I remember from today.