"Mama?" "I'm right here, baby. I'm right here..."
The day of my surgery, I spent the night in the hospital -- my first time ever (unless you count when I was born, which I don't). Forty miles away, my little one spent the night in a hotel with her Bama & Baba (also a first).
The next day, we all arrived back home around the same time. It was hard for Nia to see me after the surgery, weak, in bed, bandaged, with drains coming out of me. She wanted to jump on the bed and spring into my arms. We had to remind her that she had to be gentle with me. I asked her if she wanted to see the bandages, without missing a beat she said no.
Then she cried and cried and cried.
She told me she wanted me to have the surgery to get a new breast.
Finally, in the evening, she watched a movie in the living room while Joe and I napped in the bedroom. I felt so disconnected from her. Separated from her by my pain and drowsiness and the whole situation.
After the movie, she went in the hot tub while I sat on the balcony. She eyed me cautiously over the edge of the tub.
After dinner, around bedtime, Aunt Whitney and Granddaddy George arrived. In through the door came sweet relief. Rescuers to deliver us all from our misery.
"Where do you want to sleep tonight, Bug?" asked Whitney.
And so it was for the next five nights: Nia slept with Whitney. This was big because Nia hasn't done that many "sleep-overs" and has only recently started sleeping in her own bed. Typically she spends part of the night in her bed and part of the night in the "big bed," Joe & I's king-size bed.
But suddenly she wanted nothing to do with me. She slept with Whitney at night, and barely saw me during the days.
"Do you want to go say hi to your mom?" Whitney would ask. "No."
She was mad and confused and grieving.
Of course she was. She had every right.
And then, slowly, she came back to me.
After five nights with Whitney, she woke up in the middle of night and wanted me. Whitney carried her in to our room and Nia tossed and turned for an hour beside me, whimpering and muttering, "Mama?"
"I'm right here, baby. I'm right here."
The next day she let me read to her in the morning and after a little coaxing she let me play a board game with her and Whitney.
That night, after 5 nights away, she decided to sleep with Joe and me.
We dimmed the lights, turned on the white noise machine and the turtle nightlight, and Joe picked up a book that he and Nia had begun before the surgery ("The Tale of Despereaux"). As he read, Nia inched closer and closer to me.
This story begins within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse...
First her head leaned into my head. Then her hand gently stroked my cheek and she rubbed the new hair on my head. And then slowly her hand began to explore my wounded chest. First her hand grazed my chest, on my shirt. Then, after several minutes, her hand slowly crept inside my shirt and her fingers gently explored my bandages.
She traced all along the tape and gauze. She felt along the plastic tubing of the drains. She touched my stomach and chest area that was free of bandages. She nestled her forehead into my neck.
As Joe read on, the tears silently dripped from the corners of my eyes and rolled toward my ears. I dared hardly to breath lest I interrupt this gentle exploration.
It was the most loving touch.
My baby had come home.