Through the birth of Austin, Valerie dedicated her life to being a mother.
Through the growth of Trenton, Valerie sacrificed her time, effort, heart and tears showing the depth of her care for her kids.
Through the maturity of Allison, Valerie sacrificed her clothing, bras, shoes, jewelry, conditioner, makeup, flatiron, blow dryer…
What does it take to be Valerie, or “Trenton’s mom",” as she’s known in the hospitals? Starting at our beginning, when we first met, all I needed to know was that she had a look similar to Linda Ronstadt and Jackie Onassis, and she didn’t get that “I smell a dead skunk” expression on her face when she saw me approaching. I could describe more of her physical attributes, but my kids read this blog, therefore, to save my family from nausea and therapist bills, I will move on.
I recall lying on the bed with Val when we were eight months pregnant, watching a small bump move across her bloated tummy. It was Austin’s fist. Val had also begun feeling a pain around her left rib at the same time her right pelvic area ached. Her doctor would later explain it was the baby stretching. Two months later, “Baby A” was lying between us on our bed, stretching his arms and legs as I watched in awe.
Austin was an ADORABLE (get that? A-FREAKIN-dorable) toddler physically, verbally (we let him answer the phone at the age of three) and fashionably, and Valerie eagerly supported all the above, as did her mother who worked for Neiman Marcus. By the time he could walk, Austin recognized the logos of Domino’s, McDonald’s and “Meemans.” For Valerie, this time of life was simply maintenance and PR for Baby Gap.
And then there was Trent. Born with a pile of bright red hair that spiked in every direction when freshly washed and blown dry, his first haircut was at five weeks old. It was more of the same PR for the first eleven months until our transplant life began and Valerie was driven by emotions and desperation. She (we) had no clue, no experience, no baseline for making judgment. Don’t feel badly when you are in the same position your first time; after all, it’s your first time. Thankfully, we had mothers. Mothers delivered food. Mothers took care of Austin. Mothers took turns sitting awake all night in Trenton’s ICU room so Valerie could sleep.
A couple years later, when life became more routine, Val and I were (mostly) in agreement as to how the kids should be raised, so I was caught off guard when I noticed Valerie letting Trent, now at the “testing” age of three, get by with mischief I knew Valerie knew was unacceptable. When confronting her, she expressed to me what both of us had felt, but never discussed. “I don’t know how long I have him.”
Immersed in over a decade of Indian Guides, soccer, tae kwon do, school, snot, Lion King videos, black olive pizza, homework, baby sister, band and video games our lives had become encumbered by the demands of normal life, thankfully distracting us from the detour of the hospital path. When the next detour appeared in the form of cancer in seventeen-year-old Trenton, Valerie was sucker punched, but a veteran, trained by monthly hospital visits, doctor conversations and insurance phone calls she kept her fighting stance externally while she wanted to crumble on the inside. She and Trent spent the first night of this journey in the ER at Children’s Medical Center, awaiting test results as they basked in the annoying fluorescent lights.
Having returned home late that evening to be with Allison, I awoke quickly when the phone rang at 5 AM the next morning. Valerie was calm and collected. “Hey. We got the test results a couple hours ago, but I wanted to let you get some sleep. Trenton has a tumor in his abdomen and they’re going to operate later this afternoon to see if it’s malignant.” After disconnecting, the first thing to enter my mind was Val’s composure. I could tell from experience that her soft voice indicated she was in Trenton’s room, wanting to show no emotion with him nearby. Thankfully, we had mothers during our cancer battle. A mother knit an alpaca cap for Trent. Mothers took care of Allison. The Executive Director of Trenton’s school, also a mother, organized her staff to accommodate Trent being out of school for four months, so he could still graduate on time. And mothers delivered food.
Two decades of medical experience (I refer to her as our family doctor) has provided Valerie with ample training. She converses easily with medical staff and has occasionally corrected them; tracks closely the medications prescribed; and understands the how/what/why of a variety of procedures. She knows the machines and monitors and how to read them. She has dealt with practically everything the mother of a transplant kid can experience in logistics, processes and administration at a hospital. Has that “strengthened” her? Not exactly. It’s trained her for managing the setting, so she is competent in that environment. However, when the whole setting goes downhill, she follows it, understandably. In May of 2014, when Trenton arrested following a routine procedure, Valerie melted to the floor in tears before I could even fully comprehend what the cardiologist was telling us. Nonetheless, while her right brain erupted, her left brain continued to analyze, as she asked questions and made comments indicating her understanding of our predicament. Thankfully we had mothers. At our lowest point, when we believed we had just lost Trenton, I felt I might not be enough to help Valerie through her mourning. I needed the help of a mother, and one came.
So, here’s the inside scoop, and back to the question: what does it take to be Valerie? Love, sacrifice, hard work and caring. It’s not complicated but it’s often not easy. It’s being a dedicated mother. When you are in the same position, and you love your kids, you will do whatever it takes, and it WILL hurt, but you CAN survive.
For mothers…I’m still thankful. Happy Mother’s Day.
P.S. – Valerie had a nice surprise of flowers from Austin on the Friday before Mother’s Day and she texted her thanks to him. Austin later sent the following screen shot to me with the comment, “Your move.”