Val and I lost our third and youngest child to the adult world as she left for college a few days ago, so this is a tribute to daddy’s baby girl.
I love Valerie and there is no one who can replace her. She was the only one with me before kids, and she will be the only one when the last of our kids are out and on their own. There is no one who compares to her in my world. That said, the second of three unique women in my life is Sweetie – Allison – the little girl I wanted long before she existed.
Early in 1998, learning Mommy would soon have a baby, three-and-a-half-year-old Trenton expressed his desire for a sister (his name of choice: EO), and he was available for consultation the day we learned the gender of employee #5 at Cary Enterprises. Driving home from the obstetrician, with Trenton strapped into his car seat, Valerie said, “Well, it looks like you get your wish. We’re going to have a girl,” to which Trenton reacted by throwing a fit and yelling, “I wanted a BOY sister!” There is more, such as Trenton deciding he wanted the baby in his tummy, and asking his bulging mommy if a leg was sticking out, but let’s leave that to your imagination.
At the age of three, Sweetie tried ballet. I have seen a pic, posted many times on Facebook, of a young ballerina with the caption, “Be this girl.” Allie actually did this in class, which was a sign for Valerie that ballet might be too confining for Allie.
When Allie turned five, I told her that she was not allowed to turn six, and that if she did, she would be grounded until she went back to five. She was my weekend workout partner and loved sprints and pushup and situp contests. Her passion for conditioning and pushing herself led to seven years of competitive gymnastics, with 30+ hours per week of training, private schooling at the gym and fifty-one weeks of training between vacations. This is a sample of their workouts, just the conditioning before the actual practice.
Of course, Allie has no connection to transplant number one. She heard stories and saw the meds and doctor visits. She had visited Children’s literally before she was born, and rode the halls in her stroller monthly into her toddler years, but it was all just regular life and part of a story until cancer. Her brother’s cancer was Allie’s first experience with our family health challenges and she was thirteen years old in eighth grade at the time. At that age, she was old enough to understand, mature enough to take care of herself and thoughtful enough to help. She was also young enough to complain, but didn’t.
Allison was a reassuring connection to reality from my hospital surreality. While I continued to juggle responsibilities of support for Valerie and Trent at the hospital, combined with work, home, bills, schedules and everything else that doesn't really matter at the end of the journey, Allie centered me, calmed me at the end of it all, more than she realized or attempted. She was not normally proactive to help, but throughout this trek, she was there for whatever reality support I needed. I handled stress throughout the day, allowing it to build up into knots at the upper portion of my neck, and Allison knew how to disintegrate those knots with her strong gymnast hands. I would sit on the couch and relax my head back while Allie stood behind the couch, with her hands under my head, firmly pulling and stretching my neck and spine, allowing the stress to ease out from the vertebrae and prep me for a short night of sleep before doing it all over the next day.
Allie did dishes and laundry without being asked, stayed on top of her homework, never complained and seemed easy going and understanding about the disruption. I wondered what she thought, and one night, not long into the journey, I found out. We were riding in the car, just the two of us. The sun had fully set and the radio was playing, but otherwise, we had little conversation until Allie spoke up with no warning.
“Is Trenton going to die?” she asked calmly but directly.
A quick prayer for help shot through my brain as a moment of nonresponse filled the car.
“I don't think so, Sweetie. He could, but they have a lot of data showing his kind of cancer is treatable and they think he will be fine. They have some good meds for treating this, so I think it's going to be OK.”
My mind wandered for more answers, wondering which direction to take the discussion, if at all, and music from the radio covered the next minute of dead space in our discussion.
“Isn’t cancer hereditary?” she asked next.
A light bulb went off. “You're worried about getting cancer, aren't you?” I inquired.
“Well, I wouldn't worry about that. Trenton's cancer was caused by his medications. Our family doesn't have a history of cancer, so you have nothing to worry about.”
And, with that, she seemed satisfied. I hurt knowing she carried that worry, but was thankful she shared it and we addressed it.
Between cancer and transplant number two was a staph infection on Trenton’s heart, and Allie showed she was thoroughly trained on disruptions to life’s “regular” schedules. She learned our “routine” of preparing provisions of clothing, makeup, snacks and technology for Valerie to stay the night at the hospital. If she felt discomfort in the sterile setting of ICU, with her brother hooked to multiple monitors and drips, she didn’t show it, instead choosing humor (the family M.O.) and tweeting selfies.
During heart transplant number two, Allie was completing the final few weeks of her sophomore year in high school, and thus, had become more independent. She had friends to ride to school and cheer. She was totally responsible for her homework, so Val and I never had that on our worry list. She rarely ate dinner alone, however, as my goal was to make sure Val and Trent were fed and ready to settle in for a long night of short naps in his hospital room before I drove home to eat with Allie. And Allie sat with me in the den, watching television after dinner. We didn’t talk a lot, but we didn’t need to. I knew Allie liked being in her bedroom, but hung around for me anyway; and hopefully, my being there helped her too.
Rarely did Allie and I get consumed with hospital details at night. Valerie and I hid nothing from the kids, but those times at night, when it was just Sweetie and me, or in the morning before school, were for everything, and hospital updates were just one of multiple topics. Allison caught me off guard one of those days when, soon after walking in the house one evening, I asked, “Good day?” Allie replied simply, “If Trenton’s still alive.”
Trenton’s first transplant was in 1995, and we were pregnant with Allie only two years later, so it was no surprise to receive the occasional question, “How could you take a chance having another child after what you went through with Trenton?” Our answer was, “How could we not, seeing the ways God was with us during the transplant experience?” And so, I got my little girl, and I now have one of the most important women in my life, because we trusted God…and because we were still thankful.
P.S. OK, God, You trusted me with your little girl; I’ll trust You with my young lady.