“Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.” – Theodore Roosevelt
In my short time parenting and even longer time on earth these words have a complex meaning. They are so complex that we can either draw power from it, or be broken by them. Ultimately the decision is ours, but deep in the ground, the foundation for this decision has been laid by the generations that have come before us.
We have had the joy of experiencing life with a five year old for just over a week now. It is interesting how, almost overnight, she has grown so much more independent. Zoey has long been a little helper. Ever since her feet hit the ground she has been helping load the dishwasher. That is, when she is not running, climbing, dancing, or doing summersaults. But there is something magical about turning five, and we are experiencing more and more of it each day.
When Zoey was born, we did not even know what five would look like. We heard the word Craniosynostosis, and our idea of time, and its general movement was wrenched to a stop. Like a Hollywood movie the film on the reel that we had planned snapped, and spun around. Facing countless surgeries, time in the hospital, and therapists, I just felt my heart break.
All that I have ever wanted for my children, is for them to be kids. To experience life running barefoot in the grass in the summertime. Dancing in sprinklers while eating homemade ice-cream. Building snow forts and having epic wars. The more time that we spent in the NICU, the more that all of this felt like a dream. Much like a dream, I felt it slipping through my fingers as I fought to wake up. Then, a moment came that would change everything.
After spending 12 mornings and 11 long nights in the NICU, surround by amazing doctors and nurses, we were finally getting ready to go home. We had been trained on the things that we needed to know in order to take care of Zoey. Most notably how to insert the 12 inch long nasogastric tube into the nostril of our wriggly and strong newborn, push it down into her stomach, and tape it to her. All so she could eat. I did not sleep that night. I spent the whole night scared out of my mind, and packing what things I could.
After many, many trips to our tiny car, taking all that could be spared, it was time. We stood in the doorway, waiting for rounds. This wait felt like it took forever. Suddenly, the curtain was pulled back, and we saw so many familiar faces. Those whom had helped us get started on this journey. But, there was one that I did not recognize, a new attending. We listened to the briefing, most of which we were all too accustomed too by now. Our hearts began beating faster, and then came to a stop. The new doctor commented, that “It looks like Zoey did not gain any weight as expected, let’s give it another day”.
In that very moment, such a level of brokenness filled me that I could feel my heart ache. But, there was something deep inside of me that rushed against the tide, aching to burst forth. As the doctor turned to walk away, my wife began to sob next to me.
I stepped forward, my shoes resonating with military precision upon the ground.
This little word shuttered through the crowed of trained professionals like a lightning bolt. They abruptly stopped, straighten up, and turned, wide-eyed. Fumbling though the chart in his hand the doctor looked up in astonishment. “Mr., um, Von Bank, is there a problem”?
The pompous, indecisive tone that the doctor had brought whatever was inside out, full force. In a deep, calm, resonate tone I replied.
“Sir, I do not know you, and you have never even met my daughter. However, for the last 11 nights I have been here. There are nurses standing all around you that can attest that I have been here and helped with every feeding, and diaper change, that has taken place. My wife and I have been trained by some of these amazing nurses in the extra care that our daughter will need to go home. However, I think that you missed something. Last night, for the first time, there was a change in plans. Something happened and the nurse was called away. Upon her arrival Zoey had already filled her diaper, and was miserable. We elected to change and weigh her before feeding her as we have every night before. Zoey was so happy that she ate more than ever after being weighed. I ask that you take another look at her chart, then look at her. We will not be staying another day”.
Defiantly, I stood my ground and awaited his reply.
I watched as he fumbled some more with her chart. I could see that he was containing rage, and embarrassment. After a short few seconds, I could see that he found the notes. Defeated, he looked up and said “Mr. Von Bank, you are correct. My apologies. Nurses, please prep Zoey for discharge this afternoon”. He hurriedly turned to walk ways, as I stood there vindicated. Zoey’s chief nurse, the one that had been with her almost the entire time, winked at me with tear filled eyes. She mouthed the words “Good Job” as the troupe walked away to the next room.
That was the moment that it all changed. I embraced the title of Cranio Dad, but more importantly Zoey’s Dad. I became a voice for the voiceless.
Five years ago today, at this very moment, I stood firmly on the ground. I spoke for the dreams that I had for my daughter, and the hopes that I had for myself as a dad. With my feet planted, holding my daughter, I looked to the stars, and found a way to steal them from the sky. To this day, five long years later, I have never stopped.
Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always.