I'm having surgery tomorrow to repair torn cartilage in my knee. Various acquaintances say I'm crazy to have the procedure done. "Don't you have a two-year-old?" they ask, as if this detail has slipped my mind.
I do indeed. And at the moment, it's extremely painful to run after him, to make sudden turns or just to squat down to meet him at toddler eye level. I'm sick of sounding like an old lady who reports the weather by sharing the status of one of her major joints. I'd like to be able to ski with the aforementioned two-year-old when he becomes a three-year-old next winter. And on a more selfish note, I'd like to undertake some form of exercise besides the orthopedist-approved elliptical trainer before the Grape graduates grammar school.
If all goes according to plan, I'll spend less than twenty-four hours in one of the world's best hospitals, and my doctor will use a minimally invasive technique to perform the fix. In six to eight weeks, I should have a good as new knee.
I expect by then I'll also have a whole new respect for those who parent small children while coping with physical ailments of their own.
I don't have my precise post-op marching orders yet, but I know to expect the following: no impact, no weight bearing, and no bending of that leg, for about a month and a half.
First of all, a month and a half is like four years in little kid time.
The Grape is a big time Mamma's Boy, and I expect he'll think the doctor's orders are a whole lot of hooey. Especially the first morning I tell him I cannot pick him out of his crib and carry him down the stairs to the kitchen. Or that he can't crawl into my lap by way of my bad leg. Or that I can't chase after him in the park. Or shuffle him, Lila the Dog and several bags of groceries simultaneously. Or jog up and down the stairs two-hundred-forty-eight times in the span of a single day.
I have no doubt that life around our place will feel maddeningly slow over the next few weeks. I'm braced for the tantrums. He'll be a frustrated little Grape at first, though I'm hopeful that whatever visual aids the hospital issues me (crutches? monster metallic brace?) will help illustrate Mamma's predicament and sow some tiny seeds of understanding.
I'm not wildly optimistic. I've tried telling the Grape that Mamma is going to the hospital to have a small operation, in the manner of Curious George. The Grape points out that a) that's silly, b) Curious George eats ice cream in that book, and c) he, the Grape, wants ice cream now.
Luckily, I'll have the help of the metaphorical village. R. will take a day or two off from work, my mother will come up from Rhode Island for a few days, and we've hired a lovely granny type to help out during the month of February. She's a retired nanny from El Salvador. She speaks very little English. Hopefully the Grape and I can learn some Spanish while I recuperate.
I'm also fortunate to have quite a few mommy friends in the neighborhood, and I could call upon them in an emergency. Our local grocery store delivers. I can hire a dog walker if our sidewalks turn icy and Lila threatens to knock me off my one good leg.
But my planning for post-op brings me back to my original question: What the heck do parents of little ones do, if they find themselves temporarily physically limited and unable to press a friend or relative into service, and unable to throw money at the problem?
Most people who need long-term assistance eventually realize that the village must be paid. Child care isn't cheap. Mary Poppins won't float down to the doorstep on cue (especially for a temp gig). She must be targeted by advertising, interviewed, vetted and likely wooed. Many day care centers boast waiting lists measured in years, not months. Many of my contemporaries have parents too old, infirm or far-removed to assist with kiddie care, especially on any kind of on-going basis.
What do they do? I mean besides hope and pray that they make it though the early childhood years without significant physical maladies? Do they go into debt to pay the village? Do they wing it and hope for the best (e.g., hope Junior won't hurl his little body towards oncoming traffic)? Do they subsist on pizza or whatever other food can be delivered? Do their family members take family medical leave (a right available to many who work for large employers, but inconceivable to the self-employed and quite possibly career-stunting to millions of others)? And what if you're a single parent?
In the scheme of things, my knee isn't a big deal. It's more like a huge inconvenience. But my imminent operation got me thinking about larger questions. What the heck do parents faced with cancer, catastrophic injury or rapidly progressing degenerative disorders do when they have no real safety net available?