Ethan's Fixers Uppers
It has been a long, beautiful nine years since our stay at Boston Children's Hospital. We owe a great debt to the men and women who cared for our son and cared for us. The expertise, generosity, and compassion for our family was unbelievable. Please consider making a donation to support the work of Boston Children's Hospital, without whom we may not have our rambunctious E.
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Learning to Knit
Psalm 139:13 “ For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.”
I imagined a sweater, an overdone-spangled-job, the kind grandma might gift you on Christmas. It was most certainly the wrong style, the wrong color, garish. It was the sweater that would induce peals of uncontrollable laughter, tears running down your face, snorting. This was the gift we received nine years ago. In every practical way it was that sweater. It wasn’t that we didn’t appreciate the gift or love the giver; it was the simply that we didn’t need anything. We didn’t know what to do with this flamboyant gift.
Our life was complete, full, rich… overflowing. We were blissful, but barely holding onto sanity. We were a well rounded group known for the Four-McKenna-Girls, becoming used to the sighs and looks of sympathy when strangers considered the abundance of estrogen and Brian’s lack of masculine support. Enter the gift, quietly, but in a cacophony as well; the sweater, being knit together inside me, not unwanted, not unloved, just unable to fit. We were complete, but now it was time to cast on again; k1p1, repeat.
Smothered by this new project, I was wrapped too snugly under a beautifully warm and lovingly knit blanket. I was gasping for air, struggling to be freed, tucked in too tightly. The pattern went on, the knitting continued, an unknown design with no casting off in sight. This was forced labor, but under the kindest and most generous of overseers. I could feel this pattern inside me, growing in size, growing in bulk as it was knit carefully, methodically. I could feel the rhythmic clicking and clacking of the needles, pushing outward as if to remind me of its ever-closer completion. The rhythm, lulling me into calm, lulling me into peace, rocking my troubled soul as click-click-click, the project grew in tempo.
I held onto the last stitch with all the strength in me, I resisted, I fought, my body endured agony for too long, because I was unwilling to let the last stitch roll over the needle, loop around and emerge, complete. But new life championed and I, humbled by the sweetness of this boy-child, this project in blue, experienced the release of creation as he emerged, fiercely loved in his unfamiliarity, his face betraying the wisdom to come, an old man hiding in the sweetness of white vernix.
He cried, as if he knew I had resisted. He wouldn’t calm as the others did when I held him to my skin. His complexion was dusky, his eyes pleading. He was different, he was beautiful; he was as perfect and as comforting as any hand-knit shawl. We slept, curled up together until the nurse whisked him away for his midnight hearing test. I drifted, peaceful, finally accepting this gift of ours with gratitude.
I awoke with a start; it had been three hours and he was still gone, something within me understood the worst was to come. I wrapped myself in a scratchy white robe and gingerly shuffled to the nursery. As I approached, the nurses’ eyes met in sympathy, my heart tightened, all fatigue erased. He was there, under a dome of clear plastic, probes on his miniature foot and breast, chest heaving, oxygen flooding his enclosure. He had been safe inside me and I had failed him. I didn’t appreciate the gift; I didn’t knit him well enough, my ungrateful heart cried out for my son to be whole. We stumbled out of the hospital into the oppressive heat, hand in hand, without our son.
He had left before us, roaring down the highway in what looked like a clear casket, surrounded by muscular men, nurses who could have been pallbearers in their strength and quiet sympathy. Before they placed him in the protective box, Brian held him on his lap as the priest poured water over his head, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The men stood in silence by the door, heads bowed, the plastic cup full of the water of life.
We followed, toward Boston’s skyline, milk pouring from me as we drove, no longer nourishment but a reminder of our empty helplessness. We arrived, finding him covered with wires, tubing, IVs placed, machines beeping, lights blinking, surrounded by glass walls and the smell of hospital. A window seat behind his isolette was our bed. And so the waiting began, the illustrations of hearts produced and explained; hearts whole and hearts that were knit together imperfectly. The medical jargon became comprehensible, the diagnoses understood with patient explanation. We grew to know the sweetness of the boy as we waited for the plan; we fell in love with him as we held him for hours, rarely putting him down, refusing to allow him to be alone.
With his chorus of white clad residents, the surgeon with mammoth hands arrived. He wove a story of risks, successes, healing, and potential harm with confidence and compassion. He spoke the word “death” and for the first time we crumbled. We could not take our eyes away from his extraordinarily large, muscular hands; how could he knit our tiny boy’s heart together with those hands? They wheeled our eight-day-old-gift toward the operating room, but the last gesture of mercy took our breath away, “I shouldn’t do this, but…” the anesthesiologist scooped his tiny form from the bed and cradled our boy in his arms, carrying him forward with all that is noble in man, gently into the cold operating suite.
He is whole. We are whole. Bind off.