As I finished mowing my lawn this evening, I sighed heavily, looked around, and said, “what’s next?”
See, my next door neighbor and I have an ongoing feud with our lawns. This is not your typical neighbor dispute. In fact, he may not even know it exists. But boy oh boy, am I invested in this fight. Allow me to explain how this all began.
My neighbor’s (let’s call him “Mike”) lawn is beautiful. If I didn’t see him mowing it every other day, I would think he has the turf engineer from our professional baseball team taking care of it. It’s crosshatched, and it’s a vibrant color of green, and there isn’t a single weed to be found.
My lawn, in comparison, looks like we’re about to be foreclosed upon at any moment. No matter what I do, I have dandelions the size of scarecrows sprouting up and unexplained tufts of grass unevenly littering my lawn in a sporadic fashion.
The reason is not mysterious. In fact, it’s rather simple. Mike has time to care about his lawn. I do not.
I have a family. And I don’t for one second blame Mike for not having a family, but my family is more important to me than my lawn. It is important for me to spend time with my wife, who makes me laugh more than any other human being. And it’s important for me to spend time with my 4-year-old son, who is the smartest little boy in the world (I am COMPLETELY unbiased when I say that). And it’s important for me to spend time with my youngest son, who suffered a stroke in utero and needs all the love and care I can provide, but doesn’t need an iota of help smiling.
When E (that adorable little boy to the left) was born, our family went through a traumatic few days. These have all been chronicled before, so I’ll save you the details, but I do want to share what happened following our last couple of discussions with the numerous doctors who attempted to provide us with a sense of what E’s life would be like.
Following the minefield of emotions and the many tears, my wife and I looked at each other, and we said, “what’s next?”. We said that because we had no idea. We said, “what’s next?” because we knew it had to be something, we just didn’t know what.
We did what we could based on the information we had. As you may already know, not much is known about the causes and effects of infant stroke. I mean, the doctors have an IDEA, but there is no instruction manual. Amongst the things we were told were the following:
There is a 50% chance E will have some sort of learning disability. It could be ADD or any number of the ailments that I see students struggle with on a daily basis.
There is a likelihood that the seizures will occur again. When? When we get home? When he turns one? In the middle of class on his first day of elementary school? We’re unsure.
He most likely will not be a professional athlete. FINALLY! Something we can take solace in. Not that he will most likely lack the athleticism to reach the pros, but come on, how many kids without suffering a stroke will accomplish that?
There were plenty of other pieces of information that lacked any concrete picture of what E would be like. And this wasn’t the doctors’ fault; they truly tried to provide us with as much information as they could. The answers are simply unknown. The best piece of information that I walked out of the hospital with was this: It will not get any worse; it is not a disease.
So we came home and we lived on pins and needles through the first couple of months. Every night losing more sleep than we gained. Every tiny noise was a possible seizure. Every moment of silence, another bout of apnea. We took solace in anything E did that was baby-like. Eating was a victory. Not because he struggled with eating, but because it was one less thing we had to worry about.
In the first few months, we were doing everything a parent would normally do to ensure their baby was healthy, but with the constant fear that E would hit a major roadblock. Finally, we snapped out of that mindset and said, “what’s next?”. And for the first time, we said it with meaning. What can we do to make sure that E has every fighting chance to be great? What is next?
We are incredibly lucky to have health insurance that provides E with opportunities that are well beyond what we could possibly afford for him otherwise. He has been able to have constant physical, occupational and speech therapy since he was first diagnosed. We are also fortunate to have a physical and speech therapy service provided by our state at no out of pocket cost. We have appointments coming out of our ears, and at every stage of progress, at every advancement of skills, we ask, “what’s next?”.
It is important to celebrate the victories. No doubt. And I will clap and cheer and hug my little buddy every time he does something he hasn’t done before. But when the embrace is over, it’s time to do it again, or move on to something new. If we linger in the celebration, we become complacent. There is no room for complacency in this game. We have to challenge him, and encourage him, and support him, and realize that there is no finish line. We are never done. So we catch our breath and smile, and then we figure out what’s next.
So, as I looked around my yard, I realized that I needed to dispatch with the growth that had invaded my patio. Not only was it unsightly, it also seemed like it was breeding new hybrids that would eventually attack my house. So I took care of the weeds and the lawn, and the cleanup, and all the various tasks that I am called upon to complete as a neighbor. And I did all those things with the certainty that I was only doing them so I could move on to the important stuff. Like sit down to a meal with my family. Like tuck my boys into bed. Like hang out with my amazing wife. Like take a second to relax so I can prepare for tomorrow. Because tomorrow is not today, and all the accomplishments will be past. Tomorrow I’ll wake up, do all the little things I need to do, and say to myself, “OK, what’s next?”