The coffee pot gurgled to life as I snatched the burnt lumps of bread from the toaster. I forgot to take it out on time again because I had been too preoccupied scribbling on my lipstick in the hallway mirror to notice it was burning.
"Pour a bowl of cereal for yourself and your sister, and eat up, quick!" I said as I held up the blackened toast for Sean to see.
"Aw, mom, c'mon. We only have the nasty cereal." He rolled his eyes on his way, begrudgingly, to the kitchen cabinet.
I ruffled his dirty blonde hair with my free hand as he passed me and spread mayo onto bread with the other. I started throwing lunches together at lightning speed, chucking the turkey sandwiches, along with some apple sauce and grapes, into each lunch box and zipping them up. I had to forgo a cute little note for them to find at lunchtime. The coffee spilled over as I poured it much too fast into my travel mug, staining my pencil skirt. A curse word slipped my lips, and I tore the hand towel from the oven handle, furiously scrubbing at the stain. Good enough, I thought to myself. I didn't have enough time to change or even care.
"That's a dollar for the swear jar!" Sean shouted, with his little curly blonde-haired sister nodding feverishly in agreement.
I pulled the keys from where they hung on the wall. "Oops," was all I could muster in remorse. "Come on, kids, take your last bite. We're gonna be late!"
They took one more slurp then ran to grab their raincoats and backpacks. I handed them their lunch boxes, which Sean shoved into his yellow Jansport, and Madeline into her little purple one. The chill nipped my nose when I opened the door, letting the crisp Michigan fall air into the house. We scurried to escape the cold slush- which was some kind of rain and snow hybrid- that was lashing pretty heavily. Our car doors all slammed, and I bent over to help Madeline buckle herself into her booster seat. The heat began blasting as the car roared to life, and without fastening my own seatbelt, I threw the gear stick into reverse.
The tires screeched, and both of the kids lurched forward as I slammed on the brakes. Another, more offensive, curse word escaped my lips. Only this time, Sean stayed quiet about the swear jar. He knew precisely why I was angry.
"Sean!" I yelled. "You left your stinkin' bike in the driveway again! How many times have I told you to put it away? One of these days, I'm just going to run it over!" I was sick of having to repeat myself each and every morning.
"Sorry, mom." His cheeks grew red, and he sunk lower in his seat.
Anger simmered inside me as I got out of the car and threw the bike, carelessly, onto the grass. It was always, always the same thing when we left for school. We were constantly rushing in the morning, and I couldn't tell if I was more annoyed at him for repeatedly leaving his bike in the way or at myself for always forgetting to check for it before we got in the car. I huffed as I got back into the driver's seat. The rest of the ride was dead silent, both of the kids probably too afraid of crossing me to speak.
We made it to school barely on time, with only a minute or two to spare. I wished them both a good day as they climbed out of the car, my face still holding a bit of an aggravated scowl. Sean took Madeline's hand and led her to the kindergarten classrooms before making his way to his group of fellow fifth graders. He turned around to wave at me, a sheepish grin spread across his sweet face. For a moment, my annoyance with him faded. He really was such a good kid; maybe I should try to not be so short-tempered with him. The thought eased my anger, and once they were safe in their respective classrooms, I made my way to work.
My day was long and monotonous; the hours all blended together. I looked at the clock and was surprised that it was already nearing 3:30 pm. The kids should be getting out of school right about now, I thought to myself. I just had to make it through one more meeting. Then I'd be free to leave and pick them up from the sitter's house a block or two away from school, where they walked together each day after class.
My eyes went blurry from rubbing them, and I hung my head in my hands. I let out a sigh before continuing to shuffle through the papers I needed for my meeting in thirty minutes. Just then, my phone started buzzing. The caller ID name 'Mercy Hospital' flashed across the screen. A bad feeling in the pit of my stomach grew as I answered.
"Hello? Yes, this is Sean Sutton's mother." I held my breath, clinging to the hope that it was nothing and that there was no point in getting myself all worked up.
"Hi, Ms. Sutton. My name is Doctor Stevenson, and I'm calling from Mercy Hospital. I'm sorry to tell you that your son Sean has been in an accident. Are you able to come down here straight away?"
My heart sank. The two things a parent never wanted to hear- their child's name coupled with the word 'hospital.' My whole body went numb as my mind began jumping to the worst-case scenario.
"What happened?" was all I could choke out.
"According to the other students at the scene, a car skidded then lost control and struck him as he was crossing the street. All this bad weather is to blame, I'm assuming. He's suffered some broken bones and a pretty severe head injury. I'm happy to explain more in-depth once you get here." He said, his voice unwavering. How the hell did he sound so calm while my worst nightmare was coming true?
"Of course, I'll be there as fast as I can." I didn't even wait for him to answer me back before I hung up the phone. I was a mix of panic, adrenaline, and confusion as I hurried to grab my things.
"Please clear my schedule for the rest of the day," I called to my secretary, Louise.
"And for tomorrow too, my son is in the hospital." The words felt foreign as they left my lips. Louise rushed to my side, helping me as I fumbled to get into my coat.
"I'll take care of everything. Go be with your boy." She said as she rubbed my back in a sweet, maternal way.
I nodded, not even thinking clearly enough to thank her, and dialed the babysitter furiously while I made my way to the parking garage. I felt slightly relieved when she reassured me Madeline was completely unharmed. Driving to the hospital was a blur. To be honest, I probably was in no shape to be operating a vehicle. My heart thudded in my ears as I went as fast as any mother would go when she knows her child needs her.
I got out of the car before it had even come to a complete stop. My lungs begged for air as I ran the whole way to the front desk of the emergency room.
"I'm here for my son, Sean Sutton. He's 10. He just came in. He was hit by a car." I couldn't make sense of the words, even as I said them out loud.
The nurse pointed me in the right direction as she said, "bed ten, right over there."
My feet were moving before she finished her sentence. I turned the corner, and tears started to spill when I laid eyes on my sweet, beautiful, broken boy.
Time stopped. I became inconsolable, draping myself over him instinctively, like a mother lion protecting her injured cub. He didn't look like himself at all; a neck brace was holding him in place, a tube was coming out of his mouth, and blood was caked onto his blue striped shirt. How was it possible that only a few hours ago, he had fought me so hard over wearing that shirt? He had been so strong-willed about staying in his superhero pajamas. I wiped my eyes and wondered, as I took in the sight of his fragile body, why I had ever wasted such precious moments on a battle as silly and trivial as that. I touched his face carefully to avoid all the tubes, wires, and bandages.
"My boy. My sweet boy, it's okay. Momma's here." I leaned over and kissed his cheek, the only area on his face that was left exposed. I hoped that somehow he could hear me.
Just then, Doctor Stevenson came up behind me and gently touched my shoulder.
"You must be Sean's mother. We spoke on the phone." He held out his hand, and I struggled to break my eyes away from Sean. Did he want to shake hands? What an insignificant gesture, I thought to myself, in such an earth-shattering moment.
I gathered myself as much as I could before mechanically performing the handshake. My eyes darted back and forth between the doctor and my broken child. I must have looked desperate because he began to explain the situation before I could even ask for answers.
"First and foremost, Sean is stable. That's the good news. I know he looks rough, but he's alright, for now. He's broken his leg, arm, and a few ribs. The worst of his injuries is the head trauma he experienced. The kids who were with him when he was struck said his head hit the pavement pretty hard."
For now. Those words sent a shiver down my spine. The possibility of Sean ceasing to exist suddenly hit me, making me feel like I was going to be sick.
"I know it's a lot to process. Right now, he's in a coma. He'll likely remain that way for quite a while. How long, I can't say for certain. But I'm confident that with the right treatment, he's going to wake up." He continued on, recognizing the distress in my eyes.
"We're going to move him to a more permanent room, and I'll give you some privacy. I'll be back in a bit to answer any questions you may have." With that, the doctor smiled pitifully, and I nodded as he turned to walk away.
He's alright, for now. Head trauma. Broken bones. A coma. The words played over and over in my mind as I turned towards Sean. I couldn't get over how small and weak he looked as he lay there; the only sign of life was the beeping and humming of all the machinery.
I wished desperately for it all to be a joke, for his beautiful blue eyes to open and reassure me that he was just fine. The doctor had been so short and to the point, as if it was all so easy to understand. But I didn't understand- I couldn't possibly wrap my mind around what was happening. Everything was so normal only a few hours ago, and now our whole world was flipped upside down. I kept trying to ground myself in this new reality as I followed closely behind the nurses while they wheeled Sean and his plethora of tubes and wires to a more permanent room; A room that would be our new home for who knows how long.
The weeks that followed were the most brutally painful and difficult ones of my life. The days grew colder, and the slushy rain eventually turned into snow. Madeline and I did everything we could to remain positive; we even celebrated Christmas by decorating Sean's hospital bed with twinkle lights.
Time all blurred together as I balanced being by Sean's side, caring for Maddie, and working as much as possible from his tiny hospital room that had become much too familiar.
Each day I sat with Sean, stroking his hair, singing his favorite lullaby, and begging any force out there greater than myself to please, just please, let my boy be okay. I would do anything, anything at all, to make sure he got better.
Then one day, about a month or so after his accident, I was sitting next to his bedside pretending to read some papers for work when I saw Sean's hand twitch. I nearly went through the roof when I looked up and saw his eyes flicker open.
"Nurse! NURSE!" I shouted, hitting the call button. "Hey Sean-y baby, it's okay. You're okay. Momma's here." I comforted him as he came to. "You were in an accident and got hurt pretty badly. You have some tubes in your throat that help you breathe. Don't try to talk."
Three nurses rushed in and started pushing buttons and calling doctors. Everything became a blur of moving tubes and wires. I held Sean's hand and squeezed it to reassure him that it was okay. He only whimpered slightly as they removed the ventilator that had been helping him breathe for all these weeks in one swift movement.
My knees went weak, and I laughed with delight as his little raspy voice finally croaked, "Hi, momma."
I was euphoric as Doctor Stevenson came in, smiling ear to ear.
"Well, good morning, young man. Nice of you to join us. What a wonderful day!" I couldn't help but burst into tears as I agreed, something that I'm sure Sean would roll his eyes about one day. My stomach went giddy with the feeling that 'one day' was now possible. That alone was enough to keep me afloat.
The doctor completed several tests and explained that even though Sean wasn't entirely out of the woods, I could be sure the worst was over. He told me his examination looked promising, but it would take several weeks, months even, of rehabilitation for Sean to return to normal. It would be pretty exhausting, but with a bit of patience and love, the doctor was confident Sean would pull through this generally unscathed. A miracle, he called it. I felt myself genuinely exhale for the first time in months.
The weeks that followed were nothing short of challenging, but they were beyond worth it. Seeing Sean come back to life with each day that passed left my heart bursting with pride. It was as if we were re-emerging into the world together, and each spark of Sean's playful energy was the light that guided the way.
Eventually, Sean graduated from both his physical and speech therapy, and all his casts and bandages were removed. It was a welcomed relief each time we walked out of an appointment for the last time. Saying our goodbyes was definitely bittersweet; so many people had rallied behind him and done so much to help him gain his life back.
With rehab completed, Doctor Stevenson gave Sean the 'all clear' to go back to life as usual. He could return to school, run around, and play just like a normal kid.
Today is his first day back at school. We rushed in the morning, of course, as we got dressed and ready for the day. I even burnt the toast and spilled my coffee, just like the days before his accident. But this time, we all just laughed. We poured bowls of cereal and wiped up the mess with smiles on our faces.
We climbed into the car, scurrying to double-check that the kids had remembered their backpacks and to fasten their seat belts. I threw the car into reverse, and just like before, screeched to a halt. I saw Sean's face in the rearview mirror, flush with shame, as I spotted his bright blue bike in the middle of the driveway.
"Sorry, mom. I won't do it again." He whispered, preparing for my wrath.
I put the car in park, made my way over to his door, yanked it open, and leaned in. I cradled his sweet face in my hands and kissed it as I said, "don't worry about it, sweetheart. I'm just glad to see you were having fun." He smiled with relief and shot pleasantly surprised eyes over to his little sister.
I walked around to the back of the car and wheeled his bike out of the way. I didn't feel a single twinge of anger this time, and I could keep a dollar destined for the swear jar safe inside my pocket. I wouldn't need it today.
I looked at that bike, and for the first time, I saw something that I had failed to see, that I had even taken for granted, all those many frazzled and frustrated mornings before; Life. Signs of a little boy, my little boy, full of life. Able to run, play, and bike around to his heart's content. Completely normal. No hospital beds, no wires, no worries. Just life.
I don't think I'll mind seeing that bike on the driveway anymore. As a matter of fact, I hope it's there each and every day.