Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Beautiful Smile of the Broken Boy

A small story with a happy ending.

Together, my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, and I have 10 children and eleven grandchildren, with grandchild number 12 due in about a month. She and her first husband had three boys and four girls, while I had two boys and one girl with my previous wife. We both love all of our children and grandchildren, and the only clue as to which is the genetic donor is found by checking pigmentation. We both love our kids, see? And we both love our grandchildren.
And yet...
And yet, in a way I do not quite understand, even after being a parent for more than 34 years, I have a unique affection for every single one of my offspring. Sometimes it's easy to identify why I have a special place for each one of these 21 individuals; Mickey takes me to the range with him; Tobiyah boldly moves cross country. Other relationships, particularly with the littles, are a bit more difficult to to differentiate. I can't tell you exactly WHY Trey makes me light up a bit differently than Eliott does; I just know that it's true. There is plenty of Papa love to go around, and every one of them gets all of it I can give them.
But ONE grandchild has an easily identified place in my heart. Four-and-a-half  year old Heath is the first-born son of MY first-born son, the first grandchild I was able to hold in my arms on the day he was born. I have so many images of him stored in my memory, littles snippets I can take out and look at when I want, or need, a special boost. The internal snapshot I have of the day I walked into his house, to be greeted me "Hey, Papa!", is radiant in the cells it occupies in my brain. The first time the firstborn son of my firstborn son greeted me by name; yeah, that's a grand and lovely thing.

Heath loves his Papa. He loves GranNessa, too. And he especially loves 12 year old Kenneth and 10 year old Alicia (we Patterson Boys have an eye for the ladies) because they play with him and let him play with their toys when he comes to our house for a visit. And last week, he was excited about having a sleep-over at his house, and he told me repeatedly how either Kenneth or Alicia could sleep on the bed in his room. Just one, because the bed wasn't big enough for two, but it might be Kenneth who slept there, and it might be Alicia. He was going to be a good host.

His mommy and daddy were going to take a small trip just for themselves, to celebrate their anniversary. He was going to miss them, but he knew that he was going to have fun with Papa and GranNessa and especially Kenneth and Alicia, and also his little brother Eliott. He likes to play with Eliott, but he's just a little boy,  who really hasn't learned (yet) how to kick the soccer ball back and do other big boy things.

But Kenneth can do all of that, and Heath was bouncing up and down in anticipation as he persuaded Kenneth to go outside with him and play ball. Alicia found a copy of "The Wizard of Oz" to read; Eliott was down for his morning nap, and GranNessa was still at work, so it was just Papa and Kenneth and Heath who went out to the front yard to play. It's a quiet street; no traffic to speak of. Still, the first time Papa heard Heath yelling at Kenneth to stop the ball from going into the street, I knew we had to make a change. I wasn't able to play, because I had the baby monitor, so I sat on the front porch and supervised. 'Supervised' means I'm the guy who decides it's time to do something different when we can't kick the ball more than twice without it getting near the street. So, what shall we do? First, Heath and Kenneth picked GranNessa some flowers. Several dandelions got plucked, and set aside to wait for a vase to present them to GranNessa. Next, Heath wanted to play in the dirt, but Papa thought his clothes were a bit too nice. Then, Papa heard Eliott making a noise, so we moved inside for a while.

Inside, it turned out to be: WATER TIME! Heath stopped up the sink in the bathroom by appropriate plug use, and took several of his toys for a swim. That was HIGHLY entertaining, and really not very messy at all. Then we had a snack, and Heath removed his shirt, so he could hang it on the back porch so it could dry in the sun. Then, he and Kenneth played a game, and won, while Papa helped Eliott wake up all the way, and gave him a yummy lunch of hot dogs, carrots, cantaloupe, and some other green fruit. And then, Heath and Kenneth wanted to go outside and play again, this time in the back yard. It's fenced in, which is really a good idea, because it lets Presley and Fiona, the basset hound girls, and Bebop and RockSteady, the big six month old ducks, run around safely. And Heath and Eliott have a nice playground set.

And Papa stayed inside and helped Eliott eat, which means he kept putting food on the plate.

Then, Alicia came downstairs, and with that regal presence only attained by 10 year old girls, let me know that Heath was crying.
"Kenneth is with him," I responded.
She did not deign to respond, but merely swept outside with a superior look on her face...
...only to return, two minutes later, with Heath in tears, holding his arm, and wailing.

It has been 45 years since I went through medic training in the Army at Ft Sam Houston, but I knew a break when I saw it. Appear to be calm, first order of business.
Ice pack time; until Kenneth could find the baggies for an ice pack, we used the field expedient of a bag of frozen vegetables.
Comfort wailing grandson; attempt to determine how it happened ("I fell").
Make phone calls:
1. GranNessa to tell her what happened, and ask her to leave work right now and come home.
2. Call Uncle Mickey to get him to come over and watch Kenneth, Alicia, and Eliott while I took Heath to the hospital. Mickey completed an EMT program, so I got a confirmation of my diagnosis of a fracture.
3. Call Heath's daddy. 'He fell off his playground, and his right arm is broken. I've called Mickey, and as soon as he gets here, I'm going to take him to the hospital.'
4. Quick survey of nearby emergency care centers. Decide not to do that; I believe he's going to need a hospital.
5. Talk to Heath's mommy. She has arranged for dear neighbor April to come and get Eliott. I explain Mickey is on the way, but April is a better choice. She sends me a text with information I will need for Heath at the hospital. They are on the way home, having spent three minutes inside their vacation room.
6. Mickey shows up. April shows up. I prep Heath by putting his Batman bathrobe on him, shoes and socks, and attempt to make a sling out of a towel.
7. Decide NOT to try to drive into Atlanta to the hospital, given that it's Friday afternoon at 2:30; Canton has a good facility and it's closer.
8. Heath, by this time, is much more in control. He is still in some pain, but is able to speak clearly, and only tears up when he tries to tell  me what happened.
9. Get to the hospital, only to discover they've moved it, about a month ago. Go to the new location. Heath calmly tells me not to step on the brakes so fast. I comply.
10. Carry my grandson across the parking lot, because there is no space nearby. I have to stop and rest.
11. The people at the hospital, once we get to the front of the line, are lovely, sweet, and solicitous of Heath's well-being, and give him a Batman sticker.
12. I speak again with Heath's mommy and daddy, and let him speak to his mommy. I tell Heath I want to take a picture of him to send to his mommy, so will he please smile, to show her that he is being brave? He smiles. He also wants to look at the picture of his arm. I show him.
13. And then everything is out of my hands, and the waiting starts. I wait until his mommy and daddy get there. Then, I go to their home, and take Eliott from April. Eliott and I have a snack and hang out. Then his mommy comes home, and she tells me that his daddy will be in the ambulance with Heath when they transfer him to the Children's Hospital.
The rest is just shuffling around and details.

But, after the immediacy of the crisis is behind me, the self-accusations start. I had PROMISED Courtney I could take care of her little boys. 'This isn't my first rodeo,' I assured her, as she was loading up her car to leave.
Now, I have run the tape back and forth I don't know how many times. What could I have done differently?
My conclusion is this: there was no reasonable precaution I did not take. There was no foreseeable event I could have avoided. Heath was playing on his own equipment, in his own back yard, and he was under reasonable supervision. Perhaps I should have taken him to the Children's Hospital straightaway, but I wasn't familiar with the route, and I wanted to get him to a full-service ER ASAP, and I didn't want to get tied up in Atlanta traffic.
And it doesn't seem to help at all.

What will the outcome be? Well, much of that is out of my hands. The docs say that he should get full recovery. Vanessa and I went to visit last night, and he was still talking to me, and didn't express any fear or anger. I'm hoping that means that I still am the Papa he loves.
His mom and his dad have both recently expressed appreciation for my regular baby-sitting for Eliott. I'm hoping I'll still get to do that; but, who knows? Maybe the association of me with the accident is going to be something it takes them a while to get over. I KNOW what it's like to so passionately love a child, that you go to ANY length to protect them.
I was hoping I was going to get a word from God on Saturday at church.  I was hoping for one of those dramatic events, where the scales fall from my eyes, and I see the truth! Well, nothing like that. What I got was: this is what you have to deal with. I'll be with you in this, just as I have been with you in everything else. No matter what, that won't change. (Didn't happen in fiery letters on a purple scroll, either; just a confident understanding that this is Who He is, and He still loves me.)

So, here's what I have at the end: A beautiful smile from a sweet and broken boy. He put the smile there because his Papa asked him to, so he could show his momma that he was being brave. And this is the lesson that I must learn from my four-and-a-half year old grandson; to smile, NOT because I am happy, or pleased with the way things are going. Instead, my grandson teaches me that I am to smile because it is good for others to see that I can do that.
And, like him, I will rest when I can & when I need to, and allow others to care for me, and accept the gifts I am given; and continue to trust the Big Guys.

Peace be on your household.


  1. These bad things happen, even though they aren't supposed to. My almost first thought, after Oh my gosh I hope Heath is okay, was I hope this doesn't change the time Papa gets to spend with his grandsons, that time is precious to him. With 2 kids, you CANNOT be in 2 places at once, especially when one is hungry and one is playing with older kids. Josh has busted himself while running around when I have been feeding Isaac, and sometimes when a baby is eating, Mama's lap isnt quite big enough to hold a crying bruised 3 year old. I do not think you could have done anything differently, but I know me saying that doesn't make everything better.
    There aren't many smiling faces that make my heart swell, but my brave little nephew's face is one of them.

  2. Mid day tears falling on my desk. Lovely blog entry sweetheart. You and Bess Patterson are truly gifted writers because you have such huge hearts. I love you both

  3. Heath's smile is beautifull. What a brave sweet soul