Most parents spend their days collecting moments.
Like multi-tasking beach combers, we keep an eye on the waves crashing towards us as we reach down to grab big, rippled clam shells in perfect form; bits of bleached coral; rare folds of smooth green sea glass; tiny delicate pink shells the size of our fingernails. We gently wipe them clean and store them close, preventing the tide from hiding them from our memories in a fog of silt.
Then there are the moments that wash us over, leave us gasping for breath, looking to the sky in disbelief.
In the December that my son was two-and-a-half years old, our family (including his new nine-month-old sister) moved from our little waterfront condo overlooking the NYC skyline to suburban New Jersey. To say it was a hectic, sleep-deprived time would be an understatement of obscene proportions.
He got sick with fever soon after the move, so I found a new pediatrician that was highly recommended. But he kept getting sick.
Something wasn’t right.
I took him in over and over again, we saw multiple doctors and nurses, he’d get better for a short while, but then we’d be back again.
In the meantime, he was receiving speech therapy, which I had been told time and time again was typical of a firstborn son. They sometimes needed a little help.
Five months later, I was no longer concerned: I was angry. Something was wrong with my son, and no one was taking me seriously.
I listened to my gut, made an appointment with a different doctor at another facility. When we walked in, I told her right off the bat what my concerns were. She asked him two questions, looked him over, and said, “You’re right. There is something wrong with his ears. I’m sending you over to the specialist right now. I won’t be surprised if he needs surgery right away.”
Within a week, I was walking my son in a clown-covered hospital gown barefoot through the halls of a local hospital to the operating room to get ear tubes put in, old stagnant fluid drained from his ears, and his adenoids removed.
Surgery went well, we took him home and he slept all afternoon.
When he woke up, I quietly carried him to the kitchen, placed him at the table, and went over to the oven across the room to cook him a late lunch. I called out to him, “Do you want milk with your mac and cheese?” He didn’t respond, so I turned around.
His blue unblinking eyes were wide, his mouth slack. He stared at me like he was just seeing me for the first time. It took me only a beat to realize he was hearing my voice correctly for the first time.
The surgeon couldn’t be sure that my son ever heard my voice without it sounding underwater. Some days it was better than others, but there was always restriction, always fluid blocking the clarity of my voice, his dad’s voice, his sister’s squawking.
I dropped my spoon, crossed the room, and talked to him gently, introduced my real voice to him, and he grabbed me into a big, confused, relieved hug.
The next day, as my husband drove the four of us out for pizza, our son sang a song all on his own for the first time in his life. He was weeks shy of his third birthday. I kept my face forward as he went through each stanza, letting hot salty tears of gratitude wash me over.
So back when I saw the viral video of the three-year-old Grayson hearing his dad’s voice for the first time after getting an auditory brain stem implant which gave him the gift of hearing, I wept for the boy, I wept for his dad. That is a moment they will always hold close, one that you can’t imagine, you can’t look for, but that finds you in its own time, and fills you will a surreal joy that no few other memories in our lifetime can give us.
When our kids are first laid in our arms, we feel that no treasure could ever top that singular moment.
Then they spend the rest of their lives proving they have a sea of jewels and fortunes tucked away just for us, which they will slowly release for us to dig up, to collect, to cherish as we hold our breath.