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Enjoy the dance

March 24, 2011

The doctor broke Nancy’s water at about a quarter to noon after she’d been on oxytocin for a few hours, just like he had with Sean. I knew that things would start to progress and went outside to get a cell signal and let family know that we’d have a new baby in a few hours. Except it wasn’t a few hours. By the time I came back in, Nancy was almost ready to start pushing. They barely got the epidural done, and a few contractions later, Scott came slithering out, slimy and upset and perfect.

Well, almost perfect.

Looking at him lying there under the heat lamp, it was impossible not to notice that his left foot really shouldn’t be turned like that. And it wasn’t just him curling it in, because it stayed that way when he stretched. When the nurse said the words “club foot,” it conjured up an image of a twisted ball and orthopedic shoes and leg braces, but that didn’t match the little leg I was seeing. I suppose “club” can come after golf just as well as billy.

I could tell Nancy was immediately worried, because that’s what she does. “Is he going to be alright?” she asked. “He’s going to be fine,” I said, because that’s what I do. I’m a middle child, so I console, I compromise, I reconcile. But the truth was, I had no idea.

In one sense, he was already fine. The cord was over his neck when he came out, so it took a minute for him to pink up, but you could tell he had a good heart and good lungs, and he liked to eat. And he wasn’t going to need that foot for a while, so there would be time to work on it.

But in another sense, I was sure his foot would never be “fine.” We could probably improve it a great deal by keeping it in a cast for a while to straighten it out, and he might need corrective surgery later on. But even now, after reassurances from friends and the excellent progress he’s made so far, I still suspect he’s never going to be a track star. And part of me wants to fret about it, to rail against God and fate and inconvenience and added expense and having to remember to change the Band-Aid on his foot to keep the sore from his special shoes from getting worse. So why don’t I? Because I learned to play Hearts from Randy Voges.

If you’ve never played Hearts, picture a normal four-player card game turned upside down. Instead of trying to collect specific cards to earn points to win, you want to avoid getting hearts because they give you points, and the one with the most points loses. And if you’ve never played Hearts with Randy, you’ve missed out on the homespun Texan wisdom embedded in his rendition of the rules. In the first hand you play, you get to pass three cards to the player on your left, a chance to get rid of the really bad cards in your hand. (Of course, the person to your right is going to do the same to you.) For the second hand, you pass to the right, and for the third, you exchange across.

The last hand, though, is a special one, where you “dance with what brung you.” When Randy said it, my first reaction was, “Huh?”  (I had not yet been exposed to snippets of Texan wisdom like “all hat, no cattle.”) But as he explained, it meant that you couldn’t pass off your bad cards. You had to play the cards you were dealt. Instead of looking around the floor for a better (or at least less disagreeable) partner, you had to “dance with what brung you.”

Over the years, I’ve learned that life is a lot like a game of Hearts. You get thrust into a set of circumstances, some of which you control but most of which you don’t, and you can spend your time trying to foist your troubles off on other people, shifting the blame, looking for the greener grass in the other guy’s backyard. But no matter how hard you try to get rid of your problems, there will always be more waiting to come from the other direction. And eventually, you have to learn to dance with what brung you.

A few months ago, I went to the funeral of a friend’s mother. She had been fighting cancer for about five years, but you wouldn’t have known it if someone didn’t tell you. She volunteered in the school library right up until the last year, always giving of her time and energy, always there for others. At the funeral, so many people got up and told of going to visit her towards the end to comfort her, and instead ending up being the ones encouraged. She knew who she was, where she was going, and secure in that knowledge, she kept her focus on the needs of others. She’d learned how to dance.

Scott’s seven months old now. He’s been wearing his crazy shoes that look like a snowboard for a while now, and they told us he’d hate them and fight them and try to kick them off, but they were wrong. He doesn’t seem to mind them at all. He pulls his legs up and plays with the laces, he laughs when you make silly noises, he’s fascinated by the dangly bits on his gym and the leopard spots on the love seat. He’s a perfectly ordinary, perfectly happy little boy. Sure, he’s got one foot that’s not quite right, but that’s not slowing down his dancing so far.

They say you’re supposed to teach your kids to be good people, but I think I’m going to learn as much from them as they will from me. At least I hope so. When the doctor who did my colonoscopy told me about the tumor they’d found and that I’d need a CT scan and he’d scheduled an appoinment for me to talk to a surgeon, even the fog of the sedation didn’t keep me from wanting to hand those cards off to someone else to deal with. But I know I can’t. Randy told me so. Mrs. Gustafson showed me so. And if my dancing instructor with the club foot and the big grin can do it, I know I can be a perfectly happy little boy, too.

Because if I have to dance, at least I can have fun while I’m doing it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Brad permalink
    March 27, 2011 9:24 pm

    Mike,
    One of the best things I’ve ever read. Period.
    Dance, my friend. Just know 2 things: (1) you’re not dancing alone; and (2) the One who dealt the cards is also ready to lead the dance (if I may mix the metaphors).

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