Daddy’s Little Girl
I Have Dreamed. It is a song from The King and I and from the movie The American President. It is also the song I have just decided I will dance to with my daughter on her wedding day. I didn’t think I would ever be ready to write about this, but tonight I felt compelled to do so. Its night and I am sitting on the back patio, in the dark, having a cigar and listening to music, mostly jazz–the real kind. I can look into my office from here, and I can see my little girl. She is 12 and is hard at work here in the late summer. She has no school work to do, but she is preparing for 7th grade. She is doing honor’s math and she is making a video to help other kids. She is a wonderful child. I am glad this is the deal I cut on another level.
Her name is Ryan and eight weeks ago she had spinal fusion surgery. Our lives had been severely shocked by the news that she had scoliosis and needed major surgery. We flew her around the country and scoured the medical community for second, third and fourth opinions, and finally for the best surgical team we could find. We found that team right here in Chicago, and they did a magnificent job. Now, my little girl is making a video to let other pre-teens (idiopathic is the medical term we were told) faced with the same frightening prospect, know that the journey is scary, but that it will be okay. She wants to give something back. I’m not sure where she got that heart of hers, but it probably wasn’t from her dad.
When my wife was pregnant with Ryan, I used to talk to her stomach. We even named her Ryan in the first trimester. I talked to her every day and let her know how much she was loved. And when she was born by Cesarean birth, I saw her first, even before my wife, who was asleep under heavy sedation. Ryan looked right at me and, I think, recognized my voice. At least, that’s my story and I am sticking to it. When she was born she had an age to her. Its hard to describe, but she had a calmness that belied her brand new introduction to the world. She didn’t cry much and she started to sleep through the night after just four days. She was always lively and very active. And when it was time for bed at night, she always looked at me as if to say, “get some rest Daddy, because you know I’ll be at this again tomorrow”. And she was.
The first three or four days out of surgery were the toughest. Without belaboring the details, let me just say that Ryan was in tremendous pain and discomfort. My wife and I traded days and nights in the intensive care unit, while shuttling back and forth to our home to give some relief to my parents, who were looking after our two boys. Something happened in her hospital room. Something great and something a little sad.
Ryan was in such pain that the doctors gave her a button to push to regulate the flow of medication. No one could push the button but Ryan and she could do so once every 15 minutes. She also had to be turned on either side every 20 minutes or so around the clock. What happened was my daughter became a general, ordering me, her mother and the nursing staff to fetch ice chips, prop up pillows, turn her torso and shift her legs—all while managing her pain medication only when SHE thought she needed more. She was in charge. She was the boss. And while she slept, I sadly thought about how she had grown up so quickly. She had lost some innocence. She had experienced pain more intense than I ever had. That just wasn’t fair. But she grew up.
Now she is at home, pretty much laying around and recuperating over the summer, so that she will be ready for school in the fall. She is pretty much back to normal. Fun-loving, active,(although we have to hold her back) fighting fiercely with her brothers, and happy. The doctors say she will have some residual effects, but largely, I am happy. Later this week, we have another doctor’s appointment. She wants to show him her video to help other kids. I’m sure he will like it. I do.
And so, tonight I hear I Have Dreamed, and my eyes tear up, because it is worthy of my daughter. I will dance with her—many years from now—at her wedding. Of course, some lucky young man will tap me on the shoulder half way through (WAIT goddammit!) and ask to dance with his wife. And I will let him. But I will be watching him. And I will be watching daddy’s little girl.