Standing In for Love

Standing In for Love

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Standing In for Love

I value the friend who for me finds time on his calendar, but I cherish the friend who for me does not consult his calendar.

Robert Brault

Some people would say I had spoiled her, but my youngest child, Jenna, would not go to sleep until I had read her a story while rocking her. The rocking was for me as much as it was for her, because after she was born, I was told there could be no more babies for me. My dream of having a large family was gone, and she would be the last baby I would have the joy of rocking. So even though she was two and a half years old, her nighttime ritual included being rocked.

Jenna awoke one night screaming in pain. My husband, Joe, and I, too scared to wait until babysitting arrangements could be made, woke up our two boys, and we all rushed to the hospital. A battery of tests revealed a large tumor pressing painfully inside one of her tiny kidneys. The doctors were amazed that it had not bothered Jenna earlier. Joe and I took turns holding her, trying not to let our terror show, while emergency surgery was arranged.

For the first week that Jenna was in the hospital, I stayed with her day and night. The nurses put a rocker in her room so we could continue our nighttime routine. After she was asleep, I got what rest I could in the stiff recliner by Jenna’s bed. Jenna was doing well, and Joe began to talk about how the boys needed me, too. Also, his burden of having to work full time and take care of the house and all the needs of the boys was beginning to wear him down. Reluctantly, I agreed that I should go home in the evening, have dinner with the boys, then return to the hospital until Jenna was asleep. Then I would come home for the remainder of the night.

The first time I saw the joy on my boys’ faces when I tucked them into bed, I knew I had made the right decision. Still, I worried that Jenna would wake up in the middle of the night and cry for me.

Sleet began to fall one evening as I hurried home to make dinner. By the time our meal was done, the roads were treacherous. Joe stood by my elbow as I gazed out the kitchen window. “I don’t want you going out in this weather,” he said firmly.

“Joe,” I protested, “I have to read Jenna a story and rock her. She won’t be able to sleep if I don’t.”

“Honey,” he said, “be reasonable. What if you have a wreck and get hurt . . . or worse? What if you take a chance and are never able to rock her again?”

I called the hospital, unable to keep from weeping. “It’s the first time since she was born that I haven’t rocked her at bedtime,” I told Sallie, the middle-aged nurse with bright red hair who worked a twelve-hour shift from 7 AM to 7 PM.

“She’ll be fine,” Sallie said in her soothing voice. “I’ll go in to see her before I leave and tell her that when she wakes up her mommy will be here.”

“Thank you, Sallie,” I said. “Tell her that I love her, too.”

I woke up at dawn. Sometime during the night the salt trucks had been by, and although far from being clear, the roads were in much better condition. I dressed hurriedly, certain that I would find Jenna red-eyed from crying for me. Remembering Joe’s admonition from the night before, I forced myself to drive slowly. I pushed open the door to Jenna’s room. My feet froze to the tiles and my jaw dropped.

There, sitting in the rocker was Sallie, snoring softly as she cuddled a peacefully sleeping Jenna. The Gingerbread Man, one of Jenna’s favorite books, was lying on the floor where it must have slipped from Sallie’s hand after she fell asleep. I tiptoed over and kissed Jenna softly on the cheek, then impulsively kissed Sallie, too. Sallie’s eyes flew open. She blinked at me for a moment and then smiled sheepishly.

“I didn’t mean for you to catch me,” she said.

“Sallie,” I said, “your shift starts in an hour. How will you make it through the day?”

She smiled down at Jenna. “If I had walked away from her last night, I would have seen her little tear-streaked face all night.” Sallie looked up at me, and I saw more kindness in those green eyes than I had ever seen in a human being before. “I can cope with losing a little sleep, but she wasn’t coping very well with having to go to sleep without seeing her mommy. Well, I’m not her mommy, but I don’t think I was a bad stand-in. We got through the routine, and both of us managed to get some sleep.”

Before Jenna left the hospital I took a picture of Sallie holding her in the rocking chair. The picture is in a frame on Jenna’s dresser. I tell her often about the kind nurse who couldn’t leave a crying little girl, even though her own family was waiting for her. I used to hear my grandmother say that so-and-so was a “good” person. It’s an old-fashioned expression, but sometimes it is the only phrase that truly fits. Sallie is more than a good nurse, she is a good person.

Elizabeth Atwater

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