Tonight was one of those nights. You know the kind – after an exhausting weekend and a long day at work, you just have no energy left to get through a Monday night. All you want to do is kick back with your feet up and a sixpack and watch some TV or post something to your blog or play that new awesome zombie-killing game you just got for your birthday (just a weird random example I pulled out of thin air, totally).
I guess that’s why when I walked into the NICU tonight, I didn’t really care and I went ahead and gave the Smug Parents across the room a wave hello. You know the kind, you’ve seen them before. They seem to have a bit of an attitude, a bit of a chip on their shoulder, a bit of an air of superiority. I say “seem to”. I don’t know these people, who am I to judge them and how they behave in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit? I mean, seriously – I should give them a break. Maybe there’s something extremely important on that iPhone of his that he’s always looking at? Maybe he can work from his iPhone – that would explain why he doesn’t ever seem to need to go to work and both he and his wife can sit at their son’s bedside like model parents and stay there all day. Whichever the case, whatever his deal – no matter to me. The weirdest thing happened when I waved at him tonight – he waved back.
You have to understand – they got there three weeks ago, their son’s bed is less than ten feet from Nyana’s. We see each other every day. Mrs. B and I have made friends with a few of the other mothers and couples; we know it’s not us. And they seem to be able to talk to other people too; it can’t entirely be them. For some reason, we haven’t actually connected with this couple yet and there’s a growing invisible wall of strange tension every time we catch each other looking over at each other and then politely glance away so as not to appear like we’re snooping. We’ve gone quiet to listen in on their situation as much as I suspect they have gone quiet to listen to ours – you can’t help but listen sometimes. But yet there’s a weird distance that we’ve each kept between the other and it’s getting on three weeks old now. Old, indeed – the wave was a big step.
It can be a little strange, you see. The families in the NICU could be there for a whole variety of reasons. Most are preemies, and most are in the same boat as far as risk factors go, but each one is a different situation entirely. An organ failure over here, a respiratory disease over there. This baby’s three months early, that one is four months early. I’m two weeks behind you, but I’m two weeks ahead of them over there. My point is, you never know how someone else is doing until you ask but it’s not really polite to ask. You could be opening a whole can of worms you weren’t ready for, you could be intruding on their private dealings. Yet at the same time, you want to know everyone’s story and you hang off of every detail of someone’s situation that you find out.
When is it polite to introduce yourself? When do you stop waiting for that convenient moment in the Parent’s Lounge if it’s not coming? Sometimes I think we should just walk over there and say hello but then I see them give a look or hear them with a tone that makes me think that I would never hang out with these people outside the NICU, so wouldn’t I just be pretending to be nice to them now? But then again, would that be so bad? We’re both going through a heavy time and some support from people in the same boat as you can be very valuable – but what if you don’t like each other much? Would it still be valuable then?
And so we go, back and forth. We don’t want to intrude, but we do want them to know that we know they’re there and we’re over here if they ever want to talk. From what we know, their progress has been a little rougher than ours but I don’t really know for sure. I can see the numbers on our screen and I can see the numbers on their screen so I can guage out a little bit…but I would still like to compare notes with them and get their story, opinions, thoughts…all that stuff.
I wonder if they think we’re rude for not waving sooner…