Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Ronald McDonald House

I've tried several times to describe our experiences with the Ronald McDonald House. In my first draft I detailed the events that led to us being there. In my second draft I detailed "house life" once we were already there. This is my third attempt in describing the Ronald McDonald House and I simply could not understand why it was so hard to write about. After taking a minute to think and put myself back there I realize now that I was trying to write about the RMH as a place or an experience, it was so much more than that. The Ronald McDonald House wasn't just a safe place to sleep; it was a whole new emotion to conquer.
The doctor was happy to discharge me from the hospital, and I suspect that he thought I would share in his happiness. He was quite wrong. I woke up that morning filled with dread and hurt and wished with every fiber of my being that something would go wrong. That I would fall, that I would hemorrhage, that I would get an infection. Anything to keep the doctor from discharging me. 
Being discharged meant that I would have to leave the hospital empty handed. No baby, no car seat, no diaper bag. Nothing. Jason and I walked out just as we had walked in. We were scared and we didn't know what each future minute held for us. If Roman needed something, how would we know? Would we get there in time? If we tried to enter after 9PM we needed special clearance, we needed wristbands and we needed to show our I.D's. 
Before we left the safe confines of our hospital room we had a visit from a nurse or social worker or hospital aide, heck, it could have been a stranger off the street, who knows. She handed us a brochure for "The Ronnie House" and told Jason to make plans as quick as he could so we could stay there. She pointed behind her, "It's just over there, most moms walk over." she said. I was reserved in my happiness. She said that often they fill up, because so many people have to travel so far to use the hospital.
I waited at Roman's side while Jason went to make the arrangements. I thought about what I would do, where I would stay and how I would cope if we didn't get a room. Driving 2.5 hours back and forth wasn't an option. There is no way I could be that far away from my little broken baby. I cried next to him, feeling pathetic, alone and scared. I wished that I could just stay there next to him until our time in the NICU was complete and I could take him home. 

Moving in day was horrible. The staff there didn't pretend that we were on vacation, and I'm thankful for it. They were all business and knew we were there because we needed to be, not because we wanted to be. They explained the rules, the expectations, the perks, the facilities, and made us feel at home. In no time at all we found our routine. Wake up-see Roman-lunch break-see Roman-dinner break-see Roman, walk home at midnight and rest for the next day. We did this every day all while pumping every two hours.
Isabelle was staying with my parents. We hadn't seen her in days and when we would call her it would only upset her. Jason left to be with her. We didn't want her to feel totally shafted and ignored. But, that situation didn't work out for big ole terrified me. So we made a new plan. Izzy and Jason would come stay with me at the Ronnie House. The staff was wonderful, they brought up a cot for Izzy and she had a ball playing on the outside equipment as well as the gigantic toy room. I slept better and smiled more knowing that my little family was together under the same zip code. 

The Ronnie House Days are dark. They're sad, they're grim and I shed a lot of tears inside that building. But without the Ronnie House, those days would be unthinkably long, the distance would torture me and the guilt would consume me. I owe them so much more than a dinner.

When a few friends and I got the idea to do something charitable and nice for somebody else, it was a no brainer for me. We'll cook dinner for the family's staying at the Ronald Mcdonald House! I remember a few church organizations and once or twice a former house guest coming in and making us all dinner. I was excited to pay it forward, but I was nervous. What if I walked in and the combined smell of 40 people living under the same roof punched me in the nose with nostalgia and I started crying in front of everybody? I was excited and I was nervous. Luckily, I had a great team on my side. 
My best friend Bridget and her oldest son Camden joined Isabelle and me! First we stopped and bought the goodies at a local store. Bridget and I agreed that the local Weis that they have is six times better than our Weis and 99% better than Wal-mart. We had a very limited time to shop, mostly because we kept getting lost and and saying things like, "Ooh! Look at this!" Once we were stocked, loaded and inside the Ronnie House we let the kids play in the previously mentioned gigantic toy room and we got busy! 
Bridget made a pizza casserole and I made chicken pot pie. I had bought waaay too much chicken so I was slicing and dicing much longer than Bridget. Next time I'll make macaroni and cheese! 
As we cooked we noticed that the dining area was filling up. Honestly, I thought they were just visiting or wandering around. I didn't realize they were waiting for food! We cooked quickly and with little conversation. I think we were both so focused on making sure this meal fulfilled it's every intent. To satiate, to taste good and to warm them. (Their souls, I mean. It was like 100 degrees in there!) 
 Parents came in with their kids, it brought back memories of Isabelle and I eating at the same tables. I was thankful that we could offer them a home cooked meal. No hospital food tonight guys, no greasy burger either. 
When the meals were served and the dishes done we watched for a moment as the dining room full of only a few of the house's 48 guests ate. We watched as the tension released, the worry melted and the smiles came across their faces. It's a feeling unlike any other. 
I'm so thankful to Bridget Reed for giving up her Memorial Day Saturday to go with me, buy a bunch of groceries, chop, cook and bake in a face-melting hot kitchen and smile with me the whole time. (Thank you for bringing your camera, too!) 
Also, Alayna Balfour, my oldest friend in the world donated a bunch of juice for the Ronnie House. They were very thankful for it, Alayna. When one kid asked about it and I said, "It's for you!" she looked like I just gave her a million dollars. It's amazing what a little grape juice can do for the twinkle in your eye.

Now, I know that I have wrote a book here, I had such a wonderful time I just can't shut up about it. I will definitely do this again!

Below are some of the pictures that Bridget took! 

The grub! This was Bridget's station. Everybody flocked to her station because it smelled SOOOOO good! 

Camden and Izzy were playing with the Mcdonald's play set. So cute!
 Eating some grub! The little girl in pink is named Mara. I'm guessing she has been there for some time because everybody knew her name and everybody knew her antics. At one point somebody said, "Mara's been playing with the dishwashers again!" They're family and they probably won't even realize it until they get home. Cam and Izzy thought Mara was the coolest kid in the world, she spoke TWO languages! :)

More grubbing, different angle. Everybody was so thankful. I'm so glad Bridget and I could do this for them. 

Okay, I know it looks like everybody ONLY ate hers, but mine came out of the oven like 15 minutes after hers. They were hungry and admittedly, her cheesy pizza casserole was making me feel a little weak in the knees. I wanted it. I'm sure mine got gobbled up by the next wave of people coming in. :)

Bridget and Camden, thank you so much for doing this with me. I had a wonderful time and I can't wait to do it again! 
Love you guys! 
We were sweaty, but we managed a cute picture!

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