I’ve tried on at least three different occasions to write about the Ronald McDonald House and what it means to our family– specifically the one in Chattanooga across from Erlanger Hospital – and each time, words have failed me. I’m trying one more time…
The birth of our twins was a chaotic, emotionally-fueled time in our lives. Our boys were in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and we found our heads full to overflowing with medical details and our hearts bruised to bursting with love and fear for our boys. We spent the vast majority of our waking hours swimming in an exhausted state through the dim and beeping expanse of the NICU. There were scrubbing stations and hand sanitizers and security procedures and crib after crib of sick babies to navigate just to reach our own babes. And then once there, there were machines and syringes and tubes and wires to navigate before we could ever hold them. And holding them was our life raft. Holding them calmed the seas of frustration and fear and soothed us all.
But if holding the boys was our life raft, the Ronald McDonald House was our rescue ship. Because on the fourth day, I was discharged from the hospital – and the boys were not. And we were going to be separated – and I really didn’t think I could weather that emotional storm.
But then the house named after the clown that sponsors the largest fast food chain in the entirety of the universe opened its doors to us. Seems crazy when you think about it that way. But I’m telling you right now, it is far from a joke. It is the real deal. It is the best of what humanity can do for its own.
The Ronald McDonald House is the place where parents of children hospitalized and far from home are given shelter and support and a place to eat and sleep and cry and pray and struggle through the days and weeks and sometimes months of helpless and hopeless feelings without having to feel homeless too.
It is a sanctuary. There are warm beds and warm dinners and warm showers. And there is privacy. Privacy to pray or cry or both – in a small chapel or a serenity garden or on a soft, comfortable mattress in the quiet, comfortable guest rooms.
And there are supplies — toiletries and snacks and various and sundry necessities that help families get through the toughest of times when they don’t have the time to think about such things, much less shop for them. It is all available and there for the parents.
And all for the whopping cost of $10 a day — if your family can afford it. But absolutely no family is ever turned away. Ever. The RMH philosophy is that sick children need their parents and no parent should worry about daily needs if a child’s health is at stake. They also know and understand that young patients have far better medical outcomes if their parents are near. I, for one, agree for a couple of reasons.
Beyond the obvious — that we wanted desperately to be close to our babies — we also needed to be close. Because a mega-majorly important part of our boys’ treatment plan was breast milk — that thick, nutrient-and-calorie-and-immunity-rich mama medicine was just what the doctor ordered. And being just down the hill from the hospital (we’ll talk about that hill in a minute), made it so much easier to keep my milk supply in fresh and steady supply — as opposed to being shuttled over an hour away in an ice-packed cooler from back home in Georgia. So in the cozy comfort of our private guest room — complete with an extra queen bed for my mom and Mike’s parents (who provided endless hours of assistance and support), I pumped and Mike delivered (up that aforementioned hill) – like clockwork every three-and-a-half hours every night for almost a full week. Until Parker was discharged at nine days old.
But back to that infamous hill; that doozy of a mother of a hill; that steeply slanted, sidewalk-striped gauntlet-of- medieval-proportions hill. It was torturous to say the least. But Mike navigated it like a knight in shining Under Armor — or a milk man — a gallant, modern-day milk man. He toted bag after bag of freshly-pumped breast milk up that hill. He even pushed the milk maker up the hill in a wheelchair on more than one occasion (since I’d had a c-section and wasn’t supposed to climb anything). Good thing he pushed linemen around in college because I was definitely a heavy load – a heavy, post-partum-post-twins kind of load.
And speaking of heavy loads, everything about that time in our lives was heavy. Our hearts, our hurdles, our hospital bills… but the Ronald McDonald House lightened our burdens on so many levels, and we can never repay the kindnesses heaped upon us while there.
But we try. It has become our charity of choice. We’ve written checks, we’ve sprinkled change in drive thru boxes, and we’ve ordered the annual Ronald McDonald House Christmas ornament with our boys’ names inscribed. Every single year. I want to give more. To do more. I wish there were one closer to us.
Mostly, I would love to help cook warm meals for families — because that was perhaps the most comforting of all the blessings RMH bestowed upon us: those hearty, healthy meals. I recall tuna noodle casseroles and giant pots of southern green beans, big, baked lasagnas and fresh garden salads. Meals were prepared nightly by sorority houses and church groups, fraternity brothers and book clubs. Those meals were nourishment not only to our bodies, but our boys’ bodies, as well. Generous, kindhearted strangers cooked up the very best suppers that helped me cook up the very best sustenance for my newborn twins. I can never thank any of them enough.
The Ronald McDonald charities really do provide boundless blessings for families of sick children all over the world. They certainly kept us afloat during that most precious and precarious time in our lives. I cannot say enough positive things about them. Please consider throwing a little change their way in the drive thru of your local McDonald’s. Or volunteering at one of their local chapters. Or ordering one of their lovely ornaments. Or writing a big check. Please.
Families of sick children everywhere thank you.