When I was little, a simple thumbs up quickly became a staple form of communication between my dad and me.
After I had rolled into the O.R. more than a few times, I realized it was instinct between the two of us.
Right before I would be taken away to an Operating Room, he would squint one of his eyes shut and shoot me a thumbs up, looking for me to return the sign.
I would sniffle, wipe my fresh tears away, take a shaky breath and shoot one back to him.
When he saw my thumbs up, I would watch relief wash over his face right before I was rolled out of Mom and Dad’s sight.
When I would wake up in the Recovery Room, 9/10 times, it would be a similar scene.
He’d ask me how I was and because I was overwhelmed, in pain, on the verge of tears or all of the above, a thumbs up was my go-to.
I knew it would suffice. He would get my message.
Without even one word, that simple sign speaks so much between the two of us.
In the Recovery Room it either meant “Dad, I’m okay. Help Mom not worry” or “Dad, I’m not okay. But I’m going to get through this. I promise. I’ll give you and this all I’ve got.”
Before long, I realized that this happened and still happens, between the two of us in lots of places other than just at my hospital bedside. Early on, I began making a mental note each time it happened.
The earliest one I remember noting was in my Miracle Field baseball days. I’d glide onto a base, beaming. I’d then scan the crowd for his familiar smile and give him a “Dad! Look at me!” thumbs up.
He’d return a “I saw, Scooter” thumbs up.
I remember crutching across the soccer field in high school, on my way to the bench to take stats for the first time ever after my dad had dropped me off.
As I walked away, I turned around, faced the track where Dad was standing and gave him a “I’m nervous as all heck, but I’ve got this” thumbs up.
I remember my first gait analysis in Delaware. I gave him a weird look, trying not to smile, knowing how funny I looked with all those stickers covering my body.
He shot me a goofy look and a “I’m documenting all of this even though they told me not to take pictures” thumbs up.
I cracked a small smile and returned a “I know” thumbs up.
I remember all the FaceTime calls my freshman year of college that ended in “I’m not okay but going to get through this” thumbs ups.
He’d return a “you’re tougher than this, keep going” thumbs up before the call ended.
When the thumbs up became my mom’s favorite emoji, it became a source of laughter between the two of us too.
Without fail, she always texts back at least two thumbs up emojis when she agrees with a particular text.
So, whenever she’s on a roll or whenever we just need a good laugh, we’ll look at each other, smile weirdly and hugely, flashing two back to back thumbs ups.
This is the “Lisa, we love you” thumbs up.
I remember when my parents dropped me off at college this year. I gave Dad a “Dad, I’m actually okay this time” thumbs up.
He shot back a “don’t lose sight of that, we believe in you” thumbs up.
These are just a few instances between the two of us. In actuality, the amount of times the two of us have sent each other the perfect message through this one simple sign is countless.
Anyone who knows me knows my parents are my two most favorite people on this planet.
In their own way, they’re each my best friend.
My mom is my superhero, my sanity and my cheerleader.
My dad is my buddy, protector and the one I’ll always run to.
With my 20th birthday just a few days away, I realized how special what my dad and I have is.
With my 20th birthday just a few days away, I realized that everything in me just wants to be that little girl smiling ear to ear because her dad is next to her.
Everything in me just wants to be that little girl on the baseball field, searching for her dad in the crowd.
Searching for a returned thumbs up.
Even as I grow up, I know some things won’t change. And no matter how old I get, I’ll always be looking for my dad and then throwing him a thumbs up that means more between the two of us than most people realize.
Dad, I’m shooting you a “I love you a whole lot” thumbs up right now.
You mean the absolute world to me.