More to Him, More to All

IMG_8453Three years ago today he had a seizure. It was, as they say, a doozy. We held our breath, watched his very small body betray him for how many times I cannot and am not inclined to count, and held him tight as he endured the aftermath.

We didn’t know then it was going to be the last—at least for the next three years—that that seizure would mark the beginning of a hiatus that would give our son the opportunity to make up for the proverbial lost time, would allow him to make the strides that had necessarily eluded him while epilepsy exerted its control over every facet of his being.

Three years later our son’s face no longer bears the evidence of his trials. To meet him today you would never know that while other Kindergarteners and first-graders spent their afternoons happily playing, he was sound asleep in his school clothes, the soporific effects of medication more than his small body could bear. You would never know of the afternoons he was simply too weak to walk home from the playground or through the aquarium and had to ride in his toddler brother’s stroller. You would never know how his hair fell out or how sunken and sad his eyes once were.

He is a marvel to me—in many more ways than I can ever articulate—but more than that he is a reminder that we can never presume to know anything about anyone based on the smiles they wear, the energy they exude. What is behind those smiles and under that energy is where the stories live.

Our son’s is a tale of resilience, yes. But it is also a tale of the danger of judging or assessing others based solely on appearances. There is more to him than anyone who doesn’t know him could ever know. There is more to all of us than anyone who doesn’t know us could ever know. Our son is not simply a silly nine-year-old boy who laughs too loudly at equally silly jokes, who makes messes sometimes faster than he (or we) can clean them, or knows just the right way to get under his brothers’ skin.

He is also not simply the avid reader, the eager learner, the boy with the heart of gold.

He is a child who already knows pain, who remembers what epilepsy was and is. He understands not being able to count on his body, and he understands fear.

He is simultaneously similar to and completely different from everyone else.

Just like everyone else.

 

 

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Just Like Her

He was angry at me and said I was exactly like my mother.

The charger for his device was not doing its work fast enough.  I endeavored to help him by swapping it out for a different one.  He was less than impressed with my efforts and lapsed into a temper tantrum occasionally characteristic of many a disgruntled five-year-old.  I told him not to yell or I would take away said device.  He then hurled his response with all the vitriol he could muster:  “You’re just like your mean mother!”

I stopped in my tracks, was rendered speechless.

My children have heard the tales, have asked for them in fact.  My childhood and all its mystery has taken on near-mythical status in their eyes. I have, of course, responsibly edited the more unsavory details of my rearing; but they have heard enough to know that there were good reasons they were never able to meet my mother, were never permitted to spend time with her before she died.

They have concluded she was “mean”—the word taking on its broadest significance when referring to her.

167008_1680165118238_649770_nBecoming a mother necessarily forced me to confront my feelings about mine; and it became painfully and pitifully obvious that in terms of role models, my first and most significant was presented in mirror-image: I eventually discerned that if I simply did the opposite of what she did—at every turn, at every moment, I would then naturally become her opposite. Her behavior and choices rendered her cruel; mine would ensure I was good, profoundly decent. It seemed a simple strategy.  I never aspired to be perfect—not in motherhood, not in anything.  But her opposite?  I could and surely should aspire to that.

Then, when I least expect it, my son—the five-year-old boy who still fits dreamily and snugly on my lap and informs me—eyes sparkling, heart radiating–I’m “the most beautiful mother [he] ever saw”—tells me in a fit of frustration and anger that I’m her.

You’re just like your mean mother.

I get it.  I truly do.  He’s five.  He was unhappy with me.  And instead of saying, as plenty of children have before him, that he hates me or that I’m the worst mother ever, he says I’m just like her.

And while his aim was to hurt me, to retaliate for his perceived affront, he will never be able to fathom the magnitude of his words because he does not comprehend the sum total of who she was—and was not.

The version he has of her has been heavily edited, and that is how it should be.  All he knows is she was mean—very mean; and since he thought I was being mean, it’s the retribution that made the most sense, was the most convenient and accessible epithet he could grab in that moment.

And despite the power of my very conscious, very logical self who knows who I am and who I am not, my head could do nothing but spin, could do nothing but contemplate that what-ifs born of six words .

Then I thought about what she would have done had a similar scenario transpired when I was five.  And while I’ll stop short of painting that sad picture, I can say she would not have issued a natural consequence.  There would have been no thought.

She would have reacted.  She would have been mean.

So, I know I’m not her.

That my son is wrong.

But his words are not without resonance, not without power.

They sting—no less than the realization that the five-year-old I love most in the world, my child, has the power to fell me with a single sentence.

 

 

 

 

Filter Installed

Christmas Photo Black and WhiteWhen they were little, writing about them was easy. Parenting was new. Every experience, victory, and setback a novelty and ostensibly worthy of documentation. As a new mother and one who has always processed complex emotions by writing about them, this blog was born out of necessity.

Plus, they couldn’t read. Their friends couldn’t read. The only people who knew their stories were over five feet tall and had the judgment that customarily comes with it.

But now . . . well, two out of three and the company they keep can read and read well. One is on the verge. They each know I write and write about them. And I would be lying if I said that though this blog started essentially, dare I say magnanimously, as an online baby book of sorts, I never expected it to go someplace else, to garner attention beyond my immediate circle. It’s the wish of all writers . . . that their mere words resonate with others. It’s what fuels them and compels them to click the “publish” button.

My sons will be eleven, ten, and six this year. And the experiences, victories, and setbacks are no less frequent. In fact, arguably, they’re more interesting than ever. They engage with one another in ways that regularly and alternately impress and confound me. In terms of pure “material,” there is no dearth.

And the wish to write is no less palpable. The longing to tell the story of what happened last Saturday or even this morning insistent.

Yet I won’t. I can’t. A filter has found a spot on the tips of my fingers—one that keeps me from writing anything that may compromise or embarrass them today or, as much as I can predict, tomorrow. A filter that will allow some stories to come through, but not all of them.

My children have been my muses. I have trusted their voices.

May they always be able to trust mine.

 

 

I Don’t Want to Not Be with You

It was cold.

And I was so warm.

Bundled up in ample layers of fleece.  My signature look as I alternately meander through and hide from winter.

“Let’s go to the Museum of Science.”

But I was so warm.

And we had just been to Boston the day before.  Too much traffic and four hours in the car had left me less than inclined.

That and the fact that it required my getting dressed.

My nine- and five-year-old in happy unison:  “Hooray!”

IMG_1154 Then my ten-year-old.

“I don’t want to go.  You don’t really want to go, do you, Mom?”

I didn’t.

But we get so few days when all of us can be together that not going was not an option.

To me.

But to him, at ten, it was.

He sees endless days stretched out in front of him.

The world still occasionally spins around and just for him.

So he said, “I’ll just stay home.”

And I said, “You’re too young to stay home for eight hours by yourself.”

I told him to make plans. If this is what he wanted, he would have to make his own arrangements.

So, he asked for his grandparents’ phone number.  And he called them.

We dropped him off with a wave and a wish for a good afternoon.

And off we went.  With part of us missing.

He spent the day wishing he had gone with us.

We spent the day wishing he had gone with us.

Then this morning: “I don’t want to not be with you again.”

And I said, “Then don’t.”

He hugged me and whispered, “Happy New Year.”