Reincarnated As A Mother

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Because of Her, I Am Me

Growing up, my mom made it very clear she was not a “little kids” kind of woman.  Don’t get me wrong, she was an incredible mother, smart, talented, beautiful and totally adored by me—and the best little kids mother to her children.  She just wasn’t one of those ladies who loved on everyone else’s babies and little kids—she put her energy into us.  She was strong, a leader and someone I wanted to emulate.

My mom was an English teacher, an assistant principal or principal of mostly high schools during my adolescence.  She hand picked all of my teachers—an act I wasn’t as appreciative of then as I am now.  I owe her for teaching me to write, to spell and most importantly, to love the English language.

Actually, there is so much I owe her for.  Because of her, I am me.  She (along with my dad) were strict enough that I grew up knowing I was loved and valued and yet lenient enough that I knew they believed in me and my abilities to make good decisions.  That’s a tricky line to walk.  I had many, too many, friends rebel because their parents were overly strict and I saw many more friends who went off the deep end because they had no governance whatsoever.

Many of the rules, expectations and traditions we had in our home in Las Vegas have been resurrected and instituted for my children here in Idaho.  I’d be thrilled to be considered a “mini me” of my mom.  But the truth is, she still runs circles around me.  She’s still the one I run to-- to figure out how to do so many things in my life.  I count her and the rest of my family as one of the greatest blessings in my life.

My mom walked on water or came pretty darn close to it when I was growing up.  Yet, now, I appreciate her even more.  This past year and a half that my son Kean has been battling cancer has been one where my love has grown even stronger for my mother.

I have to back up and tell you about a memory I have as a girl; something that seemed insignificant then but has oh, so much significance now.  We had a boy who went to our church.  Actually, his parents went to our church and brought him with them for the first hour.  He was severely handicapped.  If I remember right, he had fallen head first off of a two story balcony, landed on his head and miraculously survived.  However, he was confined to a wheelchair, barely able to move his arms and spoke very little and with great difficulty.  His parents would park his wheelchair next to the pew by one of the main doors leading into the chapel.  Each Sunday, I’d dutifully follow my parents, walk over to him, shake his hand and say hello. 

He had a towel he kept around his neck to catch his saliva.  The other thing that I remember most is that his parents were gentle and kind.  Even then, I wondered if his parents were that way before the burdens of his health or if the demands of care giving had slowly softened their personalities and turned them into these pillars of patience.

On once occasion, my mother and I both confided that we could never handle being the parent of a special needs child.  Though in those days the term special needs wasn’t in our vernacular.

Now fast forward to the day Kean was born.  If you remember, I had spent 75 days in the hospital on complete bed rest -- on an emotional rollercoaster that had us scared beyond words that he would even live, if he would have lungs or a properly developed heart.  His birth was a miracle in so many ways—a real miracle, not just an overused saying.  All of us, literally sobbed in relief when he was born squirming, breathing (albeit with the help of a c-pap mask), and even let out a scream of protest upon entering this world.

The team of NICU doctors, nurses and Respiratory Therapists whisked him away within seconds.  It was 45 minutes later that the Intensive Care doctor came to my bedside to tell us they were fairly certain Kean had Trisomy 21 – Down’s syndrome.

I wish I could tell you I accepted this news with grace.  If I knew then what I know now, I would have.  I would have celebrated this gift. But in my ignorance, I embraced fear and agony and cried constantly for days until my bed pillow was literally drenched.

My mother, on the other hand was angry.  I never went there but she did.  She just couldn’t understand why we had suffered through so much with this pregnancy, given a miracle only to have it spoiled or desecrated.  It was hard to watch her struggle with her demons while I wrestled with mine. As a mother myself, I can understand her protectiveness, her anger at seeing her child in such anguish.   I thought back to that long ago conversation where she and I agreed we could never handle having a special needs child and I wondered and worried that she’d fail to love this new little grandson.

Oh what fools we mortals be!  Why I even allowed such an ugly thought to enter into my heart or head is beyond me.  I guess it testifies to my then fragile state. 
My mother has been magnificent.  While she has been there to fill in as mother for our three girls while we have dealt with Kean’s health issues, she has developed a relationship with Kean that words fail to describe.  The two of them have the most beautiful bond.  He worships his Grammy and she idolizes him.  She is about the only person he will consistently go to for comfort and cuddling other than his mom.  She is the one who taught him to sing, curving his body into hers, rocking him back and forth to get him to relax and go to sleep.

She is the one who flew out of her home and headed to my house when I called her sobbing and incoherent (I had just been told about the cancer).  She is the one who spelled me in the hospital when he was first diagnosed with cancer (and the many other weeks we were inpatients).  She is the one I dared leave him with, so I could go home and see my other children, rest and shower.  She is the one I called to come rescue me, when Kean was so miserable and I couldn’t handle watching him anymore.  She is the one who cried with me and tearfully wondered how I could stand to see him in such pain. She was the one who replaced me late at night when I got the stomach flu in the hospital and had to leave Kean immediately to spare him from the germs.  She is the one who listens to me when I worry about all the constant little things—a cough, a rash, a refusal to eat, vomiting, a fever, extra whining or lethargy.

 She is the one who listens to me wail about the dear friends we have met who are watching their children suffer and often die from this insidious disease.  She is the one I call every single day (yep, not an exaggeration).  She is the one I let see inside my heart, the one I break down my barriers for; the one who listens as I moan and whine and let it all out.  She is the one who doesn’t tell me to buck up, this too shall pass or to be thankful he is still alive.  She is the one who lets me bathe in self pity when I need to, who joins with me in bemoaning the fact Kean is suffering so much, life is just not fair (or fun) and sometimes that is just exactly what I need—camaraderie in my wallowing.

She is also the one who has celebrated every tiny milestone, relished each day of good health, kind friends, acts of service, beautiful strangers and the tenderness of this entire journey.

She has not only been there, she has loved me through this.  She has been my supporter and cheerleader.  I’ve had countless people tell me I’m brave, valiant or strong.  If I am, it’s because I have no choice.  I am a product of my parents.  I have been raised by, taught and molded by my mother.  My magnificent mother.  Because of her, I am me.  And for her, I am thankful.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!


Marti said...

Beautifully done, my friend! Exceptional tribute and bonus: we all know her better now. Thank you for sharing her!

Karen Peterson said...

What a beautiful tribute! Love all of you.. you are all wonderful mothers in this family! Hang in there little one.. you are doing great!