Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Parenting Manual: Job Description

The universal parent manual leaves out a lot of important stuff when it comes to the job description for mother.  For instance, it extols the joys of motherhood, explains the birth process and sets you up for day to day infant care with a fair amount of accuracy.  When is comes to the less tangible "worry" section, it . . .well, it falls flat.  There is no time line for when you might be "finished" with the parenting process - especially the worry.  So, I figured it must be upon graduation from college.  The child has grown, become educated and is now ready to face the world on his own.  Who was I kidding?  With a kid who graduated into the worst economic crisis in our lifetime, I quickly learned that what really happens is that the worry just shifts because it still takes up the same amount of space, time and stomach aches. 

Lucky for you guys, I realized long ago that as far as my friends go, age doesn't matter.  At some point everyone becomes my age-- great for the older friends, maybe not so great for the younger ones but  that is beside the point.  I am only bringing this up because I have a friend who just had her first child three weeks ago and that, coupled with the recent death of someone else's child has thrown me into an introspective tizzy for which I simply MUST verbalize.

As I held this incredibly perfect, 8 pound bundle of beauty recently new to the world, I marveled at how her emergence has completely changed the priorities of her young parents.  It doesn't matter how ready you BELIEVE you are, the moment the baby arrives you revel in the joys of a healthy poop, attune to the sound of steady breathing, and knowing from that time on you will do whatever it takes to ensure their child's life is all it can be.  And sometimes those challenges are colossal. 

I look at the women I am blessed to know and find that I stand in awe of their of what they do everyday in the name of motherhood without the slightest clue that  what they do is admirable because it is simply part of the job. 

I have a good friend who, just five months ago learned that her son is gay.  When our children are born, we build dreams for them based on what our society has dubbed a "norm."  He will grow up, become successful, fall in love, get married and have kids.  All well and good if you aren't the mother of a gay child because all of those things certainly can happen, it just isn't how you have pictured it. And so, when after he had come out to his friends and the word started to spread,  he came out to his mother without any real guarantee that she would accept it.  Faced with this startling admission, this mom, who never saw it coming did the only natural thing she could do: she gathered her little boy into her arms and cried.  Were they tears of grief?  Sadness over what now would never be as she pictured?  No, as she held her son in her arms she cried for the pain he had held to himself for the last two years and said a prayer of thanks that his painful secret had not driven him to do the unthinkable.

 We are not prepared, when we are learning Lamaze breathing, and focusing on the impending birth for what that newborn will require when the care is lifelong.  I have another friend whose oldest child was born with a myriad of disabilities. Recently, she spent a good week in the ICU because her now 23 year old son had been experiencing increasingly dangerous seizures.  The idea being that when the next seizure of that sort occurred, it could be witnessed, recorded and then treated.  The room was like a fishbowl with medical staff observing them at all hours.  Her son's head was hooked and wired to transmitters and they simply lived their days out in that glass room HOPING for a dangerous seizure so that they could figure out how to manage them and move on.  My friend never once complained, never once lamented that her own birthday was spent in that fishbowl and NEVER considered a pity party as an option.  Instead, she jokingly referred to her situation with the cameras and infrared cameras, microphones and such as her own reality show...called... "Our Little Head Case!", all the while hoping for the dangerous seizure because that's what was needed to help him in the long run. 

Another friend  has a terrific son who, in his new found freedom of college has found that sometimes there are consequences that are costly to say the least ( and who among us hasn't been there?).  And while she worries and frets over his choices, she knows in the end he will have to figure it out on his own.  Let's face it, we can only hope the lessons we taught manifest themselves at some point and our children become happy, law abiding adults. 

Children are challenges.  Although the caliber of challenge differs from child to child and sometimes the challenges we are presented with feel insurmountable, that is never an option.  As mothers, we NEVER give up on our children.    Last week a twenty one year old child died after fighting an insidious disease.  His mother  has had to face probably the most gut wrenching challenge one can face.  After having her own killer stem cells harvested and transplanted to her son, she had to stand by while, in the end, it did not offer the miracle we had all hoped.  Instead, she had to face that her child was going to die and support him through it until the end. 

It's what mothers do. 

And that is what needs to go into the parenting manual under, "job description."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

It's Not In The Parent Manual

It's not often that I find myself at a loss for words, but that very thing occurred just the other day when I was in the process of writing about yet another job I worked where hyjinx eventually ensues.  I was writing along at a pretty good clip feeling like I had the world by a tail when I stopped to look at my Facebook and my world tilted.  No, it really wasn't a tilt, it was a full on JOLT and it happened just like that.  To be fair, there is no humor in what I have to offer and I'm feeling like it might even be a two parter. 

I saw this post on Facebook and it stopped me cold.  It said, "R.I.P Nick, you are in a better place."  It only took a moment for me to confirm that Nick Smith, who just turned 21 last week and celebrated with a trip down to the college he left for 2 years ago - Baylor, had passed away; his battle with cancer finally over.  Nick was two years younger then my oldest and two years older than my yougest.  Byron is a small town and all of the kids know each other, but Nick was a runner as is Jeff and I spent many a track meet cheering for Nick all the way to the State Meet for two years.  Nick left for college an eager freshman but, it wasn't long before he was diagnosed with Leukemia and he spent the next two years fighting, learning and loving life  inspite of it all. 

What I find completely heartbreaking is his final posted status on Facebook.  He posted this the night before he passed: 

the foebodding [sic] spectre of spending most of the summer In a hospital getting sicker again is one I have neither the strength to overcome or that special someone to make the choice easier."

 I am a trained hospice volunteer. I have spent countless hours with dying patients and I have experienced the gift that the dying have to offer.   Even with the prophetic post, I didn't see this coming and when I found out, I came apart.  Maybe it is the mother in me who grieves for his mom, maybe it is the abruptness in which I found out or maybe it is the sadness in realizing that he had so much to offer the world, his friends and family that will go unfinished.  Whatever it was, my response surprised me.   I found myself walking that fine line of grief.  Do I remain stoic and strong so that my own child has someone to lean on ( and really, who am I fooling with that thought?)  Or do I show him the depth of my sorrow and hope he absorbs the truth: all mothers feel the loss when a child dies. 

Sometimes I hate being a grown-up.