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."


  1. Wow Judi. Poignant, thoughtful, and amazingly descriptive of the undescribable. Thank you for putting into just elegant words what we all go through as mothers. And happy mother's day. xoxo D

  2. Judi -
    Again, you write beautifully - you have an amazing gift and I'm glad you're using it.
    You are so right we are not prepared even for the everyday stuff. No one really tells you that you need to learn how to breast feed and teach your baby - you think it is just natural. People do warn you about some things but I remember thinking "that was you - we'll be fine". And no one can prepare for the teenage years, especially mother/daughter!
    When we brought Alli home from the hospital I was terrified. We thought we knew it all and didn't need any help. We set her in the cradle and she stretched and strained and got all red in the face. Derek freaked out but was fine after I told him she was only trying to poop. Until then he had been so confident - his fear terrified me and I stayed up all night watching her breath. At 7 the next morning I called my mum crying. I told her I was frightened that Alli would die. She was great. She had expected a call (even though we had said we wanted to be by ourselves for a few days) and came over right away. This was the 3rd day of Alli's life. She will be 20 in a few weeks and I'm still learning.
    I think one of the happiest times in my life was when I pregnant with Alli and didn't know what I was getting my self into!
    Happy Mother's day - keep writing!

  3. Beautiful...your words are inspiration for my own writing.