I’m going to write about the type of mother I am, versus the type of mother I set out to be. But before we dive into the details, allow me to tell you a story about the Worst Day Ever.
Yesterday was that day, for no particular reason, other than it simply WAS. The Worst Day Ever. It started when I couldn’t sleep from five am on, until I dozed off around 6:50 and was promptly awakened by my alarm at 7:00. A grumpy kid snarled at me all morning. The entire family had to pile in the car early to be dropped off at my sister’s house for various logistical reasons.
The day in which I operated without enough sleep and with far too much sass from children continued. It was hot. The five-year-old had a couple of meltdowns, which isn’t unusual, but which was a sort of tipping point for me and my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
I tried to take a nap. I got in about ten minutes before the phone woke me up.
By bedtime, I was a hot mess.
I was tormented by thoughts of a) what I set out to do as a mother, and b) what the story of motherhood has actually looked like for me. It was my life’s number one goal—motherhood! I wanted to do everything right. I took copious notes in my college child development, family life, and adolescent psychology classes. My teacher training classes lit a fire within me. I would be a mother whose children were PREPARED, who THRIVED ON BOOKS, whose BRAINS BENEFITTED from the early nurturing of a dedicated mother. I’ve written before about how I dove into parenting headfirst, and with great excitement. Gosh dangit, I was going to PARENT!
Thinking you are prepared and actually finding yourself truly prepared for the calamity of disabilities parenting are not the same thing.
I took fourteen years off work, during which time I (ironically) worked harder than I ever had at any job before or since mothering.
I wanted to be a good mom. I tried to be this. And then my particular children changed our trajectory. We weren’t typical. Our family experience was nothing like most people’s (if family life can be generalized at all. Who’s to say?) My children couldn’t be taught to read. One of them couldn’t even speak. Toilet training took YEARS UPON YEARS, for each child. We spent our money not on nicer furniture or family vacations, but on behavior therapy, respite babysitters, and replacement household fixtures and appliances that our children regularly broke.
Maybe this sounds rather jaded. But I don’t feel any resentment or regret for bringing each of my boys into the world, or for dedicating all my efforts to raising them for nearly fifteen years. In fact, now that Jack is no longer in my care, I am singularly grateful that I gave him everything I had while he was little and still living in our home.
The grief tsunami that hit last night came from a place of helplessness and tried to drown me in my own sense of inadequacy. I gave my everything to parenting Jack. But it wasn’t enough to “fix” the aggression, the destruction, the constant need for sensory input. I couldn’t parent away Jack’s need for constant, devoted care. He needed more than I could give, even though I was giving everything I had.
I tried, but I couldn’t keep Jack at home with our family. This is what haunted me throughout my bad day.
When I was pregnant with eldest son, I would watch episodes of A Baby Story while I folded laundry on the basement futon of our Sugarhouse home. One episode followed a youngish OBGYN (rather than following a particular mom preparing to give birth). It featured this doctor in several birth settings, helping deliver babies and offering genuine congratulations to their joyous parents. After one birth which took a turn from the uneventful to the unexpected, the doctor was filmed, saying, “Childbirth is a vulnerable time in a woman’s life, when often despite her best plans and efforts, she ultimately has little control over the process and the outcome.” He said this with great compassion and almost some regret, but with a sense of truth revealed by reality.
Now with 16 years of interim parenting experience, I think I could repeat this quote, substituting the word “childbirth” with “motherhood” to the same effect.
By the end of the episode, I saw why they had dedicated the show to this young obstetrician. He had recently been killed on a highway when he stopped to help a motorist in distress. The show contained footage of dozens of young moms and babies at his funeral.
I thought of this OB, whose story I saw only briefly many years ago, as I loathed the outcome of my parenting life with Jack. Now I can see a parallel between his story and mine. He labored enthusiastically at something, and he did it compassionately. But all of that was cut short. I raised Jack for thirteen arduous years, which I did wholeheartedly. But Jack’s disabilities and God’s plan for him changed everything, including my role in Jack’s life.
My sense of loss and the resulting shock waves of inadequacy at motherhood washed over me violently. This was the real cause of The Worst Day Ever. I was suffering because I couldn’t be the kind of mom who could do the impossible.
I spoke with one of Jack’s caregivers last week, and she told me what happened after I left Jack’s home following my emotional and difficult visit a couple of weeks ago.
She said he stood at the window and watched us drive away. He stood there and watched for a long time. Then he turned around and his expression, she struggled to describe to me, was confused. He looked as if he simply did not know what to do.
She told me this as a means of conveying that Jack remained calm and didn’t lose his temper of become violent—all positives. But hearing this as Jack’s mother, I was bereft. It was heartbreaking for me to imagine Jack in this state of confusion, perhaps feeling abandoned and unloved. I couldn’t undo Jack’s pain. My heart hurt for Jack, and I prayed telling God how sad this made me feel. It was a fervent prayer, through considerable tears.
I was driving as I said this prayer and I felt at that moment as though the Savior spoke gently into my left ear, saying three sentences that cut through my sorrow.
“I am with Jack,” I heard him say. “I know how he feels. I am helping him.”
Peace seeped through my mind and then progressively through the rest of me. I hadn’t even thought of Jesus being with Jack and comforting him. I have been relying on the Savior’s ministering to see me through this grief period, and he has unequivocally been the reason I can keep going. But I had not considered Jesus attending to my little nonverbal son, who can’t even ask for help—who can’t utter a prayer.
I’m blown away that the Savior of the whole world found it expedient to say three sentences to me as I drove and prayed.
I can’t effectively express my relief and gratitude at knowing that Jack is in his Savior’s care.
He’s taking care of me AND Jack.
He’s taking care of all of us when we are sad and lonely and overwhelmed and miserable. Even when we don’t know how to ask, Jesus knows what we need and rushes to help us.
I didn’t before understand this as concretely as I do now. It was a vivid lesson, a wave which pulsed over me with spiritual saturation because Jack had to move into a group home.
Jack’s care had to change. Because of this I know how deeply Jack and I need our Savior, and that he is with both of us.