Mothering Bean

Recently an acquaintance and I were chatting about motherhood. She’s a brilliant grad student with no children, but has been thinking about motherhood. In the middle of our conversation, she said she was concerned about her ability to deal with motherhood and said she didn’t want a “defective” child. Full stop. She kept talking, but I was suddenly outside of time, everything floating unnaturally and disjointed and I stared at that ticking, dangerous bomb in the maze of my mind. The hard part, even in my horror: I know that feeling.

Before I became a mother, I knew exactly what kind of mother I would be. The naivete and hubris is astounding, and actual mothers everywhere smile knowingly and gently roll their eyes- or stare blankly, depending on how little sleep they got last night. To my friend, when I came back to the present, I said simply and plainly “Then you probably shouldn’t have children.”

Today is the eighth birthday of my “defective” child. My son, who has expanded my soul and my identity in ways perhaps incapable save only by the love a mother has for her child. Every other love we experience is transitory, to a degree- even the love we have for our spouses can wax and wane. But the love of a mother for her children is one of the few constants in our emotional universes.

Being Bean’s mother is not an easy, straight row to hoe. When he was born, I thought I knew how to be a mother. I had a two-year old who was a headstrong and willful boy, and felt as though I had earned my gold star and this new baby would surely fall in lockstep with our existing family. (I’ve written about his birth and first year here, and it’s one of the essays of which I’m most proud.)

For eight years now, I have been the mother of this amazing boy. Within days of his birth, he disavowed me of my previous notions of motherhood. He stripped me of my carapace, my pride, and my preconceived ideas of what being a good mother meant. In the natural storm of his childlike, all-consuming needs, there was no room for holding onto anything unessential- and caring what the neighbors thought, or about convention, were the first casualties.

Like all growth and stretching, it’s been painful. We’ve cut our teeth on each other, and I am not immune from moments of abject despair and frustration. But because of this child, this “defective” child whose brian works differently than most, who doesn’t even comprehend the social normative, who lives purely, without guile or artifice, in his own world, because of this child, we are all more fully realized human beings.

I think our plans need to be knocked off their foundations once in a while. Like a forest fire clearing out the underbrush and dead wood, it revitalizes our lives- makes room for our souls to expand and realize that pain doesn’t actually kill us- even when we think it might. There is a lot to be said for trial by fire, and the galvanizing, cauterizing effect it has on our spirits.

My other children have had to learn compassion and patience, and will never have to lose the artifice of desiring public approval. They don’t remember a time when Bean was not a part of their lives, and having a brother with quirky, expansive, and different needs is simply part of the waft and weave of their lives. My other children have enormous compassion for others, they roll with difficult situations, and they are experts deflecting stares and questions in social situations, in matter-of-fact ways.

Bean will continue to bound through his life, secure in the knowledge of love at home, and that he always has a soft place to land in his mother. He may or may not understand more of what he has done for his family someday- but it’s really immaterial. He’s busy being who he is- it’s for the rest of us to make sense of it. We are who we are because of each other.

Happy Birthday, Bean. Mama loves you more than you will ever know.

15 thoughts on “Mothering Bean

  1. Beautiful post. Being the mother to a child with unique challenges is a humbling and amazing experience, I’m in the midst of it right now with my lovely and difficult son. I can relate in so many ways to having plans knocked off their foundation… I love that paragraph, it’s all painful and empowering.
    Happy Birthday to your sweet little Bean.

  2. Thank you Pepper. Do you have a diagnosis for the UB? I’d be happy to talk with you if you’re interested. I’ve got some hard-won knowledge of resources and ways to get help.

  3. “I think our plans need to be knocked off their foundations once in a while.”

    That is one of the truest of truisms, Tracy.

    “My other children have had to learn compassion and patience, and will never have to lose the artifice of desiring public approval.”

    What a wonderful blessing!

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I cringed personally when I read the first reference to a “defective child” – then I appreciated contemplating that every single one of us is a defective child in our own ways.

    May we never forget that simple fact: We are flawed children of a complete, whole, finished God who will take us in our defectiveness and make us what we can’t imagine. In that regard, we are no different than Bean – and you are a wonderful, living example of the God of whom I read in our scriptures.

  4. My step-son is Autistic and I have read some of your other blogs on Bean! I have worked with other children with Autism, but they are all different with unique abilities and different sensory issues! My step-son is non-verbal, which makes things even more challenging at times, but he teaches me something new everytime I see him & just when I think I have him pegged he changes his shape, form, & tune.
    Thanks for sharing your story & Happy Birthday to bean!!

  5. Isn’t it sometimes nice knowing we are not in charge? I hope Bean has/had a happy birthday, but I think you’ve celebrated him perfectly regardless.

  6. Happy birthday, Beanie!

    It’s true, your family wouldn’t be the same without your “defective” child. I know my family wouldn’t have been the same without my brother. It brings a distinct (if often challenging) dynamic to the family and I’m happy your family is better the for it.

  7. I think every woman has the thought “What if I have a child that has some sort of ‘handicap'” I have even thought that. I don’t think that means I would be an unfit mother it’s the fear of the unknown. You take what you are given and you go with it. How you do it determines what kind of mother you are.

  8. Happy Birthday Bean! You’re a lucky little boy to be secure in the love of your momma…And while there are trials, you (tracy) are a wonderful mother.

  9. You have given Bean the safe haven to simply be himself. He is not concerned about artifice and perception. How wonderful to just BE.

    I know it is not easy – but you, Tracy, are my hero. (Ahem, heroine. :) )

  10. I know that growing up, before the advent of health insurance, with my sister who had many physical and mental disabilities, some of which “back in the day”, were not fully diagnosed, made me a more compassionate person. That being said, going through those years also made me a pleaser, afraid to disappoint as I felt so much was riding on me, knowing that my parents were going through so much emotionally, financially…I guess what I’m trying to say..is that , yes while many blessings came from the situation, we grew in a multitude of important ways, we earned a crown in heaven…it was still a damned difficult, heartbreaking situation.
    I don’t know how you do it . Well actually I know just how you do it: you do what you have to do, putting one foot in front of the other in faith.
    I salute you. and I admire you. Ultimately, I know that I would not be the person I am becoming without that experience, we all got through it better people, but it was still painful and it’s just so easy for others to say, “oh, what a blessing.”
    Yes, I guess this comment may show just how defective a person I am.

  11. Pingback: Making Compassion my Hoe « TouchstoneZ

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