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.