If I have learned one thing in my 11 years of motherhood is that plans mean nothing. Usually at 9:30am on a Thursday I am either working on my paying gig as a freelance editor or working on my (non-paying) fiction writing. Today is different, though. Right now I am sitting in my bed with my youngest child who would normally be at school at this hour. The poor dude woke up in the middle of the night with (to be polite) an "upset stomach." A bite of plain toast and a couple sips of water this morning proved that his stomach is still pretty angry with something that he's done.
My new plan (for now) is to sit here beside him and hold his hair back when he needs me to – a skill that was called upon a few minutes ago. (Thankfully, I have a lot of experience from my university years.)
He's recovered from his recent incident, and now he's watching me type, which definitely hinders my flow of writing. Another example of the unpredictability of plans: when I sat down with my laptop, he was half-asleep and I figured I would have thirty minutes of uninterrupted writing.
One universal truth of parenthood is that we rarely know if we are doing the right thing for our kids – when my guys are sick, I always feel just a little bit helpless, wishing that the cold compress that I hold to their forehead would become the healing tool that I wish it could be and it would transform my love and concern into a healing power, so that – with just a touch of the cold cloth – their bodies would recover. Sadly, my magical powers seem to be currently on the fritz.
Is it obvious that I've lost my train of thought a few times? When I first opened my laptop, my intention was to write about my own mother, who failed so miserably as a parent that her four children decided they wanted nothing to do with her anymore. I think about her often – the effect she had on my sense of self-worth, my identity as a parent, a daughter. The effect she continues to have on me even though I haven't laid eyes on her in 15 years. I think about what she did – or didn't do – as a mother and it makes me want to give all of myself to my own kids. I look at my child who is struggling to relax, unable to sleep, unable to focus on a simple picture book, not even interested in watching TV and I see how important is it that I am here for him, even if I can't magically expel the virus from his body. I am making him feel better just because he know that I am here for him. He doesn't question that I will hold his (quite long) hair back for him when he needs me to. When I was 9-years-old, I did not have that certainty about my own mother.
My plan was to never speak to my mother again, never have anything to do with her again. But now, it seems, her health is failing and she needs to move into a nursing home, and my uncles are asking me and my siblings to help financially. We've told them that we will provide the extra money that is needed, but with the clear understanding that she isn't to know the money is coming from us, that she is not to get our contact information, and that we will not be having any contact with her. I know how it sounds: cold. unfeeling. heartless. I have wrestled with those feelings for 20 years. I have kept the totality of the story of why I refuse to see my mother locked up in a dark closet, because I don't want to remember each detail (big and small) that lead to her ultimate expulsion from my life. Not even my husband, who has been with me for 22 years, knows it all. She is out of my life to protect me and my family from the emotional manipulation and abuse that I endured for far too long.
So here I am, admiring the long, dark eyelashes on my second-born son, knowing that no plans are more important than sitting here beside him, rubbing his back, and giving him the comfort he needs. This is where I will be each and every time that my kids need me. I guess that is the lingering effect my mother had on me – her neglect taught me what not to do as a parent.