Tuesday’s Child: She Made Me
I had my son two weeks past my 21st birthday. Having him brought me abruptly into adulthood, forcing me to be responsible for someone other than myself at a time when all of my peers were reveling in the freedom to eat Count Chocula for every meal.
When my son left for college four years ago, I grieved the loss of my companion, my champion, one of the people who knows me best in the world. In truth, I haven’t lost him; as predicted, our relationship didn’t die. It just changed.
My daughter leaves for college in two weeks. I’ve been grieving this loss since early May, before she graduated from high school. I can’t figure out why this loss is so much greater than that of my son. I love them differently, in varying degrees of equal parts. I remember when I was pregnant with her, and being afraid of not being able to love a second child because I loved the first one so much. A dear friend–a professor of mine–told me that my love would expand to accommodate both of them. And she was right–my heart expanded in ways I don’t fully comprehend.
From the moment I set eyes on my curly-haired, delicate pink girl, I swam in a sea of adoration for my children that beckons me to this day.
The instant she was born, I was set on a course that forever changed me. When the doctor told me that her tiny arm, her tiny legs were broken, and that she had a disorder I’d only vaguely heard of, I started growing a backbone that, until that moment, I didn’t know I lacked.
One moment of doubt and fear came days after she was born. I sobbed long distance to my brother, “I can’t do this!” to which he very wisely replied, “You have to: she’s your child.”
In that moment, *I* was born.
The broken bones, doctor visits, surgeries, IEP meetings, training sessions, late-night fracture cries, playground discontents, homework retrievals, bringing her home early from school; all of this made me her advocate, her voice, her protector. I had to step out of my comfortable corner and establish to the world that they were *not* going to hurt or ignore or neglect my little girl. Just because her bones break easily does not mean that she should be treated as “less” by an impossibly cruel world. I became a superhero when I put on the OI mom cape, and I set aside my shy wallflower persona for good.
But in two weeks, I have to hang up the cape. Sure, there will be the proverbial cat in a tree once in a while, but the days of rushing in and defending her from Big Ol’ Meanies are gone. Now, that’s her job.
And I am left with the simple Mom stuff, the wonderment at the fact that I can still feel the insubstantial weight of her, swaddled, minutes old, in the crook of my arm–and yet there she is, packing a coffee pot for her dorm. Her baby box of mementos sits in the closet next to her prom dress. Stacks of dorm stuff are growing precariously in her room, cheek by jowl with the baby blanket made by my mom. The yellow box of nail polish, crammed full of mini bottles of polish bought when she was very young, will be packed with her other toiletries, as she insisted.
She’s having a hard time deciding what not to take; I want her to leave something here for me to curl up with on that cold autumn day when her absence hurts like the ache of a years-old broken bone.
What I do after she leaves for college is a decision I have to put off for now. After she is moved into her dorm, after she has texted me every day (only for the first week), after I’ve talked to her on the phone the first Sunday after she leaves, then I can turn to shaping my life again.
I will have choices available to me, and a wide open schedule I haven’t known for almost 20 years. But I won’t be the same person I’ve been since she was born. My guarded nature, protective of my flexibility, will no longer be necessary. I will no longer need to tailor my employment choices to proximity to her. I started teaching piano at home because it allowed me to be home with her during the most fracture-laden era of her life. A plum work-from-home editing job fell into my lap, and I was lucky to earn a living that way for a few years.
But I no longer have to keep my OI mom superhero cape handy. Never again will I have to fly to the school to rescue her from a clumsy classmate or a power-hungry hall monitor or a broken down elevator. My days of conducting meetings with school officials to discuss how they will accommodate her wheelchair on a field trip are finished. Gone forever is any requirement to research and document the law regarding her participation in state-required physical education classes to present to a packed conference room.
What I have now–what I didn’t realize until this moment–is a unique set of traits not native to who I am, things that enhance my natural character, and provide a framework on which I can build. And the only reason I have that new framework is because of my daughter. She made me who I am in a very tangible way.
A couple people have asked me how it feels to be “done” raising my kids. I know from previous experience that I’m not quite done being “mom”, but I know what they’re asking. They want to know if I feel like I’ve done a good job with her, like I’m satisfied with how they’ve turned out.
I’m happier about my kids than I ever imagined I could be. I love knowing them as adults, seeing who they are becoming. They continually inform me about who I am, and who I want to be. But what I see more clearly, what I’m both fascinated and stunned by, is that I am about to peel back the layers of being their mom, of being OI mom, of being responsible for someone else, and finally see who I am.
Being OI-Mom forged me. There was fire and pressure, intense extremes that took me from the child I was to the adult I needed to be. I will forever bear the marks of this experience, the shape of the mold that formed me, but my time in the fire is over.
And it is her work with me that is now complete.
Meg Currell, mom to an (almost, but technically not quite) adult child with OI.