There are two kinds of human pregnancies in the world today: planned and unplanned. The category of unplanned pregnancy can be further broken down into wanted and unwanted. Being unplanned and unwanted is one of the worst fates that could ever befall a child.* My Little Dude is a lucky kid. He falls into the interesting subcategory of being unplanned but miraculously wanted.
Eleven years ago today, I had my face mask covered nose pressed against the plexiglas wall of my infant son’s incubator. It was surreal. I’d spent 5 years of my life believing that I would never have a child. Then I got knocked-up. It was so nuts! Unbelievable! A little scary! Honestly, not great timing! But… holy shit I get to be a mom! Then I hit a snag and delivered in my 32nd week.
I’ll never forget how I felt the first time I saw my child’s face. To this day I can't describe it. I couldn't hold his terrifyingly small body. Machines were breathing for him. Tubes were feeding him. The heart monitor pad took up 85% of his little chest but...the worst part were the nurse's faces. Like his doctor, they couldn't meet my eyes. They thought my miracle was going to die.
An icy vise gripped my heart and fear rolled off of me in waves as I stood there memorizing every feature of my sons face while his doctor’s warning, about how critical the first 72 hours of my son’s life are, was blaring through my head like an air raid siren. I knew his name was Gabriel but I refused to say it out loud because it felt too much like a jinx; something to put on a tiny tombstone.
In the worst moment of my despair, I wondered if God was mocking me by threatening to take away the child I had already spent five years mourning, but then I had an epiphany. Maybe God IS love. So I started telling my son how much I love him.
I told him things about myself that I'd never told anyone before. I told him that when I was a little girl I never dreamed of being a bride because my parents marriage didn’t make the practice seem even remotely desirable; but I’d had a Cabbage Patch doll called Catherine that I loved all throughout my childhood. I told him how much I’d always wanted to be his mom and how sad I was, during those years I thought I’d end up being a lonely lady with a bunch of cats when I got old. I told him all sorts of things that night, but mostly I told him how much I love him.
My son survived. I got to bring him home.
I’ve never forgotten to be grateful for that. The foundation of my motherhood experience is based in love and gratitude and I think that simple fact has been more significant in my son’s development than anything else.
Occasionally I’ll get a compliment regarding my mothering skills. I usually defer the compliment by saying that Gabriel makes it easy to be a good mom and that is very true. He’s always been such a happy, sweet kid and I think a big part of that comes from the fact that he had a very happy sweet babyhood.
Looking back, the only thing I might do differently is put him into a play group or something – for the socialization aspect. Kindergarten was rough for my Little Dude and he has a hard time relating to kids his own age. On occasion he refers to his classmates as ‘uncivilized heathens’. Maybe if he’d been around children more when he was younger he’d have an easier time relating to them now; or, maybe my 11 year old just has the soul of a wizened old man with limited patience for unpredictability. It’s hard to say.
As the mother of a special needs child, I’ve enjoyed a privilege that isn’t offered to everyone, these days. I was allowed to be a proud stay-at-home mom. Until Gabriel was in the first grade, I was able to spend every day with my son teaching him how to be a person – a blind one at that. People congratulated me for it, marveled at how well Gabriel was always doing. Working mother’s never said snide things to me. “It’s so sweet that you stay home. I could never do it I’d be SO bored!” They said sincere things like, "I could never do what you do"
I used every moment of that time to teach him everything I could; from mobility to Mozart. Every day I remind him how ferociously that I love him. It became our battle cry as he got older. Young children need to learn ‘object permanence’. This means that things stay where they are even when you aren’t looking at them and things that move that are constants in your world might go away, but they return. Something like that… my last Psychology class was 100 years ago.
Blind kids need that same reassurance and it’s more difficult to provide, I read that in a book when Gabriel was a baby. From that day forward, in his infancy, I’d toss an ‘I love you’ or ‘You got some cute ass toes there, homie’ his way – periodically - to reassure him I hadn’t vanished. I think I also wrote a post about how when he a baby/toddler I painted the world for him with words. It was a lot of talking. So, so many talkings…
As he started becoming a ‘good talker’ and interacting with me, if I was quiet for long periods of time, sometimes this would happen:
G: Mom, are you there?
Me: some variation of yes. Anything from ‘yes’ to ‘you bet your britches I am!’
G: I love you.
Me: I love you.
Over the years that interaction became:
G: Mom? I love you.
Me: I love you.
These days it’s more like:
G: I’m hungry.
Me: Again? Are you sh*tting me?
I tried really hard not to spoil him (a feat made easy by the fact that his father and I were dead broke at that time^) and I always treated his disability with a casual attitude. I will forever be grateful for all of that time I had to love my son, I think it made all the difference in his development. He might have grown up in the dark, but he was basking in the light of love.
Adolescence is roaring upon us now and I’ve stepped back a bit. I’m letting Gabriel’s father have a more active role in his son’s life now that he’s a bit older and I’ve got my eye on the future. I’ve got a few more things that I want to tell you and then I’m going to abandon this blog. Well, as much as you can abandon something that’s linked to your Google.
Being the mother of a blind child, has made me into the woman I am; but that facet of my life no longer has to be the center. These days I just think of myself as ‘mom’ and the people who bolster me up in life are encouraging me to become ‘writer mom’ and I’m going for it.
If you’d like to keep up with my latest projects you can check out the quarterly magazine H&H Aruba online or follow the ‘Profiles in Excellence’ series on the University of Aruba’s Facebook page. Some of you reading these words right now have been with us, in the darkness, since the beginning. Some of you have become my friends (you know who you are) and for that I am grateful.
That’s the primary thing you should take away from all these words that fill these pages I’ve written here.. The more you can genuinely shower your children with love and affection, the better they will grow.
Regardless of their abilities, disabilities, if they remind you of your ex (that you freaking hate) when they smile or if they display the worst parts of yourself, your primary job as a parent is to teach your child to feel safe and secure knowing that they are loved and wanted. Children who have a safe place to grow their roots, grow best.
Also know that YOU are loved and wanted, my Dear Readers. The comments on these pages will find me. If I can offer advice, be a sounding board or if you just want to reach out and not feel alone, please do so. I’ll respond to you on Caribbean Standard Time.**
Stay tuned, my lovelies. My next post might come sooner than you think.
* I believe that when children are treated like burdens instead of treasures, it has a very negative effect on the way they perceive themselves.
^ No joke. We ate eggs for dinner every night during Gabriel’s 3rd and 4th months of life because money was crazy tight and diapers and formula are expensive. After that month, I didn’t eat an egg again for 7 years.
** Anywhere from 2 weeks to 4 years. Give or take. Maybe longer if I get distracted by something shiny or they invent a new flavor of ice cream.