Island Boy Finds His Once Upon A Time

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The last few weeks this true story has come up on more than one occasion, so I thought I would dust it off and share it once more. Enjoy!

The sound of the waves, the sand beneath his feet, the warm ocean breeze were all a part of him, ingrained into his very soul. He was a true island boy, climbing palm trees in the blink of an eye to retrieve a coconut, catching fish with his homemade spear in the most primitive manner. It was the only manner he had ever learned…not from his father, as he had never met the man who had given him life. His mother never spoke of him. He carried his questions in his little heart, the one place they couldn’t cause the fleeting glimpse of pain he sometimes saw in her eyes…the pain she thought she hid so well.

Puerto Rico, Army Jeep, Black and White Army Military Photo

He studied the only photo of his father he possessed, memorizing every detail. Even when he closed his eyes he could still see the way his father looked in his uniform, the way he slightly leaned into his military jeep as though someone had caught him on his way somewhere. Where was he going? Who held the camera that provided the only piece of the puzzle that was his life, his story? He held the tiny black and white photo, yet held not a single memory of this man…a stranger to him.

Mike and Mom Rita early to mid-1950's

It came as no surprise when the little island boy grew to be a soldier as well. He and his mother moved to the United States so he could join the army at the age of eighteen. It wasn’t long before the island boy fell in love, married and had a family of his own. His young bride, wanting to know everything about him would ask him to tell her about his father. She wanted to know if he ever thought of him, if he ever wondered what became of him, if he was ever curious to meet him. His response never wavered. He had a good life, a loving family, and no need for anything or anyone else. After years of seeing the hint of pain in his eyes, she stopped asking him. Many years would come and go before she would tentatively broach the subject once more.

It was the age of computers now, when the internet was becoming all the rage and she had embraced the technology. She loved being able to communicate with all the friends she made during their numerous military relocations. And, she had become interested in a genealogy website where she could build a family tree. Once again, she asked her husband about his father. This time, he handed her the tiny black and white photo his own mother had placed in his small hand a lifetime ago. She scanned it, placed it on the site and listed her husband’s name as someone looking for his father. Neither one of them thought anything would really come of it. Yet, life has a funny way of making connections so intricately weaved, they leave us mere mortals astounded.

Across the ocean, a secretary at a military base happened on that very website. She gasped when she saw the photo and immediately printed it. Her boss arrived shortly after, and headed straight to his office. The first thing his eyes landed upon was a printout of a tiny black and white photo of a man in military uniform. There was no mistaking it was his father. He immediately took the contact information his secretary provided, and made the call that would forever change the life of a little island boy. He never doubted for a moment this man was his brother. Their father had shared a story with him, and the time had finally come to share it with his brother.

Their father had been stationed on a small island and had fallen in love with a young girl. He had returned home at the end of his assignment, but headed back to the island during the first military leave he had only to find that young girl gone. He questioned friends, family, neighbors to no avail. In the end, he found one person willing to talk. The news he was given was heartbreaking. The young girl died giving birth to a baby boy who also didn’t live.

Their father had refused to believe it. In the following years, he made several more attempts to find what his heart believed to be true, but all attempts ended the same. With a heavy heart, he returned home, went on with his life, married and had children, never returning to that island.

Somehow his heart knew what no one was willing to tell him when he sought answers so many years ago. His son lived, and one day he would know their story. He had hoped to look in his son’s eyes, and share this history with him, hug him and let him know he had gone back for them. While on his death-bed, coming to terms with the fact he would never get that opportunity, he shared this story with his youngest son. Their father requested when the brothers finally found each other, the story be shared with the son he never met.

There was silence on the other end of the phone line as a lifetime of questions were finally answered. The island boy, whom my husband calls Dad and my children call Pappa, found a family he never knew he had and a story he never believed could be his own.

Island Boy Finds His Once Upon A Time

Island Boy Finds His Once Upon A Time

Lover

Goodbye Nightmare Lover!

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The nightmare took over. It came to me night after night, tiptoeing into my peaceful sleep and curling up beside me like a longtime lover. Quietly climbing into my bed, slowly inching over my body, not near enough to touch, but close enough to hover over my warm skin, its breath upon me. Beginning with a gentle caress, it traveled over me, inch by inch, plying my body to its will, allowing no resistance until the moment arrived when it entered me in my weakened state of slumber. At first came only a moan, barely audible, but enough for my brain to register it was happening. In denial, I ignored it and settled deeper into the mattress, rolling over, the universal sign for “not tonight, please…I’m tired” but with its one track mind it seemed to draw strength from my unwillingness to participate. The more I resisted the louder the moans came, until…

Lover

MOMMY!!!!!!!!!!!!! MOMMY!!!!!!!!! MOMMY!!!!!!!!

They were the screams of my daughter and they came from down the hall. The nightmares were hers, this routine one I was all too familiar with and one I was sure I could not physically keep up with much longer. While she had always been one of those children who didn’t require a lot of sleep thus never slept through the night, through the years her lack of sleep was taking a toll on my own. I like sleep. I need sleep.

Yet, every night after an exhausting bedtime routine of prayers, stories, and night lights, kisses and hugs, questions and comforting answers, more kisses, more hugs, more night lights, I dreaded allowing myself to fall into a deep sleep knowing it wouldn’t last. The nightmares would arrive, the fear would take over and the screams would begin.

I tried everything – night lights, prayers, staying with her until she fell asleep, each night putting a bit of distance from her until I sat in a chair right outside her door – Dr. Phil recommended it, claiming it helped to progressively reassure the child you were still there. Obviously, Dr. Phil had never met my kid!

As our daughter got older, my husband introduced her to one of his passions, Superheroes. He started telling her stories about his favorite Superheroes and eventually started watching some of the movies with her. He explained that in his dreams, whenever something bad was about to happen, he pretended he was a Superhero and changed the course of the dream, fighting off evil and sending villains back where they came from.

My Superheroes

One thing we never did was discuss her nightmares in the middle of the night, believing she needed comforting more than we needed a play by play in that moment. Thus, many a conversation over breakfast consisted of our dreams, nightmares, and ways we could control them. My husband insisted our brains could be trained to control our dreams as he described his often becoming quite animated. He depicted scenes in which he picked up a villain, dropped him on his head, and his cartoon teeth flew out. My daughter soaked it all up like a little sponge, but the sleepless nights continued.

One morning, I woke to the smell of toast and the realization that I had slept through the night. Not sure if I was in dream state or reality, I shuffled my way to the kitchen to find my daughter and husband laughing and hugging over breakfast. When she sensed my presence, she rushed over to me. “Mommy! Guess what?! I had the best dream last night!”

To me, sweeter words had never been spoken. Words tumbled out of her mouth as she described a dream in which terrible, scary things were starting to occur, fear tried to envelope her and she almost succumbed to it. “Instead, I became a superhero and flew above it all! They couldn’t reach me up in the sky and once I realized that, I flew around the city. You should see the view from up there!”

In dreams we set aside the rules of real life. We are in control and can be anything we want to be. Believing in superheroes cured my daughter’s nightmares. What tools have you used to control your dreams?

Red Circle Days, Blue Circle Days, Mental Illness, Calendar Days

Blue Circle Days – You Can’t Schedule Mental Illness

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He called the other day. He doesn’t have a phone or at least not one from which he can make long distance calls. The Assisted Living Facility frowns upon that, and I guess it makes sense, but I can’t help but wonder then how all those people living away from family members reach out to someone in that moment. You know the moment don’t you?

I know it.

Red Circle Days, Blue Circle Days, Mental Illness, Calendar DaysI’ll be going about my day, some times all is routine, nothing new, and some times as the day progresses and Murphy’s Law seems to be in full effect, I think of how nice it would be to pick up that phone and call a friend. How quickly my day can get turned around with a simple phone call. At times, it’s just about laughing out loud at something and as I listen to the sound of my laughter almost echo in the empty kitchen, I feel the need to share it with someone, hear their laughter too as they smile on the other end of the line. That need to connect with someone instantly must be one that people have experienced for years. Otherwise, why would Alexander Graham Bell have found it necessary to progress from letter writing and long roads travelled to connect with a loved one, to being able to dial them up in that moment when the sound of their voice is something we crave.

And then, there are those other moments.

Through the years, I’ve answered many phone calls from him. Some were filled with grandiose plans of how he would one day rule the world, and as he described his dreams in the utmost detail for me I couldn’t help but wonder if given his intelligence those dreams may have become a reality if not for the fact that the brain filled with such promise was the same one who betrayed him on a regular basis. Maybe his big plans weren’t so much about taking over the world, but more about taking over his mind, allowing him some sense of control of his brain, his thoughts, his life.

I don’t know.

I’m not Bipolar or Depressed or whatever label the mental illness experts have come up with for him. I’ve never stayed awake for nights on end too afraid to close my eyes for even an instant, needing to keep watch lest my own mind betray me in the dead of night, giving life to my darkest of thoughts. I’ve never had to pick up the phone and dial someone’s number because I knew my survival depended on it.

Those particular calls are ingrained in me forever. The times he called because he had lost all sense of control and needed the sound of my voice to drown out the voices in his own mind. At times simply hearing me breathe on the other end of the line gave him a sense of calm. Seconds would turn into minutes as I was equally soothed by the sound of his breathing as he was by mine.

Then, there were the calls when he knew he needed more than my voice to soothe him and the call was simply a prompt for me to jump out of bed, throw on some clothes and go find him…get him somewhere that would provide the help I so desperately wished I could give him, but knew in my heart I couldn’t. Those were the times when I experienced my own sense of betrayal. How could I not help the person before me, the little brother only eleven months younger than myself, the baby who shared a crib with me? What did my own brain have that his needed? And, why couldn’t I find a way to share it with him much the same way I shared my bottle of milk? What was I missing?

Spiritual Calendar, Red Circle Days, Calendar Pages,

Many a calendar page has been turned since I’ve received one of those phone calls and I’m thankful for it. I am on my knees with gratitude kind of thankful. My brother is doing well, on the right meds, in therapy, living a normal life with assistance. He hasn’t had a “crisis” in years and his phone call recently (from my mom’s phone) wasn’t out of fear or desperation.

Instead, he had an idea his therapist had suggested during their last session and he wanted to tell me all about it. It was the first time in a long time I heard true excitement in his voice. I had almost forgotten what he sounded like when he was so pumped about something that he couldn’t wait to share it with me. His therapist suggested he work with me on a book about his life journey with mental illness. I can see why the therapist thought it might be a good idea.

My first book, Red Circle Days, is about those moments in our lives that are imprinted into our very soul. Moments that don’t require a photo album or memory book for us to revisit them time and time again. Some may bring to life the very feelings of sheer happiness they brought the day we experienced them. Others bring the heart wrenching sorrow we spend years trying to erase. These are moments that don’t need a reminder or a red circle on a calendar date, our hearts wrapping around them much like the tiny box on a calendar, keeping them contained only to bring them to the surface each year.

He even threw out a title, Blue Circle Days, and immediately many a calendar day flashed before me… hospital stays, doctor’s offices, the nights the phone woke me in the middle of the night, and the nights it didn’t ring.

As my brother’s excitement travelled across an ocean to me, I couldn’t help but wonder if I am up for that challenge? Is he up for that challenge?

He says he believes his stories will help others out there, and I believe sharing them alongside the perspective of someone who loves him and shared in the journey would likely help many families who have stood where we’ve stood, afraid to take another step for fear of what comes next, knowing at times the only comfort comes from listening to each other breathe.

And yet, as I wrap up this post if not my thoughts, I can’t seem to catch my breath.

Also in Mental Illness by Little Miss Wordy:

The Hug

Dear, Mom Can You Tell Me How You’ve Done It?

Related Sites:

The Official Blog For Mental Health Project

A Canvas Of The Minds

Sheri de Grom

My Summer Valentine

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All around the United States, temps are dropping and snow is falling. In these moments, I feel quite lucky to live on a tropical island with an endless summer. I have an undying love for summer, and being in such close vicinity to the ocean I often replay a beautiful love story and my personal favorite. It is the kind of story you curl up on the couch with, the kind that urges you to grab the Kleenex along with the popcorn. It is without a doubt the kind of love story you can’t wait to share with others.

It is also an excerpt from my book, Red Circle Days.

Grab a copy and share the love!

MY SUMMER VALENTINE

Beach Umbrella, Puerto Rico, Travel

She’d been in the world only a year and spent her days in a high chair only feet from the checkout counter at her parent’s “mom & pop” grocery store. He was twelve and his family spent their summers in the same sleepy little beach town. She was a picky eater. He loved a little snack on his walk to the beach and a little something refreshing after a swim. Her parents loved his visits and he always stayed a little longer than necessary, asking about their day, sharing a little something funny he heard, but mostly he delayed his swim to help feed the picky little eater and keep her amused during a busy morning at the store. The little girl came to look forward to his visits as well, and each summer as she got a little older and more mobile she went from waiting in her high chair, to waiting by the door, to eventually meeting him halfway up the block. He started taking her along with him to the beach. She would climb on his shoulders and dive into the ocean, surfacing in a wave of giggles. The boy became a teenager and often had a female companion on these outings as well, but only one girl always held his undivided attention…she made sure of it!

Eventually, the boy grew into a young man of eighteen and shared a sad goodbye with the little girl who captured his heart and provided summer memories to last a lifetime. He was off to college and would no longer be spending his summers at the beach. Summers came and went, they never wrote, and though she listened to the locals at the store for any word on how he was doing she never picked up much.She grew into a beautiful seventeen year old lady who still spent her mornings helping out at the store, but reserved her afternoons for a swim with friends. One summer afternoon as she enjoyed the sun and sand with her girlfriends and gossiped about boys, not far down the beach a young man was enjoying his first summer day at the beach catching up with old friends. Neither group went unnoticed by the other…but two particular people took special notice. She asked her girlfriends who the “new guy” was at the same time he was asking his buddies who the “beautiful girl” was and it wasn’t long before both groups came together to surprise the two with a revelation that took them back to many a summer afternoon at that very beach.

Sea Shells By The Sea Shore, Beach Art, Travel, Puerto Rico, Island Living

The rest is history really…my history actually. My parents may have been from different backgrounds and the age difference alone was enough to keep them apart, but true love finds a way no matter the odds. As a kid, I loved hearing their love story and never doubted the two main characters were my mom and dad because I saw their love story continue to play out on a daily basis. I don’t remember my dad sending a big bouquet on Valentine’s Day or chocolates on their anniversary. I don’t have any memories of big flourishing romantic moves by either of them. Maybe it’s because my memories consist of my dad stopping to hug my mom from behind while she was cooking, or her never being able to pass by him without touching his arm or giving him a peck on the cheek. They always held hands, never sat on opposite ends of the couch, and loved to lay side by side talking into the wee hours of the night. My mom tells me after my dad was diagnosed with cancer, those long pillow talks became that much more meaningful to them. I wasn’t privy to the trials and tribulations they faced as most couples undoubtedly do, but I do know whenever they did argue, it didn’t last. One of them would eventually find an excuse to be in the same room again and as soon as their eyes met across the room, love took over much the same as it did when their eyes met across the beach that summer afternoon.

As a child, I pleaded with my mom to share this story with me as often as any little girl’s favorite fairy tale. To me, it was more than a fairy tale. Their expression of love wasn’t limited to one day a year. It was tested through the years during a move to a foreign country, raising three children, through financial crises and illness. It was apparent in their every move and while their love story began on a beautiful summer afternoon, I’m sure it wasn’t always a day at the beach. In my eyes, that’s truer love than any prince charming and fairy princess could ever hope to experience!

Little Miss Wordy – Featured On BlogHer Today

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Little Miss Wordy is being featured in BlogHer’s Family section today.

BlogHer Badge

Please take a moment to head over and share the post, leave a comment, or just show me some love!

Here’s the link: Granting My Kids’ Wishes One Dandelion At A Time

granting_wishes

Thank you all and I hope you enjoy your Tuesday!

You Shook Me All Night Long…At A 6.4 Magnitude!

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I was startled awake to my entire world shaking. Living at the top of a high-rise, I felt like a bird being rattled out of its nest by a being greater than itself. The wrought iron panel that normally leans against my wall, was rattling and falling forward. The hanging lamps across the room did an interpretive dance all their own. My first thought, that of my baby birds as I stumbled down the hall to their bedrooms. One was awake and terribly afraid. The other fast asleep in his innocence. The building swayed to and fro as I made my way back, shaken to my very core and still in a state of confusion. The steady ground I took for granted had been pulled right out from under me. We had just experienced an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4.

This Puerto Rico quake comes almost exactly 4 years after a powerful 7.0-magnitude quake devastated another Caribbean island – Haiti.The 2010 disaster took more than 100,000 lives.

Etch A Sketch Drawing, High Rise Etch A Sketch, Cityscape Etch A Sketch

As I lay my head back on my pillow, still shaken, but so very grateful to be okay, I couldn’t help but think of the wake up call these moments are in life. Our lives are much like the Etch A Sketch of our younger years, at the mercy of some greater force, natural or otherwise.

“The toy can be considered a simplified version of a plotter. The inside surface of the glass screen is coated with aluminium powder which is then scraped off by a movable stylus, leaving a dark line on the light gray screen. The stylus is controlled by the two large knobs, one of which moves it vertically and the other horizontally; turning both knobs simultaneously creates diagonal lines. To erase the picture, the artist turns the toy upside down and shakes it. Doing this causes polystyrene beads to smooth out and re-coat the inside surface of the screen with aluminum powder. The “black” line merely exposes the darkness inside the toy. Filling in large “black” areas will allow enough light through to expose parts of the interior.”Wikipedia

As kids we spent so much time, focused on getting the picture to look a certain way. We would concentrate so hard on making the lines perfectly straight and the end result one we would be happy to present to the world, but only after we had erased any flaws and forgotten all mistakes. As adults we carry on much the same way, with the belief that the final Etch A Sketch masterpiece of our life should scream perfection before we let those around us see it. We grip those white little knobs for dear life, refusing to give up control, believing we alone decide which direction the next line will be drawn. In our ego centric state, we have no doubt we control our destiny.

And yet, in one swift move, with a shake here and a rattle there, it can all disappear. Worse yet…the Etch a Sketch we worked so hard to create, can suddenly look a whole lot different than what we ever imagined. 

Maybe it’s time to start looking outside the confines of the Etch A Sketch and start living outside the box we have limited ourselves to…there’s a whole world out there full of possibilities to explore. Show the world your flaws. Its response may shake you up in ways you never imagined!

The Apology: The Presence Of Its Absence

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“It’s impossible to count the number of words in a language, because it’s so hard to decide what actually counts as a word. Is dog one word, or two (a noun meaning ‘a kind of animal’, and a verb meaning ‘to follow persistently’)? If we count it as two, then do we count inflections separately too (e.g. dogs = plural noun, dogs = present tense of the verb). Is dog-tired a word, or just two other words joined together? Is hot dog really two words, since it might also be written as hot-dog or even hotdog?

It’s also difficult to decide what counts as ‘English’. What about medical and scientific terms? Latin words used in law, French words used in cooking, German words used in academic writing, Japanese words used in martial arts? Do you count Scots dialect? Teenage slang? Abbreviations?

The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. And these figures don’t take account of entries with senses for different word classes (such as noun and adjective).

This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.”- Oxford Dictionaries

Hiding from it helps it grow.

“I’ve learned that when something hurts…hiding from it helps it grow.”The Shadows Of Our Lives

Three quarters of a million! And, in that total are two little words that are uttered countless times in passing. “I’m sorry” rolls off the tongue when we accidentally bump into someone.  “I’m sorry” is instilled in preschoolers across America on a daily basis as they learn to socially interact with others in preparation for social interaction on a grander scale.

For some women, “I’m sorry” is habitually the opening to a sentence, as though they are excusing their rightful demands before the request is even complete. Why are you sorry? For speaking your mind? For being you? For being heard?

These two short words when voiced together hold the weight of three quarters of a million if placed on a scale. Yet, they are losing their value as we use them without substance or consideration to their meaning in the particular instance in which we present them.

“I’m sorry you feel that way” reduces the intensity of an argument. However, are we really sorry the person expressing something which obviously offended us enough to spark an argument “feels that way?”

“I’m sorry I can’t work late today” presents us in a better light when responding to the boss’s request for overtime. Yet are we really sorry we can’t burn the midnight oil in place of spending more time with our loved ones?

“I’m sorry if this blog post offends anyone” is often typed at the beginning of posts all across the bloggerhood. And, truth be told if we are writing it, posting it, sharing it…we aren’t truly sorry are we?

Two words. I’m sorry.

Their presence often goes unnoticed as they are squeezed between more words until they are distorted into something different in their meaning. They tumble out in an avalanche of words that rush them past their significance, sending them flying down a slope of meaningless jargon.  I’m sorry…originally meant to convey an apology has warped from a heartfelt emotion into an empty message. These two words are flung about repeatedly as a way of appeasing the recipient, softening them, plying them to bend to our will often in the hopes of easing our own conscience. The magnitude of those two little words being spoken to one whose been slighted holds more meaning than three quarters of a million other words. Looking in someone’s eyes and expressing your regret, your remorse, your apology…with your eyes, your words and ultimately your heart is an action that comforts both the recipient and the giver.

And yet…

And yet, the presence of their absence is felt to our very core when it is all we seek to move forward, when we are at a standstill unable to take another step as pain and hurt hold us firmly rooted. The presence of its absence holds us hostage.

The Ride of a Lifetime

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As stores begin to display Christmas wares way too early, and holiday commercials are rushing us into the holiday mentality, I can’t help but revisit memories of childhood Christmases surrounded by family, tradition, and the spontaneous ride of a lifetime.  I must have been twelve or thirteen, and it was an exceptionally cold Christmas Day in New Jersey. As my big family was prone to do, we were all gathered at my aunt and uncle’s house for what was our yearly tradition. It looked much like every Saturday did for us, with our big loud Cuban family cooking, dancing, and just enjoying each other’s company. The only difference was we were all dressed in our holiday best. The previous night, Christmas Eve, we had enjoyed a delicious menu of roasted pork, yuca, black beans and rice, and all the traditional foods reserved for that time of year.

For me, the highlight of the evening always came after dinner. My aunt, my dad’s oldest sister, spent weeks leading up to Christmas Eve organizing what she simply termed, “Chistes” (translation: Funnies). Everyone would pull their chairs into a circle and one by one we would each take the spotlight. Names had been randomly drawn in a top-secret ceremony where my aunt was the only one privy to the names selected.

The gist of the activity went as follows: You drew a name in advance, then purchased or created an item that was telling of that person’s year, and wrote a limerick to go with it.  I recall getting a gymnast Smurf the year I started gymnastics. I think one of my uncle’s got a wig the year he started losing his hair. There were no rules, and amazingly no one ever got their feelings hurt. That particular year, my dad got a plastic lobster since the highlight of his year was fishing in the Florida Keys and freezing his catch for a big paella later in the year.

This must have been the trigger because shortly after we wrapped “Chistes” my dad and my uncle started reminiscing about Florida and the warmer weather. That very night, it was decided that we would all take a road trip the day after Christmas! And thus, the “ride of a lifetime” was born.

At thirteen, you would think this ride involved my first time on a Harley in some Sons of Anarchy fantasy, but that ride didn’t happen until my 30′s (that moment was captured here).

Ride of a Lifetime

No, this ride was in a sixteen passenger van that automatically became a twenty passenger van for my big Cuban family in a time before seat belts were the law. Each family was told to pack only one bag, difficult to do for those families of four, but somehow we managed. Not only did we need enough room for passengers and luggage, but we also needed room for sandwiches and snacks because our income bracket didn’t allow for restaurants of any kind. My dad’s prized possession and the instrument to get any party started, his Ricky Ricardo conga drum also had to make it in the van.

Dad's Ricky Ricardo Drum

We were squeezed together like sardines. Napping was a luxury, especially when you had a relative’s foot in your face because somehow they decided they needed more beauty sleep than the rest of us. Stops at the gas station were a real treat, and to spectators we must have looked like a circus was in town. Each time, we had to unload the conga drum and several bags, so we could all pile out one by one to use the restroom.

The entire trip took 21 hours, but the memories of that trip have lasted a lifetime.

Do you have memories of a spontaneous “ride of a lifetime”

(clean enough to share here)?

How about fond memories of holiday traditions?

Dear Mom, Can You Tell Me How You’ve Done It?

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 Dear Mom,

I can imagine the feeling of sheer joy you felt the day he was born. I can imagine the peace that blanketed you while your arms blanketed him. I can imagine the look in your eyes as you looked into his, and thanked the Lord for another healthy child. I can imagine how proud you felt to present Dad with his first son. After having two girls, I can imagine a boy was a welcome addition. I can imagine the dreams you had for him. I can imagine all the visions of “firsts” that went through your mind as you held him for the first time.

Mommy's Christmas Present

I can imagine all of this because I too am a mother now. I too have held my children and dreamed of what their future would hold. I too have envisioned each “first” in their life and the happiness each may bring to mine. What I can’t imagine is how you have coped with all the “firsts” you never envisioned in his life.

How did you survive the first time he had to visit a psychiatrist? How did you deal with a complete stranger telling you there was something wrong with your son after having only known him for one hour, when you had known him for years? He didn’t know his favorite homemade meal. He didn’t know his passion for music. He didn’t know his compassion for others. He didn’t know these things and so many more, yet in one hour he determined there was something so wrong with your son that medication and therapy were ordered. How did you hold back the tears when you realized you were being told years of after school conversations around the kitchen table over milk and cookies were a thing of the past? What your son needed now were hour-long sessions with a stranger who promised to reach him, when his own mother couldn’t.

How did you manage to get through the phone call letting you know your son had been hospitalized because he was confused and couldn’t even tell the day of the week? Did it take you back to the days when you would circle important dates on the calendar for him to look forward to? Or, did it take you even further back to the times you repeatedly sang the days of the week song to him, so he would be ahead of the game when he entered Kindergarten?

How did you hold it together when you stood by his hospital bed time and again, and looked into his eyes much like you did in another hospital long ago? Could you still see your baby boy in those eyes even if he couldn’t see you? How did you make your words reach him when he was trapped in a world incapable of speech? Where have you found the courage mom? Where have you found the strength to pick him up each time he has fallen when his pain now is so much deeper than a scraped knee?

How have you listened to the many different labels placed on your son throughout the years? How have you helped him to accept those same labels as a positive step on a path to mental health, when the only labels you’ve ever had for him are my son, my baby boy, my world? What have you done with all those dreams you had for him? Have you given up on them in your heart of hearts or have you altered them? Have those dreams now simply become ones where he is as happy and healthy as he was when he entered this world? How have you continued to live each day, mom, when you must be dying inside?

As I look at my own son, I think of you mom. I can’t even begin to imagine what you have been through with your son. As his sister, I know what my experience has been, but as I look at my happy, healthy little boy I can’t even begin to imagine the depth of your pain. From one mother to another, I can say you have given me the best example of what it means to be a mother. It isn’t about teaching them their first words, but about being their voice when they can’t speak for themselves. It isn’t about cheering them on when they take their first steps, but about walking alongside them no matter what their journey entails. It isn’t about putting a band-aid on their knee when they fall, but about always being there to pick them back up. Most importantly, it is about never giving up on your child…no matter how many sleepless nights it may cost you.

Forever in awe of you,

Your grateful daughter