I rarely feel guilt as a mother. I’m confident that I am not totally screwing up in helping these four humans become self-sufficient members of society. But when Mother’s Day rolls around, all of the guilt I could have felt during the rest of the year hits me in one gigantic ball of “you’re not good enough” guilt. I also feel guilt for not loving Mother’s Day when there are so many women who would like to be mothers, miss their mothers, or miss the children who made them mothers. It’s a complicated day.
Today, though, I sit in a hospital room waiting for my child to return from surgery. It’s nothing too serious; he broke his femur last year and they want to take the plate and 12 screws out so his bone can continue to grow and reduce his risk of breakage at the growth plates. But its a weird thing, sitting in a hospital room doing nothing but writing on your laptop while your child is being cut open and worked on.
I can hear the cries of children in neighboring rooms. Some cries sound awfully young and others sound like they are in awful pain. I wonder what they’re here for, and my heart aches for them, but also for their parents. Watching your kids go through pain (physical and emotional) is so much more difficult than going through your own pain. That’s what you cannot understand until you have had children. Until you have raised little human beings, you think that you know empathy, but it is so much heavier than you knew possible.
When my son first broke his femur, I had just returned home from a long trip with the youth from my church and was unpacking WHILE trying to pack for our family summer vacation we were to be leaving for the next day. I heard cries coming from the backyard and when I saw him clutching his leg on the trampoline, I said the same thing that I had said every other time someone got hurt on the trampoline, “You’re fine. Just hop off and go chill out somewhere.” At this point, you might be thinking what a wonderful mother I am. Where is my Mother of the Year trophy?
It gets worse.
He was still crying and clutching at his quad—he was not going to move on his own. So, I grabbed him and carried him over to a patio chair. Are you cringing yet? Yeah, I know. This is one of those “maybe you should feel more guilt on days other than Mother’s Day” moments. “Dude, you’re fine. Just breathe,” I said. He tries, but the deep breath sends a shock of pain to his leg.
My husband and I look at each other and know that we have to take him to the hospital. Every slight bump or turn in the car and my little boy lets out a small shriek. I am realizing the severity of the situation every minute that we get closer to the hospital. His cries are now sending little jabs into my mothering heart. After we are admitted to the ER (and I get the first few of many disapproving head shakes reserved for those who own a trampoline), my son lies on the hospital bed and lets out the most pathetic sounds. I try to give him kisses and hold his hand, but he pleads that I don’t touch him. “Can someone give him something for the pain?” I ask anyone who walks by our room.
I have turned into the Mama Bear. Just one hour before I was questioning his pain level and now I am demanding to get some professional attention to my poor baby. He’s a little guy and fairly quiet, so to hear him crying in such agony was wrenching my heart. Finally we are told that he has broken his femur and will be admitted. The break will require surgery. Because he had eaten dinner shortly before jumping on the trampoline, they wouldn’t be able to begin his surgery for hours, which turned into the following morning. All evening, they gave him doses of medicine, but he continued to feel a lot of discomfort. As soon as he would start drifting to sleep, his muscle would spasm and he would shriek at the pain. This went on all night. He went into surgery in the morning and the surgeon told us that it was significantly worse than the single fracture they had thought. He had three separate fractures going every which way on his femur, and she could not say enough about how much pain he must have felt.
My small eight-year-old boy got smaller in the following months as he wasn’t able to play, swim, or participate in most of the summer activities. The first two weeks of the third grade, he pushed around a walker and wore a big brace that we called his “bionic leg.” He smiled when people brought him treats, but silent tears rolled down his face when we went to family and neighborhood parties.
The subsequent doctor and physical therapy visits were taxing, but mostly because we saw so many children with issues MUCH more difficult than my son’s. My heart broke for these kids and their parents, grateful for the patient nurses and doctors, for the hospital and all those who contributed to it. Life can be sincerely difficult, and a messy room, a broken tv, or a ruined tube of lipstick all seem wonderful and fun when you put them on the scale of human experience.
Today the anesthesiologist asked my son what flavor of sleep gas he wanted. After considering it for a few seconds, he asked if they had “glazed donut” flavor. The doctors and nurses all laughed and mused about such a great idea for a flavor of medicine. One of the residents, looking over the medical chart, said, “It’s so nice to have a healthy kid,” mostly to himself, but I couldn’t agree more.
It is SO nice to have a healthy kid. Being a parent can be frustrating and trying and exhausting, but it is the best thing I have ever done. Mind you, I have done a lot of amazing and fantastic things in my life. I have travelled, worked, created, taught, accomplished, and continue to do these things. But having a kid (four of them!) has by far been the best thing I have chosen to do. I understand that some people do not wish to have children and I don’t think anyone SHOULD have kids if they don’t want them (plug for the gift of ADOPTION). But if they don’t want to have children because they don’t want anyone accidentally breaking the television, waking them up early Saturday morning or spilling cereal on the carpet, then they are MISSING OUT!
Mother’s Day is a tricky day, to be sure, but somehow it’s got to stop being about comparing what kind of mother you are, were, or want to be and what kind of mother you had. It’s got to stop being about the brunch and what presents you give and get. This year, Mother’s Day for me is right now, sitting in this empty hospital room, realizing the gratitude I have for the chance at being a mother. It is thinking about the hugs my children give me that sincerely feel like they are filled with healing powers. It is reminiscing about my mother sitting in her chair with her needlepoint project and grateful that she made the choice to have me.
My kids may never say cheesy sentiments about me being their angel mother (I’m looking at you, Abraham Lincoln) or send me to a spa while they clean the house and make my favorite dessert. That’s okay by me. I’m just glad I get to be an imperfect mother of imperfect kids in an imperfect life that I love.
Happy Mother’s Day, imperfect people.