One evening a few weeks ago, I was sitting at the kitchen table tinkering with settings on the back-end of this blog. It was after dinner and the Minions were transitioning from the high energy of an active summer day to the slower pace of the evening. Jordan came to me and said, “Mommy, I know you said it’s time for us to settle down, but may we please build a tent in me and Jaiden’s room and use the stools from the bar to do it? And could we all sleep in there tonight?”
Taking a split second to consider the mess I would undoubtedly wake up to the next morning, I barely glanced away from the computer screen and said, “Sure. Find a way to get your tent draped over your TV, and I’ll hook up the DVD player from the playroom in there so you guys can watch a movie in there tonight. When you’re ready, I’ll bring you guys some popcorn and juice boxes.”
Instead of cheering and running to tell the others like I expected him to do, Jordan burst into tears and rushed into me, burying his face in my chest as audible sobs shook his 8-year old body.
Completely taken off guard, I wrapped my arms around him and concernedly asked why he was crying.
“I’m just so…so…I can’t explain it.” Whatever emotion he was feeling seemed to intensify, and I could tell that he was scrambling to find the words to match whatever was in his sensitive heart.
” Just try your best, JoJo. Say whatever comes to your mind.”
“I’m just so…happy that you’re my mom.” His voice escalated into a higher pitch and another barrage of sobs stirred through his words as he said, “Thank you and Daddy for making me borned.”
I squeezed him tighter to me and tears of my own found their way to my eyes. All I could manage to squeak out past the lump that had risen in my throat was, “Oh, honey….”
In a moment’s time, a hundred thoughts and counter-thoughts rushed through me, each one colored differently by how his words refracted through the faceted prism of my mind. What could I say to him? How could I find the right words to clarify my feelings to him? I thought,
Don’t credit me with too much, son; I was lucky that YOU were given to US. I am no more responsible for you being my son than I am responsible for making the sun rise each day. But is that exactly true? Daddy and I WANTED to have another baby and you were created with an intent to love you already in our hearts. You existed before you existed because we believed/felt/prayed/hoped that you would come to us. Thank YOU for choosing us to be your parents. But what does THAT mean? That isn’t right, either, because believing, feeling, praying, and hoping does not a parent make. If only it did. Childlessness and infertility is not caused because spirits on the other side of heaven never choose a woman to be born to. Infertility just IS, and there is no rhyme or reason to it. I asked ‘Why me?’ when I couldn’t get pregnant. Now I ask (again), ‘Why me?’ Why were we lucky, when it seems that so many others are overlooked?
I cried harder, tears on behalf of my sisters and brothers in infertility mixing in with my mother-after-infertility tears. I pushed aside that train of thought because I’ve learned and re-learned time and time again that asking ‘Why me?’ and expecting an answer is a futile effort. Then, words for the dominant side of my emotions were beginning to take shape:
My dear, dear child. I am unworthy of your grateful tears. I am not all that I could be to you. Sometimes I only half-listen and pretend to be fully invested when your stories run on a bit too long. The ratio of your clean clothes to dirty is almost perpetually imbalanced. I think I let you watch too much TV and play video games for too long sometimes. I tell you to clean your room more often than I straighten up my own. I could get up and cook you breakfast more often instead of letting you make bowls of cereal for yourself. There are things I know I do well as your mother, but there are so, so many things I could better. I do not deserve this degree of adoration, this degree of love which has stitched your breath and moved you to tears. Will you still think the same of me when time and maturity sweeps the curtain of a child’s unconditional love away from your eyes and reveals me as just the person that I am and not the great and powerful (and faultless) being you perceive me to be?
I felt like a charlatan, one who at best could only one day hope to be as good as what he already thought I was.
Then, words my mother has often said echoed: My children are the testament to my greatness. Growing up, I never interpreted her statement as being boastful. She essentially raised us as a single mother and did a damned fine job doing it. She raised my sisters and me to be intelligent, respectful, generous, open, well-rounded, and proud young Black women. If the pride we felt in ourselves as individuals defined the pride she felt within herself as an individual, then I think the statement was well-deserved on both ends.
This was the first time that it occurred to me to consider this phrase from the point of view of me being the mother, and this interpretation was different from how I perceived it as a daughter.
Jordan, you are the testament to my greatness. Not because I feel sure enough in parenting you to feel complete pride in it, but because you humble me. You listen with your whole heart, attention undivided. You are gentle without remembering that you have to be, kind to others even if they’ve not shown you kindness, and you love so wholly and unabashedly. If my greatness had to be measured by either who I am or by who you are, I would choose you every time. The whole of you and your siblings is greater than the sum of my parts.
These varied thoughts – as a mother after infertility, as a mother, and as a daughter, swelled through with all the suddenness of crashing waves. I cupped Jordan’s hot, wet cheeks between my hands and looked into his eyes. I wiped the tears from his face and kissed his forehead. The only words I could find to say were, “I love you. Thank you, baby. Thank you for making me better.”
He nodded his head as if he understood, though he couldn’t possibly have comprehended it in as many ways as I meant it. He hugged me again and gave me a quick peck on the cheek, then made off for his room, dragging a stool from the bar behind him. Just before turning the corner, he looked back and said, “I love you too, Mommy. Very, very much.”
This unsure tightrope of feeling our way through our faults and learning from them faster than we can let them adversely affect our children is a delicate balance that seems universal to mothers, or at least the ones I consider good mothers. Anymommy and Lori Lavender Luz, both of whom are mothers that I hold in high esteem, each recently touched on a similar vein. There is reassurance in knowing that I am not alone, tiptoeing my way on feet that are not always steady on this journey that is parenting.
And there is reassurance in the face of my sweet boy, who loves me deeply enough to wash me clean of my maternal doubts with his tears.