11 You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. 12 You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit. Job 10:11-12 (NRSV)
The look I saw on his face brought forth an image of sinew being torn from bone. Yet the ripping I felt was my heart.
I am not yet fully healed. I wonder when I will be, for I can still see Stross’ face, and I am still wrestling with the emotion exposed in that moment.
And so, I write.
Mark’s and my conversation – if we pretend to call it that – flirted with fears for our future. Our sons didn’t want to hear what we were talking about, nor should they have had to. Unfortunately for Stross and Skye, their parents are poor at hiding feelings. Clarification: Their mother is poor at it; their father is often a victim of her circumstance.
All four of us were in the same room when I felt challenged, and when challenged, I attack: “Stop implying I am not happy and that this is about me. Stross and I have developed a pattern to our days. We are falling into a routine, and I am figuring it out. My job is to accommodate his needs right now. I get that. Stross and I are getting it done. It is what it is. Stross is happy. I am happy. So back off.”
My forceful assertion was met with equally decisive opposition. Simultaneously, Mark and Skye, who in that moment chose to go from a bystander to a participant in his parents’ conflict, snapped their heads my direction and said in near unison, “You’re not happy.”
Stunned, I looked at Stross; he looked at me. My maternal instinct screamed in silent horror. I could not protect him from what he had heard and might now believe. I read his mind through his eyes. He was torn. His idea of who his mother was had been knocked askew by the suggestion of an alternative reality: Mom wasn’t happy? Mom’s happiness depended on him?
Flesh of my flesh. Sinew torn from bone.
I have only witnessed the expression Stross had on his face one other time. Several years ago during a medical consultation, a doctor had carelessly begun using the “s-word” (surgery) without regard to Stross’ impressionable presence. We had not asked about a surgical solution to Stross’ medical condition, but the doctor had felt the need to offer one. Immediately after the word was uttered, Stross, the survivor of more than a dozen surgeries, looked directly at me: betrayal. Had we tricked him? Had we not told him what this appointment was really about?
That day I had offered him an immediate, decisive response. My reassurance had been swift, even scolding the doctor for having been so careless. I had been Stross’ protector and comforter. He had no doubt he was safe. He could trust me, his mother.
But now … could he trust me now? I wanted to offer him immediate reassurance, but I was still reeling from the accusation. My soul’s mate and my other son did not believe I was happy. I could not begin to sort through the implications of that charge.
So I simply looked back at Stross while he looked at me. What was my man-boy thinking? Intellectually, he can converse as an 11- or 12-year-old might, but his problem-solving abilities are forever locked at a 7-year-old’s level. What must he think about his mother and her happiness and how she spends her days aligned with his? What are the implications for him?
“You’re not happy.”
The words had been sharp, cutting. The separation of sinew and bone had been severe enough I could not even limp to Stross’ rescue. I held off tears while his head lowered and his eyes looked over the top of his glasses, darting around the room and assessing each of us. He sat alone, looking alone. His hands kept each other company in his lap with one set of fingers nervously picking at the other.
Mark and Skye seemed oblivious to his anxiety. I wanted to say something, but I could only shake my head in an attempt to shake off what had just happened. Finally, the urge to strike back returned.
“How dare you. How dare you make Stross think I am not happy spending time with him.”
Then the episode ended as family conflicts often do. Silence filled the room and I took my negative energy into another area of our home so I would stop hurting the people I love most in this world, and they could not hurt me anymore.
Mark and Skye had drawn my attention to a topic I wanted to avoid – a topic only I had the power to change, but first I needed to find my way back to Stross, a powerful life force who serves as a mirror for my soul.
Hours later as he lay in bed watching a video on his iPod before turning his lights off for the night, I positioned my body next to his and we hugged. I told him I loved him and that I liked spending time with him. We reminded each other of fun times we’d shared, and he included the story of when he came to the Iowa State Capitol with me to have lunch with the then Lt. Governor. He was 2-years-old at the time, so it is a story he knows more as family narrative than memory.
We had been a family in transition then, moving from Des Moines to the life we now live. Mark had been our family’s primary care provider up to that point. Then, for three weeks, I lived in one city while Mark began a life for us in another. That is when we swapped roles and I became our family’s primary care provider, a responsibility I carry to this day – technically. Stross, now 20, is quite able to take care of most of his special needs unassisted but, unfortunately, not all. Mark and I share responsibility for the rest, while I continue to be the one on-call. The classroom aid. The job coach. The life skills teacher. The mom.
The anniversary of Stross’ birth is approaching. This personal holy day is only five weeks away, and this year I have homework to do before it arrives. I must attempt to answer this question: Am I happy? If I can’t get that answered, I won’t be able to conduct my annual motherhood performance review in the manner Stross (or Mark and Skye) deserves.
Am I happy?
I can feel the healing beginning simply because I have allowed myself to ask the question. Only I have the answer.