I have a secret to share. I don’t really know Owen. Not very well, at least.
He is my son. He is mine, and my heart knows him – I could recognize his cry from across a football field full of screaming fans (and tell you if it is his hurt cry, his mad cry, his tired cry – or his fake cry). I can tell you that I melt – I actually feel my muscles soften and relax – each time I sink down into the plush navy glider in his room every night and I feel him nuzzle his face into the crook of my neck as he wraps his arms around me. We sit there together and rock gently as I softly sing him “Uptown Girl”, his favorite song-turned-lullabye. We sit for a few more moments before I sing him the “Night Night Song”; another nightly melody – which came to me on the day that his sister was born and I have sung to each of them ever since – and I bury my face deeply into his soft hair and breathe him in. His slightly sour, sweaty, shampoo-laced smell. I know this scent. This boy.
I know him in these moments that we share, that he asks for every night, that each time I am petrified will be the last.
Because he is three and a half. And I know these moments won’t last forever. Because one day he will grow out of my arms. Because one day he will grow tall – much taller than me – and instead of looking down to see his arms reaching up to embrace me, I will need to look up and reach my arms to the sky to throw my arms around the neck of my little boy, as he does to me in these soon-to-be vanishing days.
So I hold onto these moments now. Because I know him in these moments. I know what his heartbeat feels like against mine, and his face buried in my neck, and the smell of his hair.
But I don’t know him very well at all beyond these sweet moments we share.
Outside that room, outside that cherished, fleeting time he is foreign to me.
He hits, and he screams, and he twists and contorts his body in order to run away from me in malls and parking lots and grocery stores. And I try to talk to him, but he doesn’t understand so much of what I say to him. And he tries to talk to me, and I don’t understand most of what he says to me. And I try to play with him, but he has the attention span of a child half his age and everything I approach him with – books, board games, toys – gets thrown. Sometimes at me. Sometimes at his sister or his father or his babysitter or the television or a lamp or across the room.
And sometimes he screams because he is mad. And sometimes I scream because I am mad.
And sometimes he laughs wildly because…well, I really don’t know.
Most of the day, regardless of how much I try to engage him, he lays on the floor with a matchbox car or a truck or anything-else-that-has-wheels-on-it and he holds it mere centimeters from his face and he spins his entire body in a circle – grunting and moaning and sounding like…
Like the kid that I was so scared I would have the day he was born.
The day when they came in and told me that he had coded three times, and lost a lot of oxygen, and they didn’t know how much brain damage may have occurred. When all seven of us in that room unabashedly cried together – for this boy, for his sister, for ourselves, for the lives we now knew would be completely unrecognizable from what we had lived up until that point and from what we had dreamed for the future.
The line demarcating that moment from everything that came before and everything that would come after was so clear you could almost see it.
I carried (carry?) around so much shame for the things I said that day.
Two things that ended in a question mark and one that ended with a period.
What will this do to our marriage?
What will this do to Parker’s childhood?
I don’t think I’m strong enough to parent a Special Needs child.
The guilt I felt, that I have learned to forgive but will never forget, still haunts me. It still bubbles to the surface.
I still ask those questions. I still make that statement.
I still feel those feelings that I did on that day.
Because I knew my husband, and I knew my daughter, and I knew this life we had built. And while I loved my little boy to the core of my being – with that primal, instinctual love that mothers feel – I did not know him yet.
I love my boy still – with that primal, instinctual love that mothers feel – but I still lack confidence in whether or not I know him.
And that frightens me, and it scares me, and it keeps me up at night.
And so I desperately hold onto our moments together, before he falls asleep and I try not to stay awake.
Because some days those fleeting moments are all I really feel like I have of him.
They are when I know him.