I Don’t Know My Son.

Photo credit: Nicole Taylor Photography

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.


  1. Karen says

    J – it is precisely because you have asked yourself those questions that make you the perfect parent for Owey!!! While no one can convince you not to carry your guilt around or wear your heart on your sleeve, just know that without asking yourself the tough questions, you would not be able to push forward every day and be who Owey needs you to be and who Parker needs and who YOU need you to be each day. Some days you will succeed and some days you will fail but do not forget that the ONLY thing that matters is the trying!!!!

  2. Melissa says

    I have asked those same exact questions and made that same statement; and I know we are not alone. You are a wonderful mother, and a gifted writer.

  3. says

    This is lovely. I second what Amanda says: modeling questioning, thinking, not-knowing is powerful for our children. He is lucky to have you. And I can surely respond to the sentence that ends in a period: you are. I can already tell that.

    • says

      Thank you, Lindsey – I can’t tell you what you have come to mean to me in the brief time we have been friends. I value what you have to say, and certainly take it to heart. xoxo, J.

  4. Sandra Sulzbach says

    I feel the same way, I feel frustrated, tired, mad, sad, because I would like the things be different, I love my two daughters the same, one is five years old, and the other one is three years old—-although I know I give more attention to my little one of three years old and a half that she can’t walk, or talk, she has developmental delays, she suffered an stroke (brain damage) when doctors in Florida did an embolisation in her brain when she was three days old, and since then, we have struggling with her rehabilitation…she is in physical, occupational and speech therapy—we pray to God for a miracle, to repair her brain, so she be able to do everything that a child does to her age…I believe in God with all my heart that he will work on her and will heal her….the same wish is for all the kids who suffer one way or another that God heal them and protect them always, God bless you all !!!

  5. says

    Jamie this is so beautiful. I think every mother can empathize with your love and your fear–your ability to describe both is inspiring.

    • says

      Thank you so much, Wendy! I have read your funny, irreverent, and thoughtful work as well and truly appreciate such a wonderful compliment and who it is coming from. Thank you for taking the time to read… xoxo

  6. Susan Cooper says

    Jamie – so exquisitely written. Have read it over and over. Your words are so thought provoking, insightful, and tender. Your love is bursting out with each expression, and your strength and committment unquestionable. Parker and Owen have a mommy to be so proud of. oxoxo Sue (Sarrra’s momma)

    • says

      Thank you so, so much for this, Susan… It truly means the world to me coming from the woman who raised one of my favorite people in the world. Your daughter has a moral compass and a warmth about her that I admire, respect, and love. I will continue to ask her to have you adopt me. Is 36 too late? xoxo, J.

  7. says

    Stunning, as always. Just so honest and beautiful and something we can all relate to in certain ways (our fears, our questions about ourselves as parents, our guilt, the fleeting nature of it all). Thank you for these words. xox

    • says

      Thank YOU for these words… There are few compliments people can give me that rank higher than when they tell me that they can relate to something I’ve written here. It means the world to me… xoxo, J.

  8. says

    This is absolutely beautiful. Beautiful. You are so honest in your writing. If I would have been told–years ago–that my daughter would have special needs, I would have said, no way. never mind. I won’t do this parenting thing. Thirty-three years later, I’ve learned that she has taught me so much. Some things I didn’t want to learn. I still don’t want to learn. I’m so glad I found you. Thanks. P.S. I found you on Love That Max. My post was #49 this week. BTW, do you have a FB Page? I love to support my fellow bloggers, so let me know what it is and I’ll go LIKE it. Your son is ADORABLE! I’m sorry that some days are bad. They are bad for me too. Unfortunately.

    • says

      Thank you so much for sharing your story here, Linda. It is true that we all have bad days, second thoughts, and rough patches. Places like these that bring us together certainly act as a literary salve for me – I hope the same is true for you. You can “Like” my Facebook page in the column underneath my bio on this page, or search for it on FB as “Our Stroke of Luck”. I will certainly look for yours as well! J.

  9. says

    Very touching and inspiring. Thank you for sharing what you have gone through, what you are going through. It helps us readers understand better mothers who are facing the same challenges as you. I wish you all the best. And God’s strength and wisdom for you and the family. Found your blog from Bloggy Moms blog hop.

  10. says

    They weren’t kidding when they said motherhood would be hard. We just didn’t know HOW hard. Thank you SO much for telling your truth about it. Your writing is beautiful and your message reaches me and helps me feel less alone.

  11. says

    I came across this beautifully written post of yours on HuffPost yesterday, and I had to come and tell you how touched I was by your words, and how much I admire the honesty and vulnerability that so clearly comes across in your writing. Thank you.


    P.s. I was soooo excited to read that you’re writing a book. Hooray! So glad I found you. 🙂

  12. Another Mama says

    I came across your blog-post in Huff Post … truly beautiful and so real. I too never thought I’d be a special needs mom (my story is a little different – healthy apgars, but peculiar signs starting during toddler-dom) but here I am, and your “shame” at how you felt when this all hit is SO NORMAL and SO RELATABLE. Thank you for opening up your life and struggles (and mini triumphs!) to the rest of us …


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