Friday, September 23, 2016

Is it Strange That I'm This in Love With My Child?

I am severely obsessed with my child. 

There, I've put it out in the open and I admit that I'm quite on the defensive. As someone who's active in the blogging and online world, I'm keenly aware of the fact that it's far more popular to complain about one's children, write about how difficult it is to raise these young creatures and celebrate the hours they spend away from us. Believe me, I understand all that. I have written a few of those too and don't judge any parent who misses those carefree childless days. 

But I also admit that every time I see social media posts by parents or memes celebrating back to school, the fact that their kids will finally be out of the house again, or read rants portraying their children as uncontrollable, devious monsters that just suck the life out of them, I feel a little guilty because a part of me can't relate.

Sure, I honestly savor time alone when there's no one for me to fuss over and I can concentrate on chores and my writing. It's always good for any parent to have breathing spaces during the day when we can feel the relief of not having anyone else to care for or worry about in our midst. But in the grand scheme of things, I really don't mind having my son around me and to be perfectly honest, I even love it. I understand that I can only say this because I don't work outside the home and I only have one child. There is no employer to worry about when my child has to stay home due to illness or school holidays. And there is no one for him to be incessantly noisy with, no annoying and insanity-inducing fights for me to settle. These are blessings I never take for granted. 

I honestly can't say if I'd feel any less intense had my circumstances been any different. If I had more than one child. If I didn't have any fertility issues. If my child isn't deemed a miracle on top of a miracle being an IVF baby. If my child were any different from how he turned out to be. If I were employed and had the distraction of another career. Would I be any less in love, any less obsessed? Because right now, he is my world. In my eyes, he is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. He has the most mesmerizing eyes I have ever looked into, the face that lights up any dark moment. His are the arms I can't resist when he pulls me close at night, refusing to let me go and accept that tucking him in doesn't mean that I stay by his side for 10 minutes or so. When he comes home from school and walks through the door, I hug him tight and tell him I missed him. And yes, I mean every word of it and feel happy to have him back in my arms and smell the sun and sweat on his hair and skin. When I kiss him goodbye in the morning, I bless him, say a prayer and kiss his head with the hope that our embrace will carry me through my day. During the day, I smile at his photos spread throughout the house as I walk past them. At night when he's fast asleep, I find myself looking at some of his photos on my phone and utter to my husband, "Isn't he just beautiful?", and then simultaneously feel joy and sadness, ambushed by a sense of panic as I realize how fast he's growing, how the moments are just slipping through my tightly clenched fingers. I know this might all sound crazy but there are countless days and nights when I really feel like my chest can burst open with the love it can't contain for this child. This boy holds my heart and I suspect it will be so forever. 

I am not blind to my son's imperfections. I'm not one of those parents who thinks their child can do no wrong. I love him immensely but I also parent him fiercely. I don't baby him, though I know he will forever be my baby. 

This is how I love. This is just how I am. When someone truly gets into my heart, they stay there forever. When someone cuts through my soul, loving in half measures ceases to make sense. I don't find fulfillment in lukewarm or halfhearted. It's just who I am, and parenthood, if nothing else, brings out the best lovers in all of us. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Watching Grief

Photo by Francesca Borchardt

He lies quietly on his hospital bed placed in the middle of the family room. The sound from the television serves as perpetual background noise. Is he watching, understanding the show that's on? I don't know for sure. His wife, children and grandchildren are all around in different areas of the house. There is subdued chatter everywhere. Again, more background noise. 

My father-in-law's first stroke happened in 2008. Since then, he has been in and out of the hospital, in and out of therapy, up and down, a roller coaster ride. The family, of course, has also been with him on this ride. A period of panic, and then calm, complacency, perhaps even denial. This is how life has been for the past several years but this time, there seems to be something definitively different. His inability to move on his own and care for himself, his imprisonment in that hospital bed, the undeniable fragility of his thinning limbs have forced everyone around him to confront the inevitable. Nobody knows when it will happen and everyone can't seem to fully exhale. 'Have you accepted it?" seems to be the most common question from any outsider looking in, and there can only be one logical response: "I think I have, to the degree that my humanity allows". The subtext to this of course is that the mind can process what it sees and knows what needs to be done, even though the heart remains fraught with hanging questions, unfinished conversations and the heavy presence of unending grief hiding in the shadows. 

He is crying. Everyone takes notice that quiet tears are flowing down his face.

Could he be in pain? He says no. 

Could he be sad? Is his heart breaking at the thought of leaving his wife and children behind? Is he grieving for unfulfilled dreams, plans he now doesn't seem to have enough time left for? Is he thinking about regrets?

Could these be tears of joy? Is he reminiscing about the first sight of each of his six precious children? Is he suddenly feeling the ghost sensation of the very first kiss he shared with his wife when they first fell in love? Are these tears brought by all the fun family vacations and parties celebrated through the decades? Are all the beautiful memories now too much to take in all at once?

Or could this be fear? Is he uncertain of what lies beyond and feels confused about how this will all end? Is he afraid of what would happen next? Or is he more afraid of what might become of his wife and her shattered heart?

She is right beside him, holding his hand and telling him, "I will be fine. Don't worry about me". She musters all her strength until she couldn't anymore and decides to leave his side to break down in the other room. Her daughter stands with her and helps muffle her wailing by holding her tight. They both need this release. And they both know this is only one among many that will follow. 

I know this too. I have had to hold my own son as he tries to process the change that he is witnessing and sensing around him. He has broken down in the dark one night as I was tucking him in. He feels it all but can't fully understand, let alone label the sense of grief coursing through him, as if breaking open his chest. When the time comes and all the goodbyes have been said, the grief will visit him again. As his mother, I need to help him understand that it is best to make friends with this grief. It will pop by when he least expects it. He can't shut his door because it will always find its way in. If he at least makes friends with it, he will know that grief is stubborn. It respects no timelines or deadlines. It may frequent you less as years go by but it will be there. Its only request is that you respect the space you share with it. Just be in it, with it and let it move through you, or even consume you. Just believe in your heart that from the ashes you will rise again...and again. Grief is not greedy that it will want to take your life and happiness with it. Only you can make that choice. 

And so each of us in the family grieves slowly as we brace ourselves for the inevitable. My father-in-law, or Big Daddy as we call him, is with us still. And even after his fragile shell gives up, I am certain we will find comfort in him living on simply because he has touched each of our lives and loved us as best as he knew how. This love is imperfect but one can't deny the perfection it created in the form of his family's devotion. Now I realize that more than just watching grief these past few days, I've also been privileged enough to witness that grief always manifests itself with Love. I find not only comfort in this, but most of all, peace.