Mother, Mother

I’ve been a mom for eight years and two months and some days that I don’t feel like counting. The journey has been very, very long.

My whole life, I’ve had two mothers: the one who gave birth to me and the one that did the real work of raising me. But really, there is only one.

Gaby was a mom when I met her, so Cyrus has three moms. Poor Erika lives with two moms.

My own mom is a woman most of you have met. You love her. You love her because she is always able to be positive in any situation. You love her because she hugs you, even though she might not remember your name. You love her because she only wants to dance and have a good time.

I love her because she is my mom. And like most people, as I’ve aged, I’ve realized her wisdom, how much smarter she is than I. I strive to be like her while at the same time I try not to be like her. I see this pattern in Erika, who is nearly 14, trying to cling to Gaby and push her away at the same time. It is exhausting, this pulling and pushing of our mothers, ourselves.

Today,  Gaby had to work and Cyrus was at his other mom’s house for the holiday. Erika went to her dad’s for a while. So, I went fishing with some friends; we paddled around a lake, caught fish, or in my case, struggled to catch fish. I spent the day in the sun, on the water, not trying to please anyone, not trying to do the laundry or mow the yard. I got to spend the day mostly in my head, sweating and cussing at the stupid fish for not biting. I think that’s what all moms really need: a fucking break. I wish Gaby could’ve been with me. She needs a fishing trip more than I do.

 

The thing is, Cyrus did not come from my body. The same way I didn’t come from Faye’s body. None of that matters to me. You see, my whole life is about being a part of a family that doesn’t look like me. I don’t feel like him coming out of my body would make him any closer to me, but I know most people feel that way.

When I meet strangers and I tell them I’m a mom, they assume Cyrus is biologically mine. They assume all of the physical pain and sacrifice that comes with giving birth to a child. To be a mother is to sacrifice your body, they think. You might think that, too. But you also may know what else I’ve sacrificed–what matters more than that.

I’m adopted. I’ve never thought of my mom as a lesser mom because I didn’t come from her body. I’ve fought with her for the reasons we all fight with our moms: we are teenagers and they couldn’t possibly understand us, right? It is very true and very not true. But the whole time I knew she was my mom. My only mom.

People have asked me if it was hard bonding with Cyrus since he wasn’t mine. He isn’t mine? So, I’m not Faye’s? So, I’m not a “real” mom?

It’s true, no baby has ever come from my body. No baby has ever come from Faye’s body., either, but can you imagine another mom for me? I can’t.

The fact is, I have no idea what it means to have family that are biologically related. It’s weird to me that you look like your parents. It creeps me out a little that Erika and Gaby look so much alike. But, by some wonderful coincidence, Cyrus and I resemble each other.

I don’t feel like a lesser mother because I’m not a biological mother. And I hope that my mom has never felt that either. I don’t feel that way toward Erika, but maybe she has trouble understanding that since she looks like her mom and comes from her mom.

One of the women I went fishing with today was, at a certain point, my daughter. She was already adopted. Then, adopted again. There are too many layers in our lives to even dig through.

All of this is to say:

All of the children in my life are mine.

Being a mom means giving all of yourself, all the time.

Being a mom means kayaking around a lake trying to forget, for just a moment, you are a mom.

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This is the Day

There is finally an answer to the ultimate question we’ve all asked for years: today.

Today is the day Cyrus’s button, that fucking port in his stomach where the feeding tube has been hooked up thousands of times, is coming out. Fuck. I’ll even do some math. The tube was inserted about 6 times a day for nearly 8 years…2,735 times is a conservative estimate. For more than two years, the first two of his life, he had to be hooked up to a pump for a better part of the day. Then came the bolus feeds. Then came those times when he’d be out of the house for more than a couple of hours and someone would’ve forgotten the tube. There would be a trip back to the house to retrieve it.

His life revolved around that goddamn tube. If the button broke, which it did many times, he couldn’t eat until it was reinserted, either at home or at a hospital. There were times it fell out and the hole closed and had to be re stretched. There were times when the tube that connected to the button would break. There were so many fucking times that he’d cough in the middle of a feeding and milky liquid would fly everywhere. My house smelled like the sweet rottenness of dairy, soaked into the carpets, the couches, the beds, the sheets, his clothes. There were times when I forgot to feed him.

It was hard to find a babysitter; the tube is a scary thing. He had to go to a particular preschool because they were willing to tube him while others didn’t have the insurance coverage for it. My dad has never tubed him. Very few of you have ever done it. He had to have a doctor’s note in order for the nurse at his school to give him water. Tap water. A doctor’s note. He needed a doctor’s note when he required more tube food in the day. In order for the school to feed him, a doctor had to say so. A doctor has controlled most of his food intake: how much, when, what, how. Until Gaby came, made a nutritious, real smoothie. Of course, I had the instinct to ask the doctor, anyone in a white coat, if it was okay. I had to ask if it was okay to feed my kid. I had to relearn that part of myself.

As I wrote a bit earlier, he has gone without a full day’s feeding since October 1st. It was that time that he was given a tube, secretly, while he was sleeping. When his button broke on November 27th, that seemed a sign that it was time. He hasn’t used the button since.

His eighth birthday is in 15 days. He got the tube in July of 2010. That’s a lot of years for everyone to have to deal with that thing.

He is really excited.

It feels impossible to tell you how ecstatic I am about this. Today is the shedding of the last layer of weighted sadness I still wear from the NICU. The final symbol of all that pain, all of those muddy days of mere existence.

Since he was born, people have said eventually he’d outgrow all of his preemie problems. I was naive to think that they meant “soon.” I suppose in the span of his life, 8 years isn’t a long time to deal with all that’s been thrown at him. For me, though, that’s been the first 8 years of my parenting experience. Doctors, therapists, surgeries. That’s all I’ve known. That’s all he’s known. That’s all you’ve known of him, too.

That’s not even 1/100th of who he his.

If you see me this week and I’m staring into space, I promise I am not sad. If you see me crying, I’m not sad. If you see me drinking too much, I am not sad. I’m light and airy. I am made of sunshine.

The grass is turning green. The buds are forming. The birds are singing. Cyrus’s long winter is over.

The long days of sunshine that pull life from under the dark soil are finally here.

 

 

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The Sum of His Parts

Seven years ago around this time I wrote this.  If you don’t have time to read it, no worries; I can fill you in. Cyrus had been in the hospital for two months, weighed less than 5 pounds, still, and two of the family’s cats died within that time span. I wrote about the book of Job in the Bible. How I felt like I was being tested. How fucking dramatic and ridiculous that whole story is.

But here I sit, in the hospital with Cyrus again. The machines have been beeping for 15 minutes straight, rousing him from sleep, with the same noise they made seven years ago, when the oxygen in his blood fell from 100% to 15%. When he nearly died all the time. When he had seizures. When I became not just a parent, but joined the preemie parent club. A group in which I wanted no membership.

So, in the scheme of all the awful things that could happen (and have happened) to Cyrus, another broken arm isn’t bad. Unless you start to do the math of the amount of times he’s been in the hospital the past year. It’s something like 6 or 7. He’s been put under general anesthesia at least half of those times. A major surgery in August. Two broken arms since November. And now. Third time’s the fucking charm.

It’s his left arm. A level 3 supracondylar fracture. He had a level 2 in November; they had to place two pins and a cast. It’ll happen again in the morning. He just got the cast off his right arm on April 4 and was cleared for physical activity 10 days ago.

Now. Why do I tell you this? I’m not sure.

There are definitely times I want your sympathy, your kind words, your anger and bitterness of the injustices in the world of parenting. (Yes, the most self-serving, first world problems)

Sometimes I tell you because maybe I want to justify my overprotective parenting or his constant need for help up and down stairs. If you notice, he grabs my hand a lot for help. He knows he needs it. He’s so cautious.

This happened today, reportedly, when he was walking through the cafeteria at school. One minute he was walking; the next he was on the ground crying and holding his elbow. When the nurse called and said he fell, I could only say, “C’mon. No.”

Some of you have wondered at his condition: does he have weak bones? Was that caused by being a preemie? What do the doctors say? What can be done?

So far the answer seems to be bad luck. But I know that his motor skills aren’t equal to those of other kids his age. He stumbles a lot. His eyesight isn’t great. He lacks maybe 20 degrees of peripheral vision.

The even shittier thing is that when he last had this break, he was just learning to write well. He started writing with his right hand, and things got all confused. He basically had to go back to the beginning. And now. He’s almost to second grade and in 25% SPED classes because he can’t really write. He eats through a tube in his stomach. He goes to therapies. Blah blah fucking blah. You know all of this already.

Doctors struggle to treat him as a whole human person. Even the doctor this afternoon, who listened when I said he had severe anxiety about being in a hospital, admitted she hadn’t looked up his medical history “that far back”-which meant November. It’s become a joke when someone walks in the room and says, “any medical history?” I scoff. And that’s the exact word I mean to use. I tell them they can read all about him in the system. He should have seven whole years of information there. If they press, I give the abridged version, “25 weeker. Seizures. ROP. Nissen. Feeding tube.” Cyrus’s ailments and procedures aren’t countable on all my fingers anymore.

***

This space intentionally blank for you to grasp the million dollar bill from the NICU, plus all procedures that came after.

Now. Think about all that without insurance.

The trauma plus the bill would be more than enough to kill and entire family.

***

Every time something happens, some doctor says, “He’s doing great for a 25 weeker!” (You throw really good. For a girl.)  I know that he is great. I’m so happy he is alive and thriving. He is intelligent and caring. He is relaxed. He seems to be some sort of gamer nerd in the making. He also wants to be a football player. But just once I would like a doctor to say how amazing he is. Period. Or to look at him like he’s been through it all. Like he’s older than 7. I want someone who recognizes that he’s not just a kid with a broken arm, but a kid who’s had a whole bunch of bullshit happen to him. A kid who has never gone a year without a hospital visit. A kid who is afraid of steps and running. A kid who is afraid to eat. A kid who screams, sweats, and shakes when he sees one of the kids’ hospital gowns with “sleepy tiger” written all over it under cutesy pictures of a cartoon tiger.

I said so many years ago that I’d take broken bones over seizures and eating issues any day.

I guess I didn’t realize my wish would come true.

 

Eat, Puke, Love

Tonight I watched Cyrus eat some ham, the lunch meat kind. He was enjoying it. Asking for more. When there comes this gurgle from what, to an untrained ear, might sound like his stomach. But. It’s in his throat. Deep down there. It’s like one of those inside kinda weird burps we’ve all had happen to us, if maybe just once. You know what I’m talking about.

Then, after some strange head rolls, the ham pieces and a bunch of spit came out of Cyrus’ mouth. I don’t really know how to describe what he does. He’s not able to vomit like the rest of us, because of the Nissen, but his body still acts like it can. That’s when stuff comes up. But, it doesn’t actually come up. I mean, I guess it’s moving upward, but only from somewhere in his esophagus, not his stomach. So, it’s usually just spit mixed with whatever he just ate, though not always chunky if the food’s chunky.

The big surgery he just had 4 weeks ago was supposed to correct this. Yet. Here we are.

After he spit into a napkin and a bowl, he apologized for doing it. And later as I was tucking him into bed, he apologized again. I asked if he did it on purpose. “No, I think it’s just my body,” he said.

He also apologized not too long ago when he was lying in a hospital bed, attached to the machine with all the vitals and beeps, a feeding pump, an iv bag.  “I’m sorry that I’m here,” he said. As if it were his fault. As if he chose that for himself.

When really I chose it, didn’t I?

Cyrus’ first Nissen was done when he was still in the NICU. The doctor seemed very optimistic about it helping him eat. You see, they’re done when patients suffer from severe reflux. Cyrus was refluxing so badly and all the time that he was aspirating it. And then breathing faster and therefore aspirating more because we kept shoving a bottle in his mouth. The feeding tube was the answer to the question you were asking, “When does he get to come home?” All he had to do was eat to leave. Or have calories. So, after 4.5 months of him living at the hospital, the decision was made to place the feeding tube and do the surgery. I was part of that decision.

Part of a decision that has affected his ability to eat since, well, forever. I didn’t quite understand what a Nissen meant for him in the long run. I knew it would get him home. I was under the impression that eventually they fail and then everything is normal. I didn’t realize he wouldn’t be able to burp or puke. As a baby, he never “spit up” after he was 37 weeks gestation. The surgery, I just learned, can never really be reversed.

He retched. He basically dry heaved all day long. Doctors didn’t know why or didn’t care. It was awful. He’d gag and gag. And his little face would turn red. Nothing would come up. Because it’s not supposed to.

I’ve never known what it is to have a child who pukes in the middle of the night. I’ve never heard him burp.

I have watched him doubled over in pain. I’ve seen him eat things he loves only to have his body reject them immediately. I’ve heard him tell people, “my doctor says I can’t have crunchy things.”

I’ve heard him apologize to me for being in the hospital. To me.

***

This last surgery wasn’t really a choice. After a dilation, the surgeon poked a hole in his esophagus. It sounds so awful. But it was written on the form I signed that it could happen. And it did. So. They had to cut him open and fix their mistake. Along the way they decided to redo the fundoplication, which I understood was causing all of the issues and was going to be undone. I’m not a surgeon. I didn’t get to make that call. I wasn’t even informed until after it was over.

And therein lies my anxiety.

I have been Cyrus’ mom for six beautiful years. Of those years, it feels like I haven’t been in control. I know, you might say you aren’t in control, either. But I mean, major, life-altering decisions are made by his nurses, doctors, and therapists. Maybe you think that’s melodramatic. For the first 4.5 months of his life, there was basically nothing I could do to keep him alive. What knowledge and experience does anyone have with a 25 week preemie? So. He lived in a plastic box. I watched as countless things were done to him. All in an effort to save his life. Doctors and nurses did things and I listened to what they had done after they did them.

He left the hospital with the feeding tube and a pump. I was instructed what to feed him and how much and how often. I was told which medicines to give him. I was told by three different therapists all the things that had to be done so he could eat, walk, be able to button his own pants some day. That intensity lasted two years. Things have slowed down, but they’re still there. They’re still everywhere.

He goes to therapists still. They know more than I do about him. About how bodies work and what he’s lacking.

He goes to doctors who sometimes say what a miracle he is and then offer nothing else to help him. He goes to doctors who want to try ALL THE THINGS to make him a whole person.

The control I speak about isn’t necessarily control. It might be more like ownership. To keep Cyrus alive and thriving, it has taken hundreds of people. He belongs to us all. And there is beauty in that. In the idea that it takes a village. It really does for him.

***

Since he’s been in my life, I’ve imagined apocalyptic, acts of nature scenarios. For years his tube feeds were made of Neocate, a powder that cost $600 a month (which insurance quit paying for…). If something happened, how long would he be able to survive with is electric feeding pump and expensive food? After that was pediasure. It’s made of sugar and other b.s., but it was recommended as a total nutrition replacement. It costs money, too. What if our city was blown apart? How much should I keep with me? His button used to fall out of his stomach. How many could be stock piled? What happened if it went out and the hole closed in a few hours (which kind of happened once or twice)? What happened if the one or two tubes were lost?

But Gaby came into my life and made her love smoothie for Cyrus. It’s organic and full of real ingredients. He’s gained so much weight. He looks better.

He still has a feeding tube, though. And a button attached to his stomach that could break at any moment. If we forget the tube on any outting, he doesn’t eat or drink. I mean. He can, but his body doesn’t seem to like it. He wouldn’t last too long without a button, tube, and some caloric smoothie.

***

The question I am asked most is, “Will he always have the tube?” My answer just a month ago was no. No of course not, it’ll come out some time. When he got the tube placed 6 years ago I was told it would be there maybe 6 months. And then every 6 months I was told 6 more months. It’s all just bullshit.

At the follow up appointment at the surgeon’s last week he said, “I’m sure he’ll have this button out in 6 months.”

“Don’t say that,” I said.

He so confident.

He has no clue. I bet his kids don’t have feeding tubes. I bet he’s never watched his kid retch and cough and apologize for being laid up in a hospital bed with a huge, fresh wound running down his stomach. I bet he’s never spent sleepless nights next to his kid while he woke up every hour violently pulling at the cords attached to him screaming, “I need a doctor!” I bet he’s never slept with his son’s feeding tube hooked up to a loud, beeping fucking pump, draped across his neck.

I bet there are so many other people out there going through worse things than this.

***

Maybe Cyrus will never be able to eat. Maybe it’s partly my fault for agreeing to the surgery so many years ago. Maybe he doesn’t really care as much as the rest of us.

The surgeon says that the surgery worked. That everything is fine. I went to the swallow study and saw for myself that food passes through the way it should. Of course, I’m not a radiologist, but I’ve learned a few things from having Cyrus in my life.

An email from the school nurse today said he puked his yogurt and cheese at lunch. Right now, it seems that nothing is the right thing to eat. Here he sits with his esophagus gurgling, his body rejecting everything, and all he does is apologize, once again, for all the things in his life he cannot control.

Here I sit, too.

 

My White Son

It happened on Saturday,  somewhere between first and second base, the top of the second inning. I peered out among Cyrus’ t-ball team and realized he was the only white boy. I looked out among those tiny hats and tiny cleats, among the six year olds. And I saw another coach on our team: a black man. And I saw his beautiful black son, with his six year old sized ball pants, his genuine smile and love of the game. I saw a small black child and realized that child would grow up to be a black man. I looked at his dad again. I started to cry. I wondered what this man would have to teach his son that I would never have to teach mine. I wondered at what it meant to raise a black man in this country.

And then I thought, for the first time, of my own responsibility; I have a white man to raise. At what age do these two teammates become something other than just children?

  *    *   *

My parents tell a story of when I was about three years old. One night they decided to open a magazine and start pointing to people and naming them. I vaguely remember this night. They pointed to white people. They pointed to black people. They pointed to Asian people. Not too long after, we found ourselves in KFC. A couple walked in with a kid. I jumped up, stuck my head over the booth, pointed, and screamed, “Black baby!”

When they tell this story, they recall the extreme embarrassment. When I ask why they decided to show me the magazine, they can never quite remember the reason. I suppose, growing up in such an isolated community, they wanted me to know that there were more people in the world, people who didn’t necessarily look like me. That couple was quite possibly the first black people I ever saw.

 *   *   *

Cyrus has never been shown the magazine, so to speak. I don’t have any plans to point at people and give them names. I am lucky that he hasn’t grown up in a tiny, conservative white town. His friends and classmates come from everywhere and are sometimes differently-abled.

This doesn’t mean that I’m naively saying, “I don’t see color.” I see color and racism everywhere, since I grew up around it.  I want him to have a deep understanding of this country’s history. I want him to acknowledge his own privilege. I want him to speak out. I want him to do good. I want him to be good.

In order to do that, I have to make sure I’m setting a good example. I know it is my responsibility to be active in the community. I know it is my responsibility to listen. I know it is my responsibility to speak up, when it is my turn.

Now it might be my turn.

White people: You have seen and heard a million racist things in your lifetime already. You know it happens. You know you’ve been complicit in it by turning your back or laughing. How can you possibly think that this racism hasn’t touched every aspect of the lives of non white people in this country? Shut.the.fuck.up. And listen to people of color. Really fucking listen to the narratives of your friends, neighbors, and, most likely, strangers. People are dying just for being. Do the right thing. Your children are watching.

People of Color: I see you. I hear you. I’m listening to everything. I’m angry. Really fucking angry. I am, at the same time, paralyzed and more motivated than ever. I acknowledge my privilege. I vow to do my best to make this world a better place for all of our kids.

I am raising a straight white man. And I am scared as hell.

 

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