Our children take us places we can’t envision when they are a bundle of cells commingling with our own. When we feel them kick inside of us for the first time, we think only of the wonder of life, so grateful for the fact that the baby inside of us is alive and apparently thriving. We don’t think of the kicks to come, those dark days when, if we have done our jobs, they may very well despise us in their kicking to become independent adults. Not all children go through this kind of kicking. Some are naturally mature enough to wriggle free of the strings of their parents’ aprons without needing unwanted levels of supervision. Others must kick and scream and carry on into their young adulthood in the same way they threw tantrums when they were small, unable to accept help and guidance even though they are the kids who most need it.
I can’t say that there has ever been any goal in life that I wanted more than to be a mom. From the time that I was little, I felt the love my mother had for us so acutely that I knew that I wanted that love, wanted to be just like her, wanted to give to someone else all the love she had given to me. I entered motherhood naive and sure that, because I was a reasonable and loving person,I would be a successful mother. My children would grow up strong minded and self reliant, but loving and thoughtful and with purpose.
Motherhood has humbled me. It has taught me lessons that have been hard to hold. It has taught me that love is so much bigger than dreams, that it requires a tenacity that is almost superhuman.
When we have children, we can’t pick what DNA they will get from us. We can’t know if they will have devastating health problems, whether physical or mental. We can’t know what their struggles might be with learning or behavioral disabilities. We enter a DNA lottery, and sometimes we find out that the child we have has problems we don’t know how to address, or problems that can’t be readily solved by a lackluster educational system supported by a complicit and overburdened medical system. It is in the best interest of medical providers to keep learning disability numbers suppressed because schools, almost always more concerned with budget than with mission, would fight back. Too many children go undiagnosed with problems until they are teens or early adults while people without struggling children complain that we’ve become too sensitized. Despite the fact that anxiety and depression rates are skyrocketing among teens.
I know this struggle first hand. I have lived it. I have fought public and private school systems to have two of my children properly diagnosed and treated. For the most part, I failed. I am failing. I fail. Still, every day. Every day brings new challenges of systems I must navigate that I don’t understand. Burdens I must carry that are too heavy. Sciences I must learn that are beyond self help books and a few texts to a psychologist.
We live in a time of enlightenment, and yet our children our floundering. Drug use, from weed to heroin, is skyrocketing. Anxiety and depression rates are soaring. Teens today, and especially the vulnerable ones, as they watch states legalize marijuana, are sucked into the narrative that it must be harmless or it wouldn’t be getting legalized, medically and recreationally. There is no counter-narrative rising above the pro-marijuana din. They live in a world where 420 is a code that even a twelve-year-old knows. They live in a world of constant pressure to laugh at someone turning the Hollywood sign into a Hollyweed sign. As if it is a harmless joke rather than a sophisticated marketing ploy by drug pushers. Anyone who acknowledges that it is more sinister is simply “out of touch,” a relic from the 1970s when weed was “demonized,” as if we don’t know that addiction starts primarily in the teen years because of their still undeveloped brain functions when it comes to rational understanding of action to consequence.
Sometimes we watch our children struggle in ways that create as much grief as death. Not all of us get to take prom pictures, or graduation pictures, or other milestones of the entrance to young adulthood. Not all of us get to see our child go off to a wonderful college and help them with their transition into their first extended experience away from home. Some of us know real shame at the choices our children have made, maybe still make. And yet we see, too, all the magic contained in our children. We see the beauty in our children and we can’t give up on them in our hearts, even when we are forced to give up on them in other ways. We cling even more tightly to their sleeping faces, the stuffed teddy bear we’ve put away in a bin in the basement, our mind’s eye of our favorite pictures from their childhood. The Mother’s Day when they made their dad go buy us a ring, while telling the sales lady it needed to be “cheap” because they only had seventy dollars between them. That moment of rationality when they came to us, in all their struggles, and told us they got it, that they were getting better because we tried so hard. Those moments don’t last for us. The irrationality returns. Sometimes with a vengeance. And we sit and hope for another day, another moment of clarity, when they will see the light. Until then, we wade through unspeakable sorrow every day while we try not to be jealous of our friends with their functioning children. We try not to forget our functioning children. We strive to remember to celebrate them, even as we grieve. We help someone else’s struggling child because we are not their mother and so they will let us.
So on Mothers’ Day, 2017, I send out love to all the mothers of struggling children. All the mothers who spend time fighting educational and medical systems that care more about their bottom line than mission. Systems that are underfunded, understaffed, and under-understood, even by those who work in them sometimes. I send love to all the mothers, like me, for whom Mothers’ Day is a humbling reminder that it is not our intentions alone that make us successful. I send love to the mothers who have had to give tough love when their hearts ached to hold their children and keep them safe. All the mothers who will take the stones of their children over the easy path of indulgence in behaviors that are dangerous. All the mothers, who, like me, ache at the thought of all the things they learned too late in their fight to raise a troubled child in this deeply skewed world. And I urge you to keep fighting, for your child and for others. We can do better in this country. We can and we must. Because every loving mother deserves a happy Mothers’ Day.