Friday, May 10, 2013

Motherhood: Now and Zen

Sunday is Mother's Day.  I really wanted to write a funny post for a change...  one that was full of the madcap antics of my household.  Possibly even some highfalutin' adventure.  Hey, it could happen.  However, most of what happens in my house lately has fallen into the "you hadda be here" or "TMI" categories.  You don't need to know the intricate details of how I can't use the washroom or have a bath or shower in peace, between the hours of 8am and 10pm (give or take an hour on either side).  You don't need to know what happens when a toddler on Lasix, a full cup of juice, two oatmeal cookies and an undersize diaper collide.

You don't.
You're welcome.

The reality is, I'm really not feeling very funny these days.  Oh sure, we're still laughing, we don't live in a tomb for heaven's sake.  However, I'm not feeling uber witty, all light and bouncy and full of one liners.  That probably has a lot to do with Wyatt's recent open heart surgery.  He's fine, great even.  He's done remarkably well and will be the subject of many an update.  However, I have to recognize that as a Mother, seeing your child go through that is stressful.  So stressful I think, that I can honestly say that Wyatt's surgery date was probably the worst day of my life.  I often describe my kids to my childless friends as the walking manifestations of my own heart.  That they are too, no matter how mad I get at them for breaking my stuff.  To then hand over one of them, to have his own heart cut open and fixed, sewn back up and then handed back... it's the kind of stuff that affects one deeply, totally because of my Momness.  My nurseness is all "keep the incision clean and monitor for CHF", but my Mommyness... she's having a bit of a hard go.  Despite what I think, despite what my hardass side thinks, it's going to take a while to get over that.

What I am doing between random bouts of productivity is a lot of reflection.  My story, as a mother, is just one amongst a billion.  I've thought about that.  I've thought about a lot of other mothers lately that have also touched my life.  My own, obviously, whom I won't talk about as she is now reading this (Hi Mom!) and many, many others that I have met along the way that have gently shaped my reality.

In my early days of nurse-ness, in my first psych job in fact, I met a mother who will stay with me always.  I was so new in fact, that I was in the (now enviable) position of being too inexperienced to completely comprehend the potential dangers of my job (yet still managing to scrape by somehow).  Later on I would live in fear for a while, as the knowledge of what could happen became very real.  As time went on, as experienced has been gained, I am no longer in fear.  However, this lady was pretty much one of my first "first break" parents to have a Health Teaching conversation with.  I've had that conversation seventy bazillion times since then, with varying results and varying levels of comprehension and acceptance.  This evening however, she was listening to every word that I spoke to her, yet still possessing a gaze that was miles away.

It was Sunday evening and we stood at the front desk. She had brought her son back after a weekend pass at their island cottage "where it was safe and he could just run around and scream at trees, y'know?".  He was resistive to medication, had refused to take anything other than his sleeping pills all weekend and was so paranoid and delusional that we had become part of the scenario he had built in his head.  This son had gone from being a kid with okay grades, played sports and had a pretty little girlfriend who adored him.  Now he was demanding that we take the microchips out of his head, that we were the FBI, the gestapo.  His parents had hoped that a weekend in a more familiar setting would help "settle him down". She was pretty put together, this Mom.  Edgy haircut, smart looking glasses, expensive clothes.  She was an educated, successful woman who joked occasionally as she spoke. She was accepting of his illness, yet her eyes spoke of her sadness that this new development had brought on.

A terrified howl and the sound of furniture going over got my feet moving and I ran down the hall, my Doc Martens digging into the carpet. I unconsciously checked for the restraint keys in my lab coat pocket before stepping forward through the crowd of white coats around his bed.  I talked him out of his corner, encouraged him to take some medication and stayed with him alone until he had calmed down a bit and promised me that he would try and go to sleep.  I caught sight of his mom in the hall as I was picking up the pieces of a broken overbed table.  She was out in the hall, half pacing, half lingering to talk to me.  Dragging the table with me, she told me of her son, the one she knew, not the sick version that was currently mumbling to himself as the medications started to work.  She felt robbed, she said, that this illness had seeped in little by little, hardly noticed until it was raging in front of her.  She despaired that her son would never come back to her.  I comforted her as much as I could, gave her as much information as I could, but it was obviously not enough.  As we parted company that night and I dragged the broken table to the back hallway I knew then that schizophrenia was, as a parent, one of the hardest things to see happen to your child. At the time I was separated from my husband and convinced that children were not for me.  I remember thinking that this experience only strengthened my resolve.  This would be too much to bear.  I ran my french manicured nails through my blonde-on-blonde locks and contemplated the lack of guarantees in life as I sat down to chart.

Since that time, her face, her words come to mind as I talk to parents.  I often wonder what happened to that young man and his family.  I saw him through the crisis, helped the family as much as I could until he was discharged home.  So much has changed since that time however; even the person I was then no longer exists.  That much younger person was all about having a good time and going to the gym and spending an hour a day on her hair.  Now I'm lucky if I get to run a towel through it before grabbing a scrunchie and makeup is only attempted if time, circumstances and weather permit.  Many years later I wish I could reach back through time and speak to this Mom again and talk to her, mother to mother.  I would not be able to take her pain away, but I would know how to ease it sooner.

I saw that mother again the other day.  Not really, but as I was absentmindedly poking at the monster zit erupting on my chin I caught a glimpse of her in the mirror.  Something around the eyes, the way my mouth was set.  A weariness.  The look of a mother whose resolve has been tested, whose child's life has been endangered, even if only in her mind.  She has been through an ordeal, this mother.  Unlike those years ago, I know what to say to this woman.  I know to show her the future, to look beyond her body's natural reaction to rest, to regroup, to minimize.  To be kind to herself and not take too much on.  I know what to say now.  My only hope is that I listen.

Instead of spending Mother's Day in bed, being surrounded by my family and having breakfast made for me, I will spend it with a group of other mothers.  There will be no brunch, flowers or handmade cards.  There will be more terrified young men however, along with very sad mothers (and fathers). I will be working this Mother's Day, as many of us Nurses do.  If we decide to do a pot luck (or order in as we tend to do on special days), we will combat the sadness by making a sheet a table cloth and eating our delicacies in shifts.  It always amazes me, how we create civility out of sterility and chaos.  But we do.  We will talk about our families and share war stories about other families, other mothers.  In this surreal universe that is my life, this makes total sense to me, to explore the facets of "Mother" on Mother's Day, surrounded by mothers, in a break room located in the heart of psychiatry of a large regional hospital. 

Mother.  We all came into this job woefully unprepared and all of us face the unknown with our children.  It is a job that is completely thankless at times.  It is a job that comes with infinite happiness.  It is a job that can vacillate between the two, mid-sentence.  Special needs or not, this job is hard, the hardest thing I have ever done.  We wake every morning with a list formulating in our head and retire at night wishing we had gotten more done.  It's never as we imagined it.  As my daughter walks over with a huge grin, sneezes in my coffee and tries to feed me the plastic container of a Kinder Egg out of a toy basket, I reflect on that:  it's never as we imagined it.  Thank goodness too, as I never would have imagined how hearing Wyatt laugh without running out of breath would sound, how my chest contracts and my own heart hurts when I see it happening.  How an hour long lecture on long division and the digestive system would be music to my ears as I prop my head up and poke absentmindedly at my dinner after a long day at the office.  How real and surreal and magical and factual and sad and joyful it can all be.  There are still no guarantees, my then-me still got that right.  My now-me knows that Motherhood is a journey, one that mainly resides in the intangible.

Happy Mother's Day to all mothers everywhere.  May your day be reasonably restful and stain-resistant. 


  1. Wishing you too a day that is flame-retardant, free of screams other than for joy, and complete with a table cloth (sheet) so crisp that it lends its shine to the things around it too.

    I know you know what I mean. xox

  2. You made me cry. Thanks, I needed too.

  3. Beautiful...
    Have a great shift on Sunday!

    1. Thank you. I hope the psychiatry gods are kind to us all.


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