Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Cosmic Mistake

It is a delusion to believe that you must be well to treat a person who is sick or suffering.
--Dr. James Orbinski

When my son Carter (whose diagnoses are of the emotional/cognitive/behavioral/social sort) was two years old and had been screaming and wakeful every day for approximately 98.6% of that two years, I embarked on a most ridiculous quest: I wanted to know why I, fallible, broken, screwed-up-in-the-head, and lacking a seemingly essential has-her-shit-together quality, had become Carter’s mother.

It seemed to me that there had been a cosmic mistake. Shouldn’t broken babies go to better-than-average mothers? That’s the story, after all. We say that God never gives us more than we can handle, and to him who much is given, much is expected, and a thousand other tidy quips.

I figured somebody, somewhere, had screwed up big. Carter, destined for a mother endowed with limitless energy and patience, a woman who put three made-from-scratch meals on the table every day, a family in possession of abundant resources of all kinds, made a wrong turn. Like Bugs Bunny said, “We should have made a left turn at Albuquerque!”

Instead, he stopped here, at my house, in my family. My son.


Ours, of course, but my husband isn’t writing this.

Mothering Carter has been easily the most transformative experience of my life, and not in a rainbows and kittens, oh isn’t it wonderful, gosh he’s just shown us what really matters in life kind of way.

I often wonder why people expect that. Who would ask a soldier, recently returned from the horrors of war, if the experience had enriched her or his life? No one.

Those are the twin expectations, though. The expectation that I am somehow special, and the expectation that I feel ultimately blessed by my child with special needs (you know, that I am thrilled to have landed in Holland even though that wasn’t where I expected to go).

As much of a contrarian as I tend to be, I really do care (much as I dislike this about myself) what other people think of me, so it’s a bizarre and difficult thing to learn to live in opposition to those expectations. For years, I lived in deep shame that I was not up to the task of parenting Carter as I thought he should be parented. The shame remains because it’s a wound that heals slowly, but I am Carter’s mom. He has just one, and I’m just me. The less time I spend trying to tease out the whys and wherefores, the better off I am.

Cosmic mistake or no, he’s my kid and I’m his mom. I’m who he needs, broken and screwed up, creative and overly-wordy, sloppy and silly, impatient at times but oh-so-tolerant of differences, just me.

Objectively, I am not enough. There is no one here with the mother tape measure, though. No one has come to fix the cosmic mistake that was made when Carter was born to me and not to some other, more objectively appropriate, mother.
I'll keep him. 

If nothing else, I love him.
Adrienne Jones lives in Albuquerque, NM with her husband and their children. She writes the blog No Points for Style.



  1. This is one of the best posts I've read recently. Especially after yet another wakeful night with my four year old...haha! I often wonder the same things and have come to the same conclusion. :)

  2. I like this post for many reasons, but mostly because it's honest. I like not only what you've shared but how we can feel you going through the process of reasoning and concluding that you and Carter have each other, and that's just good enough.
    Parenting - special needs or not - is about good enough, no matter how much better we want it to be, and how much better we want our children to be. Good enough may not always paint the idealistic Norman Rockwell painting but I do not know one family who meets those expectations. Great post!

  3. Adrienne,
    This is beautiful.

  4. "you know, that I am thrilled to have landed in Holland even though that wasn’t where I expected to go"
    Oh man I hate Holland.

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