I wrote and performed this essay in 2014 at a Listen to Your Mother program. My son Casey is getting married next week (after two previous COVID cancellations) to a wonderful, beautiful woman named Catherine. I thought of how love travels down curvy, bumpy roads, yet those obstacles may make the love deeper, stronger.
I was born crooked. I was a C-section baby, and the oxygen apparatus did not work in the delivery room, so the doctor had to give me mouth-to- mouth resuscitation to save my life. I suppose the time without oxygen caused my Cerebral Palsy brain damage. My whole left side was affected: smaller, weaker, crooked left arm and leg.
When Evan, my youngest son, at age five asked me, “Momma, are you handicapped?” the query caught me off-guard, but I calmly answered, “Well, yes, I suppose I am.” He accepted this fact and then thoughtfully added,“ But you’re just a lil bit handicapped, right?” So, I feel fortunate that I’m “just a lil’ bit” affected by C. P. even though I am always aware of my crooked self.
Then how ironic is life, when ten years ago Casey, my middle son, had a horrendous accident (at age 20), and now his left arm won’t fully straighten and he has lost some mobility in his left side? He, like me, has become a bit crooked. Is not all love, especially mother-child love, somewhat crooked?
Mothers travel a truly crooked road. We begin the journey with quintessential closeness: breast-feeding and a connection that keeps us from sleeping through the night. We even convince ourselves our children are safe. Then God laughs and shoves the reality of the precariousness of parenthood in our faces. You think you are SAFE. Ha! Here’s an ear infection with a 102 fever. How about an asthma attack? Or a drug-related hellish accident? Anytime that tight mother/child bond is fractured, we start to curse the heavens. “Why me?” Our journey of love takes a sudden hairpin turn or it hits a pot hole, or a sudden speed trap, or a dense fog. The possibilities are endless. And since mothers have indomitable spirits and bearlike bravery and superhero strength, we maneuver these highway dangers and we fight to keep our most precious loved ones protected. So surviving these inevitable pitfalls of motherly love tightens that mother/child closeness, no matter how old our child may be.
Casey from birth has been my rough and tumble child. He was born so fast I couldn’t get the epidural I so wanted, and his face was bruised and smashed-looking. At age two, he got stitches in his forehead, at four -staples at the back of his head, at seven- more stitches, at thirteen, a broken arm, and at fifteen-staples again. Later came the drinking, pot-smoking, speeding tickets, and DWI. The girlfriend drama and the pill problem followed. On November 31, 2010 the whole teenage mess culminated around midnight when Casey fell 40 feet from an interstate overpass. At six a.m. the next morning a passing jogger found him, unconscious, on a grassy patch of ground.
To this day Casey does not remember everything that led up to his fall, except that he had taken an abundance of Xanax. He shattered his pelvis, broke his left arm in several places, fractured two vertebrae, and sustained severe internal injuries (including a collapsed lung and a damaged section of his colon that had to be cut out). Miraculously he had no head injuries. I spent countless hours in the hospital: helping arrange Casey’s eight-plus pillows around his many broken parts, watching several seasons of Always Sunny in Philadelphia as a distraction from the pain and the boredom, making special smoothies his stomach would tolerate, learning about wound care, pampering him like when he was my bouncing baby boy. After six weeks in the hospital and twelve different surgeries, Casey came home in a body brace and a partially-open stomach wound.
Today Casey is fine and living on his own, but he is still my rough and tumble boy. That dark, twisted nightmare of his accident has somehow toughened our mother-son connection. I remember walking into his hospital room at 6 a.m. once and Casey, sleeping with nuts and bolts sticking out of his arm, opened his eyes, smiled, and said it was “wonderful” when I arrived before he woke up. Those long hours in the hospital, a mixture of shared silences and sudden heart-to-heart revelations, have made us better understand each other.
When we accept life’s crooked, rough side as much as we treasure life’s straight, smooth moments, we more fully understand the mystery and wonder of love….even when it’s crooked.
I do not resent or hate my or my son’s crookedness, nor do I need to fix it. From the allure of a crooked grin to the loveliness of a crooked curl, I embrace life’s crooked love.