I used to pray for the patience of Mother Teresa. She loved the “unlovables,” society’s discards. She looked past the filth and disease and saw into the very soul of a person. Her smile and her love brought light into darkness. She made a difference in this world through love and continues to do so long after her death. I wish I had her heart for compassion. I wish I had her faith. If I did, I would undoubtedly be a better human being. If I had even a smidgen of her essence, I know I would be a better mother.
I love my children, and there are those times when…. Fill in your own answer. I’m pretty sure all mothers have felt this way at some point. Children don’t come with instruction manuals, “off buttons”, or return policies. Yes, the rewards are great, but some days the length of the day far exceeds the rewards. I can’t count the number of times I’ve put myself in a “Mommy Time-Out” over the years; those times when I knew I needed to walk away or risk saying something hurtful. Or worse, scarring.
In a recent edition of Parade Magazine, Matt Damon said, “When I became a parent, my heart grew five times.” I understand his statement completely. I love my children more than I could have ever imagined. We’ve often played the “I love you more” game, and I tell them that God reserved a special part of my heart that wasn’t open until they arrived. When each little bundle of joy was placed in my arms for the first time, it was unimaginable to think I could feel anything other than pure love for that tiny, vulnerable little person. And, everyday, I love my children “more, times infinity.” But, in all honesty, I’ve often fallen short in loving them as I should.
When my first arrived, I was nervous and excited. My hopes were high and I saw perfection when I looked in her eyes. With a little lactation coaching, she nursed well, she slept well, she played well, and she smiled constantly. She rarely threw tantrums and she had no “terrible two’s.” “Three’s” were trying, and “four’s” were far from fun as she grew in her independence. Nonetheless, she was a “pleaser” and desperately sought approval; my first-born was my “easy baby”
Her sister came into this world fighting. Because she was “failing to thrive,” she was induced almost a month early. And, though we had been prepared to expect she would be underdeveloped and whisked away to the neo-natal ICU, she arrived healthy and very angry. I credit that spirit for her survival; the cord was wrapped around her neck three times. Two days later, we brought home a Tasmanian Devil dressed in the pink and white sleeper given to her by her grandma.
Our first five years together vacillated between serenity and chaos. She nursed well, but due to gastrointestinal problems, was on a very restricted diet when she switched to solid foods. She had no activity restrictions but was under the care of a cardiologist (for minor concerns) until the age of three. She fought the quarterly EKG’s like a prize-fighter. Unlike the two-hour naps I enjoyed with her sister, my second born’s naps often lasted far less than an hour and bedtimes were fitful. Her tantrums were explosive and unpredictable. She was extremely sensitive to textures and other sensory stimulation. Nonetheless, she loved to snuggle. The closer, the tighter, the better. She was my exhausting baby.
When she was a small toddler, I remember lamenting to my mom about her behavior and her exhausting spirit. Ironically, my mom, who had once said my second born was “everything she had ever wished for me,” loved A’s feisty spirit. She said it reminded her of me, and then she advised me to “train her spirit, don’t try to break her spirit” after confessing she had tried to break mine. I’ve carried that piece of advice with me since and, more than once, it has reminded me to guide her through the rough times and to love her at all times.
A few years later, we found another source of support: The Children’s Hospital. When my older daughter, C, was around 8, we were referred to the hospital for evaluation of toe-walking, a common symptom of cerebral palsy and something she had done since her first steps. Though she didn’t have CP, she was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder (SI). While there, I began speaking with the therapists about her sister, A, whose explosive tantrums often ruled our world. After an afternoon of testing, it was confirmed that she, too, had SI and a course of treatment was set for each girl. For almost two years, both A & C spent a weekly hour with their occupational therapist learning how to modulate their responses to the sensory information that often overloaded them. Additionally, C worked with a physical therapist and wore a series of casts on both legs to correct shortened leg muscles and tendons. They showed such courage. And, I learned how to better love my children when the world seemed “too much to process.”
I wept when they were diagnosed. I didn’t understand the gifts we had been given. I blamed myself for their SI. I blamed the fertility drugs. I blamed God. I felt guilty over my lack of gratitude for my two healthy children. Though not the devastating diagnosis faced by many families, it frequently dictated the events of our days. Activities were carefully selected based on the risks of sensory overload. Mealtimes easily turned into battle grounds. Clothing was carefully evaluated and shoe shopping was less desirable than alligator wrestling. Many of my evenings ended in a silent whisper, “Forgive me, God, for losing my patience and not loving them as well as I should. Please help me to love like Mother Teresa.”
Both girls “graduated” from therapy many years ago, and, for the most part, their struggles with SI are behind them. Each has matured and developed effective coping skills. Along with our children, my husband and I developed the parenting skills necessary to communicate love, especially during the rough patches. I saw past a diagnosis, and I saw into the souls of my babies. I learned to love them just as they are because they were God’s children before they were mine, and I believe God doesn’t make mistakes. Our journey has helped me become a better mother and helped my girls grow into the creative, compassionate, loving young women they are with eyes that can see into the souls of others. And, for that, I am especially grateful.
My children have never been unlovable. No one is. Not the homeless person on the corner, the cranky clerk at the store, or the prickly, angry family member, be they a toddler, a sibling, or a parent. We are all simply doing the best we can with the tools we have. I am blessed to call two amazing young women my daughters and to love them for who they are, just as they are, which takes more than just saying the words, “I love you more, times infinity.” Through them, I have learned about patience, compassion and faith. They taught me how to see past the surface and to look into the soul of another. I’ve never walked the streets of Calcutta, and though I still pray for the heart of Mother Teresa, I am grateful to my children who taught me how to love and reminded me everyone deserves to be loved, just as they are.
Have you opened your heart to “the unlovable”?
An update: This is a post I accidentally published and removed last week while my girls considered the content. I publish it today with permission and gratitude to both of my girls for their courage and willingness to share their stories in the hopes it may help another.