Monday, May 31, 2010

Any of Your Children

I used to work as an aide to autistic kids, ones who were severely disabled, unable to communicate, unable to control their emotions. They required constant supervision and specialized care, 24/7. A frequent topic of conversation among the other aides and myself was how none of the parents of these children, when they made the choice to have a child, seemed to have considered that it was possible their children might turn out to need this much special care. They assumed "normal" children by default. Most people do.

When you make the decision to have a child, though, you're inviting a living, breathing question mark into your life. From the moment your child enters this world, he or she is a unique individual, born into a different world than the one you were born into 20 or 30 or 40 years before. Born out of your body, but into a different one.

Any of your children could be born premature, or with the cord around their neck, or with a hole in their heart. Any of your children could be missing a limb, or have Down syndrome, or be unable to see or hear. Any of your children could be born without ten fingers and ten toes, or without an easily discernible penis or vagina, or with two X's and a Y or two Y's and an X.

Any of your children may talk late, or never, or with difficulty. Any of your children may walk late, or never, or with difficulty. Any of your children may learn to control their bowels and bladder late, or never, or with difficulty.

Any of your children, if they have not yet found themselves on the wrong end of somebody's bell curve, could remain much smaller than average, or could shoot to an adult height so fast it strains their heart and bones. Any of your children could grow quickly or slowly in their knowledge and emotional control, as well.

Any of your children could take up interest in a sport or hobby you've never much liked. Any of your children could become friends with the type of kids you didn't get along with as a child. Any of your children, exposed to a wide variety of people, could become friends with the type of adults you don't get along with now. Any of your children could be far more or less social than you ever have been.

Any of your sons could bring home girls you don't like. Any of your daughters could bring home boys you don't like. Any of your children could bring home dates of a different gender than you had anticipated. Any of your children could live as a different gender than you had anticipated.

Any of your children could grow up and decide to become Catholic, or Muslim, or pagan, or atheist. Any of your children could grow up to be politically liberal, conservative, moderate or radical. Any of your children could choose to be vegetarian or vegan or omnivorous, to shop at farmer's markets or to love McDonald's.

Any of your children could marry and divorce three times, or never marry at all, or be blissfully wed to someone who annoys you, or not marry until well after you've passed on. Any of your children could choose not to have children, or to have twenty of them. Any of your children could become pregnant, or get someone pregnant, at a much younger age than you ever expected. Any of your children could choose to adopt rather than pass on your genes, or to give birth and put the child up for adoption, or to have an abortion.

Any of your children could choose to become a business executive, a starving artist, a doctor, a carpenter, an astronaut, or a hobo. Any of your children could prefer to live at home until they are 30 and then move in next door to you, or to sail around the world when they turn 18 - or maybe even before.

Any of your children could develop severe depression, become addicted to heroin, run away from home, or kill someone. In those cases you can reduce the likelihood by raising happy children, but you will raise the happiest children if you bear in mind that pain and fear can ruin any life, not just those of the weak or immoral.

Any of your children, when you reach your twilight days, could choose to personally spoon-feed you and monitor your oxygen, or to put you in the cheapest nursing home they can find, or to have no idea if you are alive or dead because they stopped speaking to you years ago.

Any of your children could die before you.

I could go on forever listing all the things that your children could be or do or have happen to them. The main thing is to realize you can't anticipate it all. Something will surprise you, something will catch you off guard. The more you accept that your children will make choices or face obstacles that you wouldn't have chosen for them, the more you'll be willing and able to help them navigate through those things. Because even among all the surprises and the question marks, there is one important aspect of your child's life which you really can control.

And that's you.

4 comments:

KathrynJB said...

Wow. That's really wonderful, Bonnie. Thank you.

Garden Pheenix said...

I don't even know if I have commented on your blog before - but I am choking back tears because of this post. I am coming to terms with this exact realization and how to move forward when circumstances that I not only didn't choose for my daughter happened, but circumstances that happened to me and I NEVER wanted to have happen to her. But I can't change it - all I can do it go through it with her. This post literally summed up the shocking realization I have had about having babies and how incredibly heartsick you can become when they face what you never expected or actively tried to protect them from. Thank you for posting it.

Stella said...

This might just be the best post ever. Well said. Very well said. I can't even beign to articulate how this made me feel.

Bonnie said...

Thanks for the kind words, you guys :)