It’s been over 3 years since my stroke. My son was just shy of his 2nd birthday when it happened. It was difficult at the time, for all of us. I had to live in a rehabilitation facility for a couple of weeks, in addition to the 8 days I was in ICU. That’s a long time to not be with your toddler. My husband and my mom took turns bringing him for visits, but it wasn’t every day. People had jobs and errands and life to worry about aside from driving all the way out to where I was to visit. The longest I had to go without seeing my boy was 4 days. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he walked into my room and saw me. He hesitated before he smiled and ran to my bed. He had to pause and stare at me, to make sure it was really me. It breaks me every time I think of that confused little face.
Fast-forward a few years. He just started Kindergarten. I’m no longer in a wheelchair, and my walker is just a normal accessory like my purse and sunglasses. My kid has adjusted to a disabled mom because it’s all he knows. One morning when we arrived at his school, he heard me mutter “damn it” under my breath, and asked me what was wrong. I explained, “I forgot my cane, but it’s ok. It’s a short walk. I’ll make it.” And without missing a beat my kid replied, “It’s ok, mom. None of the other kids’ moms have canes either.” My observant kid didn’t want me to feel left out.
I don’t think it’s fair to take credit for his strong sense of empathy. He is his own little person. I think what he’s had to live with so far has helped shape his already existing personality. What I wasn’t sure about until recently, was whether or not he even remembers those 3 weeks we were separated from each other. He wasn’t even 2 yet, so it’s quite possible he has forgotten. One evening I was at the kitchen table with my laptop, and he noticed my eyes were watery. Then this conversation happened:
G: Why are you sad, mama?
Me: Well, my friend’s mom died and I feel sad for her. I’m alright, just a little sad for my friend.
G: I remember that time you died.
*knife, meet heart*
Me: No, silly. If I died I wouldn’t be here. Remember we talked about how when people die they aren’t here anymore? What do you mean that I died?
G: I remember that you died. You went away for a really long time because you were dead. And then you came back. And now you’re here!
(I could insert a Jesus joke here, but I won’t.)
We had a talk about death and illness. I explained that I’ve never died, I just got really sick and had to stay at a place where they could help me get strong enough to come back home to him and Daddy. Since the stroke, I can’t control my tears. I just can’t. The left side of the brain is where all your filters are. It helps you control how you display your emotions. It’s difficult when discussing serious things with small children, because I want to be frank and matter-of-fact so he isn’t scared, but that is hard to do with tears streaming uncontrollably down my face.
The thing about being a mom is you’re constantly second-guessing yourself. Add an extra layer of physical disability to that and there’s this whole other hot mess of “well that works great for other parents and maybe that would work for us, but I can’t even do that because literally, I can’t do that.” Then I look at my kid, and even with all his temper and sarcasm – which we’ll just blame on dad since he doesn’t read my blog – and I see an incredibly well-adjusted, emphatic kid. Maybe I’m figuring out this whole mom thing after all. Or maybe I’m failing miserably, but he’s only 5 so there’s plenty of time to save up for his therapy.