October 10, 2012

When Children Suffer, the Parents Do Too.

For a time, it was sweetness and light. Photo: swambo

I am waiting for my teenage son to emerge from surgery.

This much I know for sure: Parenting is nothing like what I thought it would be.

I thought it was going to be all sweetness and light! I was an older mother years ago when we started our family. When we had our boys, one and then the other 17 months later, we were overjoyed.

But by the time we tried for a third it was too late. The hammer of my age came crashing down. We decided that rather than endure the roller coaster ride of fertility treatments we’d be happy with what we got. And we are. Oh my God we are.

For a while it was sweetness and light for sure. I remember afternoon Popsicles and sticky fingers, of tucking them in for naps and snuggling next to them just to inhale the smell of their hair. I had to work when they were young, but the day I left Oracle to be a full-time mother was one of the scariest, and yet most rewarding days of my life. Motherhood is the best job you will ever truly suck at!

“Do you miss it?” That is what I was asked after I left the corporate world, and the answer was sometimes. It still is. But I never regretted it. Not for one minute.

The mishaps we dealt with in the early years seemed so big; a tumble here, a tantrum there. We had a spell with separation anxiety (but eventually I got over it) and then one boy needed tubes in his ears. That was our first lengthy visit to a hospital for a child. In reality, it probably took 30 minutes.

This time the surgery will take three hours. That’s 180 of the longest minutes of any parents’ life. The bumps and bruises along the way do not prepare a parent for this. There is nothing more painful than your child suffering and being unable to help. Nothing.

Pema Chodron once said that if people knew just how hard it was going to be, and how much suffering they would endure, and then given a choice no one would ever be born. She got that right.

In my own case, I had no idea that parenting would bring about the need for alcohol and Xanax. But here is the thing, when you love your child so completely and you feel responsibility for shepherding them through the world, then whatever boundaries exist are blurred.

This time the surgery will be the easier part of my son’s journey. It is the second time his ACL tendon is being repaired having torn it two years ago when he was 13. The future is very uncertain.

Until now, he believed he would play soccer in college. When he received the news in August that the donor tendon in his knee had disintegrated, he had been playing without it for six months. And he had just been offered a spot on the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. He liked to say that he was better with one knee than a host of other young players with two.

All joking aside, I have been through this before and I can say that hardest part of the rehabilitation process happens in the mind. Young athletes often feel invincible, and then vulnerable beyond comprehension. My older son came back to soccer after breaking his arm—twice. Today he plays better than ever, but it took him several years to gain back his confidence and recapture his skill. Is he better for it? I think so. Is he tougher? Yes, absolutely yes.

So I sit, and wait. In a few hours, I will know if the surgery was a success and if they could reattach another tendon. But I will not know if he will be the same feisty boy.

My Courageous Boy


At one point, my son asked me if I thought this was happening to him because of karma, if he had done something so terrible that he deserved this. I said no, of course not. But I struggled to find the meaning for him. He had waited nearly two months for this surgery, as it had been cancelled twice.

Then last night he turned to me and said, “I’m in a good place. If it doesn’t happen tomorrow, I’ll be okay.” There was the lesson, and he taught it to himself.

We don’t ever know why things happen other than to remind us that we are hardly in control here. When he allowed himself to trust that he would be able to deal with it, that is when the Universe came through for him and he got his operation.

While we do not yet know the end of the story, I do know this: Whatever comes his way my son will deal with it, and probably with more courage and less fear than I’ve been able to model for him up to now. That is how our children, at least, grow better than us and out of the suffering in life comes something good—at least I hope it will for my family.



Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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