My oldest son just turned twenty. As I watch him, this man who first made me a mother, I feel a glow of gratitude for all he has taught me about life, love and what truly matters. Still, his birthday always brings a sadness that the healthy, happy child with whom I bonded during my pregnancy is gone forever. Twenty years has been long enough to adjust to his multiple-disabled reality but the mourning still goes on, here a little, there a little, often when I least expect it.
Today I wake him early. My husband has a meeting so getting the Big Guy dressed for church is left to me alone. He bathes himself but I am needed to make sure all the shampoo is washed out of his hair. As I do so, I notice it is getting way too long and my inner critic chides me as to how much better it would be, in so many ways, if I just kept his hair short. But, things are never about the ideal choice around here and it is left to us to discern the lesser of two evils. Refraining from that which might upset the delicate balance in the Big Guy’s bipolar brain often wins and since haircuts are one of a long list of frustrating experiences it usually gets pushed off to another day–and then another and another.
I remind him to “look up at the sky” so the soapy water doesn’t run into his eyes. I reflect on how, if I simply say, “look up”, he won’t look up far enough and on how many years I have been going through this same routine and how it doesn’t matter how many times I say it, it always needs to be said, every single time. And then I reflect on how, as a young dreamer, I never dreamed I would still be needing to wash my son’s hair when he turned twenty and wonder what it feels like for other moms whose sons and daughters are off at school or on missions or just . . . On Their Own.
I push the thought aside and start on the task of helping him into his clothes. In order to foster independence, everyday clothes are without zippers or buttons but Sunday is replete with menacing traps of defeat for his unskilled fingers. I silently tell myself to remain calm, to not rush him or get him frustrated as I instruct him to turn this way–to do up a row of buttons–then that–to attach his suspenders, then back again–to attach them in the front. Again, I think on how many times we go through this ritual and how confused and frustrated he gets when he attempts to anticipate which way to turn without my help. It is a simple enough thing but his body’s failure to read physical cues conquers him every time.
I comb his hair and admire the way it curls, dark and shiny, against his bright white collar. The inner voice speaks again, this time with a message about the Big Guy’s need for a shave. I don’t listen. Instead, I tilt his head until the red in his slight beard glows in the sun and think how his whole head used to gleam like a burnished penny when he was a toddler, back when there was still the possibility that some girl would come to appreciate his gorgeous hair as much as I.
The possibility was a hope only in my mind but it is silent now.
I help him with his socks and shoes, tweak his collar and make one last attempt at taming that unruly lock that insists on falling over his forehead, and then I send him off into the world, knowing that it will all be okay, knowing that one day, when he has passed from this mortal existence into the next, he will have all that he has ever wanted (a wife, a home, children—a body that works the way it is meant to) because of the atoning power of Jesus Christ who not only died for our sins but also to bridge the gap between what we can do for ourselves and what we cannot.
And it is enough.
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