This Far

Author’s Note: This piece was originally written and read for the 2017 Listen To Your Mother show in Baton Rouge.

I don’t remember exactly where we were, but I clearly remember my best friend Janice’s words.

“Don’t do it! Don’t have children! You have made it this far without them.”

She said this six years ago when I was 43 years old, and throwing Hail Mary passes left and right to somehow, someway, become a mother before it was too late. She, I am sure, was caught up in some desperate, devastating fear regarding her own grown children.

And there was another idea that floated around although I am not sure anybody actually said it out loud. If I had not gotten pregnant in all these years, maybe it wasn’t meant for me to be a mother.

I ignored all doubts and warnings, and two days after Christmas 2012, I answered the phone and said yes. One of my proverbial Hail Marys had landed and brought a 5-year-old boy to my doorstep courtesy of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.

Nobody could have told me that the tasks of motherhood would be devastation for a self-centered person like me. I would not have listened. I had to learn it for myself.

The latest devastation this yearning for motherhood has dealt me occurred in my driveway, just a few months ago. There were no explosions, no gunshots, no fireballs, or helicopters. There was just a blue sedan backing away down the driveway. There was just me waving, me not screaming, just me standing in my driveway. There was just me not running to grab the 14 month-old baby boy – I will call him Jaybird – from the backseat, saying, “No, you cannot take him.”

My mate had already said his goodbyes and stood under the carport waiting for me with tears in his eyes. My now 9-year-old adopted son had also said goodbye. He waited just inside the door not able to express his emotions.

Jaybird came to us at nine months old, the way most foster children come — with a phone call that has someone else’s devastation behind it, and not much else.

I had no business saying yes. At 49, I am already brimming over with the blessings from a brilliant, adorable boy who needs more than I am able to give most days. I have a devoted boyfriend, who reminds me on an almost daily basis that he most certainly did not plan on spending his 50s raising children.

But yes, I did say. When I called my own mother, a retired social worker, to tell her that I was getting a baby, the first thing she said was, “There must be something wrong with him.”

But, there was not a thing wrong with this baby. He was a beautiful light-skinned African-American boy with green eyes.

I have never cared long-term for an infant so there was lots to learn. There were bottles and diapers and dicing food into small bites. There were ear infections and eye infections and stomach viruses, both his and mine. I don’t remember who started the illnesses, but when he or I got sick, the other one got it, too. In the midst of all these sicknesses, I quickly bonded with him and he attached to me.

He learned how to walk with us. We tried to teach him to swim. I suppose it is easy to get attached to any baby, but this boy had a way about him. He charmed everybody he met. Most of all, he charmed the three of us, with little things, like when he finished his morning bottle and it would hit the floor with a thud when he was done.

We thought we would have him for a few days or a few weeks at most. But the days stretched into five months, and we had been hoping that perhaps he would be another “forever” child for us. Then we got the word in early December that he would be moved into a placement with a relative. I prayed real Hail Marys this time during the last nine days I had him that something would change and we would get to keep our Jaybird indefinitely.

I didn’t cry until the car that took away my sweet baby was completely out of sight. Because in that moment there was no me, no self; there was just Jaybird. And that is the way motherhood has devastated me a little bit at a time.

This selflessness lasted for just a minute. When I couldn’t see the car anymore, I was able to be me, throw myself into mate’s arms and grab my son and let them hold me up, but just a little while, because there were meals to make and chores to do and children to teach at my job.

I am devastated, but I am not dead, and I am still a mother. I had no business saying yes to either child, really. I am old and selfish and tired and can be mean, especially when my feet hurt. My hips will never be right again from carrying a 28 pound baby around for five months. Being a mother has devastated most every idea I had of me, my world and the people in it. I had no business saying yes, but I would say yes again, because I could not have made it this far without my boys. And maybe they couldn’t have made it without me.