Broken to Become Whole
I cracked two eggs into a skillet this morning, seasoning them with a trio of simple spices—black pepper, garlic salt, and garlic powder—along with heaps of feta cheese. Cartoons clamored in the background, my two pajama clad sons nibbling on plain breakfasts as they watched talking trains narrate a thin lesson in morality.
Owen, our oldest, woke up today asking for an exception to the typical TV rules. Just as I started to say, “Not today, bud,” and remind him that “morning movie time” is a treat for sick days, Owen’s little brother Gabriel vomited.
“I guess we get to have morning movie time now!” Owen correctly concluded as he tiptoed about Gabe. “And Mom? I think Gabe being sick makes God sad.”
Kids puke. It’s just a reality. Sometimes they bounce right back like nothing happened at all. Sometimes they look at you with eyes so dull and skin so white that you clutch their little bodies to your chest. You hope your touch will bring the vibrancy back to their gaze and the color back to their cheeks. In Gabriel’s case, we never know if sickness is an indication of a garden-variety stomach bug, or if it’s a yet-to-be-named data point in the unsolved equation of his neuro-genetic disorder.
When Gabriel vomits, Jared and I watch his body for lethargy. We catch each other’s wincing eyes when Gabriel asks for water over and over and over again. We hold his hands in hopes that we’ll find them stable, but instead they shake. Jared and I hug in the living room, burrowing into each other, our chests rising and falling together as we breathe in the familiarity of all this ache and unknown. The lethargy, the extreme thirst, the trembling—signs that lead our doctors to believe there’s more to the story than recurring stomach bugs.
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Gabriel said between heaves this morning. “Thank you, Mommy,” he whispered as I changed his clothes and wiped his marshmallow-like cheeks with a washcloth. Three years earth-side and he has already mastered the art of cracking my heart on the sides of his story just as I cracked the eggs on the rim of the frying pan. And when my heart breaks open, I hope the love that pours out will be enough to sustain us.
If I gave in to my most basic wants today, I wouldn’t eat at all. I would plunge headlong, masochistic, into the sea of guilt where waves of shame crash over me. I’d let that ocean’s undertow pull me to whichever circle of Dante’s hell exists for women who consider themselves worthy of accepting their husbands’ words of, “Go. Write. I’ve got the kids.”
I left a sick child, a well child, and a mountain of putrid sheets and towels in the care of a husband and father whose plate is already too full. How could I trust that flagging in my 24/7 vigilance doesn’t mean failure in motherhood? How could I give Writer Abby any attention on a day like this? How could I let my husband advocate for my wholeness when the disparate parts of our child’s diagnosis lie cracked and scattered, unwhole?
I cooked those eggs as an act of protest against an infernal desire to subsist on coffee and sadness. I ate them, every bite, to push back against years upon years of memories that I have woven into a perverse narrative.
The story goes like this: I can’t protect my child. I can’t help him. It would be better for me to just slip away.
My DNA gave my son his genetic mutations. Never mind that I didn’t know about the mutations within myself until Gabriel was nearly a year old. In this twisted tale, I should have known that I’d be asking any children I brought into the world to suffer, just so I could be a mother.
If those had been your words, dear reader, instead of mine, I wouldn’t let you out of my sight until we’d named those lies for what they are. Jared did that for me this morning. I told him the twisted tale and he interrupted my, “I know. I know. It’s wrong. I know,” tirade with, “But you still need to hear that those are lies.”
Friends have said the same—today, in weeks, and months, and years past. They say Owen’s words ring true—that God’s heart cracks just as mine does, that the love and tears and compassion he pours out on us in our pain are enough. If only hearing the good truths lifted my heart the same way living the hard realities tramples it down.
The eggs, the morning movie time, the naming of lies—they look so tiny in comparison to a child’s life marked by an incomplete, developing diagnosis. And yet, they’re climbing anchors on the trek up the cliff face toward a truer story. Someday, I will believe that God gave me—all of me, every part—to Gabriel as a gift just as I wholeheartedly believe he gave Gabriel to me. Until then, while the simplest things like eating and writing seem counterintuitive, all I really know to do is to keep staging little acts of protest, cracking lies on the side of the skillet.
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