emotional landscape

There are days that are so dark that I wish my son would disappear into the ether, dissolve like a lozenge on my tongue, seep into the earth like so many drops of rain. And yet, I am without a doubt a better person having carried and cared for him all these years, and for that I owe him a debt of gratitude. But sometimes I wonder how long I can keep up with the intensity of care he requires, and I can't imagine others loving him, cuddling him, and responding to him—especially as he grows—in the way he needs to be happy, healthy and to thrive.

Thursday was one of those days—hard on my body, my psyche, my spirit. I got frustrated. I lost my patience. I screamed, once, long and hard and primal. I grieved. I felt a valley of contempt for Calvin as he screeched and writhed and moaned and flailed all day long and into the night in what we finally concluded was probably a ghost of benzodiazepine withdrawal. It's days like these that sink me, if only momentarily, into oceans of blues.

Among others, Calvin is at the root of my dark feelings. Pain and anger. Loss and grief. Frustration, hurt, impatience. Resentment and contempt. Since his birth, I experience these more deeply than ever before. But I embrace and honor them—these most human emotions we are sometimes taught to betray, suppress, abandon—while trying not to wallow. Perhaps they've gained gravity from the chronic grief of losing a child who is still alive: the loss of a boy who, if things hadn't gone wrong, right now would be riding bikes and running around town with friends; the loss of a boy who right now might be writing down his thoughts, might be studying the stars, protesting injustice; the loss of a boy who, in a couple of years, would perhaps be going off to college or exploring parts of the world like his parents had done.

But I am grateful for how this grief over my child informs my world, my thoughts, feelings and notions. Maybe, like befriending and falling in love with people here and abroad— folks of different backgrounds, religions, races, abilities and nations than my own—being Calvin's mother has helped me to better imagine, understand and consider what life might be like for others who struggle with hardship.

Maybe, by being Calvin's mother—getting injured by him, seeing him repeatedly seize, hearing him screech and holler, feeling so helplessly unaware of the source of his misery, watching him barely develop, worrying about his and our future, losing sleep, even having contempt for him—has taught me how to better forgive people who hurt, offend, betray, bully, wrong and deceive. I wager everyone has shit going on in their lives that hinders their ability to cope and to at times really see themselves, their words and actions, and to appreciate that of those around them, even ones they love.

Of course, there are the sunny emotions like joy and love, which live in concert with the virtues of selflessness, empathy, compassion, patience, humility, grace, charity, gratitude, apology and forgiveness. Calvin's purity and innocence inspire me to practice these, at least when I'm not in the thralls of a pity party or having my hair torn out. If only I were as gifted as he at delivering them so unconditionally. Regrettably, I fail, perhaps particularly in the patience department, though I wager my husband would disagree.

And so, upon reflection, it seems the richest, most interesting emotional landscape may not be the most clear, placid and brilliant, but one that has depth and shadows. Maybe it's one of despair juxtaposed with hope, of contentment alongside struggle, of joy straddling sorrow, each one complimenting the other, each one begging to be explored. Maybe the most meaningful days are when a troubled, agitated, impossible boy can melt into my arms, grinning and giggling at my kisses, and wherein we both discover sublime calm, if only for a moment.


  1. I have no words other than a deep and abiding camaraderie -- you are not alone in any of your emotions, feelings, etc. I love you from the west coast.

  2. Christy... I am certainly in no position to offer you advice (indeed, your words teach me so much). I would offer you comfort, but, over the internet, such comfort, somehow, seems hollow. So, I offer you a poem that has helped me learn and "get through" some rough times. I know not whether it will help you, but, at least know that I care and hope for better days for you and Calvin.

    Courage by Anne Sexton

    It is in the small things we see it.
    The child’s first step,
    as awesome as an earthquake.
    The first time you rode a bike,
    wallowing up the sidewalk.
    The first spanking when your heart
    went on a journey all alone.
    When they called you crybaby
    or poor or fatty or crazy
    and made you into an alien,
    you drank their acid
    and concealed it.

    if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
    you did not do it with a banner,
    you did it with only a hat to
    cover your heart.
    You did not fondle the weakness inside you
    though it was there.
    Your courage was a small coal
    that you kept swallowing.
    If your buddy saved you
    and died himself in so doing,
    then his courage was not courage,
    it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

    if you have endured a great despair,
    then you did it alone,
    getting a transfusion from the fire,
    picking the scabs off our heart,
    then wringing it out like a sock.
    Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
    you gave it a back rub
    and then you covered it with a blanket
    and after it had slept a while
    it woke to the wings of the roses
    and was transformed.

    when you face old age and its natural conclusion
    your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
    each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,
    those you love will live in a fever of love,
    and you’ll bargain with the calendar
    and at the last moment
    when death opens the back door
    you’ll put on your carpet slippers
    and stride out.

  3. lovely. thank you so much. do i know you, douglas?