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My Son Saves Me From the Sadness of My Mental Illness

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“Mama!?” Grudgingly, I rub my eyes and stare at the ceiling for a moment.

“Mama!?” I hear it again and lay still, hoping he will fall back asleep for just a little while more.

“Mama!!?”echoes down the hallway and I know I can’t put it off any longer.

I force myself out of bed, step onto the cold floor and let out a big sigh. “Time to start the day,” I mutter under my breath as I head toward his room. As much as I want to stay in bed and am dreading the busyness of what’s about to occur, I know laziness is not an option.

I slowly open his door and peek inside. There, curled up in his blankets with his thumb in his mouth, is my little man. He instantly smiles at me and I can’t help but smile back.

“Good morning! Did you have a good sleep?” I ask as he stands up and I lift him out of his crib. He nods in agreement. I suddenly feel like maybe getting up was worth it.

He leads me out of his bedroom and signals to the bathroom. I follow him in as he pulls his stool out. I prepare our toothbrushes and turn on the tap, making sure it’s lukewarm. He climbs up onto his stool and takes his toothbrush, making sure I put enough toothpaste on the brush and checks the water temperature.  He watches me as I brush my teeth and attempts to mimic my actions. I can’t help but feel proud of him for attempting. After some convincing, he hands over his toothbrush and allows me to do a quick brush to try and get what was missed.

He washes his hands, sprinkles some water on his head and pats his hair. He looks at me to tell me he’s finished. I turn off the tap and he climbs off his stool, making sure to return in to its place beside the vanity. “Good job,” I say, smiling as his back is turned to me. I don’t want to praise him too much for daily hygiene tasks even though I’m beaming inside and thrilled at his interest. I can’t understand how he can make me so happy while I feel so sad.

He leaves the bathroom and unlocks the dog cage, signalling it’s time for the dog to wake up and join us on the journey downstairs. The three of us quietly make our way past his brother’s room and make our descent to the kitchen. He makes sure to “sush” us, putting his tiny finger to his lips; he doesn’t want to wake his brother. We count the steps as we go and I commend what a great job he’s doing as he proudly holds onto the wall with one hand, the other just a few inches from mine proving he can do it himself but can count on me if he slips.

We make our way to the kitchen, let the dog outside, and he deliberates on what he wants to have for breakfast. Choosing oatmeal over toast, I boil the kettle. He waits patiently, as I turn on his morning cartoons and lifts his arms up so I can get him settled into his high chair. I head back to the kitchen to prepare his oatmeal and reflect on how I felt when I first woke up. As I pour milk into the bowl to make the oatmeal an acceptable temperature, I can’t help but feel guilty for not wanting to be present, for wanting to be in bed, for wanting to be alone.

I serve him his oatmeal and juice, make sure he’s content and head outside for my morning cigarette. I think about what we can do, where we can go. I make a plan and cant wait to experience our day. I finish my smoke and go back inside to check on his progress.

Face and hands covered in oatmeal, he looks at me, smiles and asks “ouuu?”

“You want out?”I say and he nods excitedly.

I wet a washcloth with warm water, wipe his fingers, face and tray, lift him out of his high chair and fold the chair up, putting it back in its place. He entertains himself with puzzles and cars, as I pull down the pillow and blanket from the top of the couch. I slowly slither into a comfortable position, close my eyes for a second, hoping for a few minutes of sleep. I just woke up but am craving more sleep, my eyes feel relief from the burning sensation of forcing them open.

It’s suddenly silent, aside from the TV, but I feel like I’m being watched. As I open my eyes I see him staring at me, contemplating his next move. He walks away, grabs his blanket and runs back toward the couch. He tries to ask for help as he pulls himself up and lays down beside me. He turns toward me and reaches up for my glasses.

“Gentle,” I say as he removes them from my face.

He places them on the coffee table and lays back down. It’s like he understands, even though I know he can’t. He lets me lay there in silence while he watches his TV program, rubbing my hand to make sure I know he’s there. We snuggle and suddenly I feel resurrected from my negative thinking. I feel thankful. I feel loved. There is nothing better in this world than feeling unconditional love.

It is at that moment I knew I can’t allow myself to be consumed by sadness. He depends on me too much. He looks at me for security, love and guidance. He wants me around.  He loves me unconditionally.

The feeling of being wanted around is something I only read about growing up. My parents talked about the importance of family but would always tell me to go read in my room when I was younger. When I got older, they were too busy to spend time with me, making excuses to avoid a visit. They often made promises, only to be broken. I felt like a burden and inconvenience. I vowed never to make my children feel that way.

They say we learn from experience and my upbringing definitely had its positive and negative teaching moments. My parents weren’t horrible people, but they failed me by lying and hiding the truth, which they they believed was a means of protecting me.

I suffer from mental illness. I agree with the research and scientific evidence that it is genetic. Through my years of therapy, I am beginning to understand my parent, too, most likely suffered but never sought treatment. They lost a child. They were laid off at the same time. They divorced. They had reasons to feel vulnerable or outside themselves.

They always told my brother and I to be open about our feelings but expected we only show them within the confines of our home. No one needed to know our family business. We were kicked under the table if acted inappropriately in public. We were seen but not heard. We appeared picture perfect but in actuality were broken.

As he screams with glee and jumps into my lap, I feel validated. I never understood why my parents seemed so embarrassed of my brother and I. I can’t help but beam with pride when I talk about, think about or am in the presence of my children.

He grabs my hand and leads me into the kitchen. He’s still hungry. After contemplating his choices of banana, grapes, yogurt or applesauce, he signals to the fridge and points to his decision. I pull out the applesauce, but I hear resistance. I point to the yogurt and receive a smile and nod in agreement. He signals for a spoon, and we head back to the couch.

I sit in my seat and he hands me his spoon. He climbs onto the couch and scoots beside me. He takes his spoon and yogurt from me as his eyes glimmer with happiness. He begins to eat his snack and we sit silently, watching his program.  I put my arm around him and snug him in close. I kiss the top of his head and tell him I love him. He mumbles in response and my heart flutters. I know he’s trying to say it back.

It is at this moment, I realize how lucky I am, how the happiness outweighs the sadness. Even though I may feel more depressed than ever and life seems impossible, I have to remember I am his mother. I need to make sure he feels unconditional love. I am his protector and he is my savior.

Originally published: June 23, 2016
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