By Edie Weinstein
There comes a time in every mother’s life when she questions that conundrum. Although I had the most wonderful mother in the world who showered me with love, encouragement, guidance, equipped with an open mind and heart, it didn’t feel like an emotional or biological imperative to become a mother myself. Don’t get me wrong; I have always loved children and to this day, still feel like a kid myself. When my husband Michael (who died in 1998) and I became foster parents to a little guy named Kurtis, who was with us from age 4 months-18 months I fell into a welcome routine of feeding, dressing, bathing, playing with and loving this little bundle of joy. We would sing and play games. I would read to him and snuggle. When we initially met with the social worker who placed him with us, we were advised that as foster parents, we would be called on to love him like he would be with us forever and be prepared to give him up tomorrow. As I type these words, they resonate with the truth of all relationships. When we moved to Florida in 1990, he didn’t come with us and instead was on the fast track to reunite with his mother who bore him crack addicted and at that point had engaged in treatment herself. He went to live with his maternal grandmother who later on allowed us to visit with him when he was 4 years old. Tearful as we made the long trek southward to our new home, we pondered become parents either biologically or via adoption. Although we attempted, nothing happened for a while. We each visited a doctor; he a urologist and I a gynecologist, who determined that there was nothing biologically preventing pregnancy and gave us the common advice to ‘just relax about it and it is more likely to happen.” We decided not to take any extraordinary measures.
When we were visiting with new friends, while lounging around their pool, the idea of adoption arose again. She had adopted two special needs brothers who had some emotional challenges. They were older when they came to her, which made the adoption process more streamlined, since there is a higher demand for infants than older children. We looked into the option and soon were enrolled in a 10 week course that was required by the Florida Health and Rehabilitative Services. During the class we were shown a photo of a tow headed four year- old little guy named Adam. The photo was taken by his then foster parents with him engaged in play with a Fisher Price kitchen set. His hand was in the plastic frying pan. It was a fitting portent of two eventualities: the first was that he symbolically put his hand in the pan (never actually, thank goodness) over the years and the second was that he would follow his passion for cooking. When we took him on his first outing, while in the process, he impressed us with his reading ability by rattling off the names of food signs we passed along the way.
A few months later, we sat on the steps of the courthouse in Miami on adoption day and our photo was taken as we became his ‘forever mommy and daddy,’ as we explained it to him. Not an easy day, since Michael and I had gotten into an argument about sunglasses of all things. Ours was not a smooth flowing relationship at times. I refer to it as a paradoxical marriage, with a great deal of love, tinged with control and emotional abuse. It wasn’t until it ended with his death that I realized the impact it had and the toll it took on our parenting.
A month passed and I found myself lying on a gurney in the ER of a local hospital waiting to have surgery for a ruptured fallopian tube courtesy of an ectopic pregnancy. I didn’t even know I was pregnant at the time. As sometimes occurs, once someone adopts….
Two more calendar pages were turned and we tumbled into turmoil when Michael was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. This was discovered when we volunteered to be bone marrow donors. He had been asymptomatic and we figured out that he likely contracted the blood born liver disease when he had been on an ambulance squad in the 1970’s back when they didn’t use the same precautions as they do now. Treatment began which contributed to compromised quality of life, including mood swings and pain. As you can imagine, that made home life less than pleasant. Add to it the fact that we worked together as publishers of a magazine and tension escalated to a boiling point at times.
One final event brought the year to climax. We had purchased our first house in Homestead where on August 24, 1992, a tropical storm grew into one of the most devastating (to that date) hurricanes, named Andrew. Michael and Adam were up in Pennsylvania at the time, visiting Michael’s family while I held down the fort at home, managing the biz. A day prior to it making landfall, I decided that it was the better part of valor to head up to my parents’ place in Ft. Lauderdale where I hunkered down, watching the devastation on television rather than experiencing it live and in person out my window.
When Michael and Adam returned, we found that our home was uninhabitable. The roof had blown off, the floors were flooded and belongings damaged. We were able to rescue Adam’s iridescent green, parachute material snake that he called ‘Snakey’; clever name, huh? Early the next year, after renting a condo to tide us over for the interceding months, we moved back up to Pennsylvania. The roller coaster rides continued as did conflict between us.
I pondered whether to leave the marriage and was paralyzed by fear that I wouldn’t be able to raise Adam alone, even though I knew my parents would gladly have taken us in. Then Michael’s condition worsened and there were frequent ER visits. The ‘in sickness and in health’ part of the marriage vows kicked in and I knew I couldn’t abandon him. My co-dependent caregiver who was ultra -responsible took over and I shifted into high gear, as I managed home, a job as a nursing home social worker and Michael’s care.
When Michael took his last breath in the ICU of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, my then 11-year-old son was by my side, offering me comfort. In that moment, I entered the realm of both widowhood and single parenting. No clue how to navigate those waters, I was grateful for the love and support of family and friends who surrounded us. They were the village who helped me raise my child. One pivotal person in our lives is my friend Phil who became Adam’s unofficial Big Brother, father figure, go-to guy for everything.
When Adam was 14, he informed me that he was an undercover angel sent to teach me patience. I told him years later that apparently I am a lifelong learner, since he was still teaching. I also say that it amazes me that we both survived his adolescence. He is now 29 and has a wonderful girlfriend. I couldn’t have chosen anyone more ideal for him. He has a job he enjoys and for which he is well compensated.
Over the years, I worked a full-time job and several part-time consulting jobs doing what I could to keep the same roof over our heads that was there back then. I was determined to provide for the two of us. As many parents who are reading this can attest, there are times when I truly believed in the dichotomy that I was the worst mother in the world and that I should be voted Mother of the Year. My son might wholeheartedly agree with the first and reluctantly, with a wise guy smile, concede to the second. In the past few years, Adam and I have had “come clean” conversations about our relationship. For the sake of his privacy, I won’t share the content here, but suffice it to say, they were indeed wake up calls that cause me to, in 12-step parlance, “take my own inventory” daily. His keen observations about my worldview and the ways in which I have acted on it have been heart- and eye-opening. As painful as it has been, it has also been incredibly rewarding.
As we have discussed the past, there were times when he blamed his father and me for his unhappiness. If only we had been able to communicate more effectively or if I had indeed left the relationship, Adam expressed that he would likely have been happier. I told him that I thought since I was the easier-going parent, we could have made a fresh start and he would have appreciated me more and cut me some slack. We shared resentments, anger and love. Admittedly, there were times when I vented, using language that was not in my spiritual vocabulary, while he watched, amused that he had gotten me that riled up. I took responsibility for my reactions in our conflicts. Sometimes I held him accountable for his choices and at others, I overcompensated for what occurred in our home as he was growing up by allowing him to get away with things that weren’t in his best interest, sometimes too exhausted to battle it out. I rescued when I should have allowed for natural consequences to occur from which he could learn.
Forgiveness was sometimes the topic of conversation as he told me, “I’ve forgiven daddy, why can’t you?” He shared that I needed to in order to move on. At this point, I feel I have indeed let go of casting blame for what transpired in our home. We each brought our baggage and patterns to the marriage and were each responsible for the choices we made.
As I gaze back over my shoulder at the past, I allow myself to be fully human in all my divine messiness. I know that mama love isn’t perfect. It has us stumbling and skinning our own knees the way our kiddos sometimes do. It has us crying over spilled milk and mopping it up. It gives us permission to learn from them as much as they do from us. Whether or not there is a trophy on which the words Mother of the Year are inscribed, is inconsequential. When my son checks in on me, invites me to spend time with him and Lauren, when he takes me to a Mother’s Day dinner at an expensive restaurant that he can afford and offers me advice and I know that he is happy, that is reward enough.
Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a colorfully creative journalist, dynamic transformational speaker, interfaith minister, licensed social worker, radio host and opti-mystic who sees the world through the eyes of possibility. www.opti-mystical.com