On March 11, 2017 I lost my beloved twenty-five-year-old son to the disease of addiction. He was a beautiful, creative and compassionate person with enormous potential. Receiving the call from the police that he was dead from an overdose was a nightmare no parent should have to experience. Driving to his drug dealer’s apartment to identify his body was not close to any situation I had read about in parenting books as he was growing up.
Two maxims come to mind when I think about parenting, maybe because I was pretty lucky until the teen years.
In the early years, I didn’t need maxims. As a single parent, I needed support and friendship, child care, a good job, health insurance, and a bit of luck--all of which we had as a family.
As a single parent most my children's lives, my identity fixated on motherhood. I managed their successes, failure, moods and challenges. I was at the helm of our ship.
As they entered their teens, they described my steering as "stupid." So, I shifted from captain to astronomer, helping them navigate by reading the stars. Taking a backseat was uncomfortable, and I bit my tongue (a lot!), rather than elicit another battle. I surrounded them with trustworthy adults, recognizing the same advice uttered from a different adult became morsels of wisdom in their eyes. As an astronomer, I had subtle influence helping them notice signs that could lead away from entropy and towards marvelous constellations instead.
Cradling this two-month-old baby boy in my arms, stroking his face, savoring the infant skin.
Wait, what is that? A gap, something in his jawline?
My heart races. I run my fingers gently over that same spot, the one that worries me, this time using my palpating finger more intentionally.
As a family medicine physician, I’ve uttered some rendition of that speech numerous times during my career. Yet, when the tables are turned, those words were less than comforting.
6:00 am. Husband feeds the baby, I wake up the three-year-old.
6:15 am. Feed the kids breakfast, pack lunches, get the kids in the minivan.
Matthew earned the nickname “Little Einstein” at eighteen months old, when he recognized the letter “T” and began announcing it at every opportunity. So when Matthew was selected for CLUES—his school’s gifted program—in third grade, it was no surprise. “Congratulations!” I said, pulling him into a hug. “I’m so proud of you!” Then I thought about the other students who weren’t chosen. Humility had been drilled into me as a young girl, and I wanted to pass that value on to my children. Quietly, I cautioned Matthew, “You know being in CLUES doesn’t make you better than anyone else, right?”
Throughout my pregnancy, I didn't know if I was having a boy or a girl--I wanted to be surprised. When my baby was delivered, the doctor yelled, "It’s a girl!" A daughter--what I'd hoped for! Although I would have loved a son equally, in all honesty I'd hoped for a daughter. I thought long and hard about her name, wanting something significant, and chose Olivia, which means peace, and Rose, because I had a passion for roses. Olivia Rose.
What do I do with that name now?
I just returned from a conference in Toronto. At one point, I was sitting at a table with three strangers--family physicians from distant locations. One was cradling a toddler. Another was visibly pregnant with her third child. Before long the four of us were passing around cellphone photos of our offspring, blessing one another with little cries of admiration.