I come from a very small family, made up of mostly women. If asked, they would say “confident” aka headstrong and bossy. My poor father was surrounded by females, even our 2 cats were female. 17 years ago, I assumed the gender of the baby I had been growing inside me, was a girl. In fact, I asked the tech to make sure she was right because I was so sure. How could I have a boy? You would have thought, I had been told I was having Kittens! I did, in fact, give birth to a healthy, beautiful baby boy.
For the next 10 months, I went about my parenting as I would have regardless of gender. I breastfeed, read, went on day trips and did as much as humanly possible for a teen mother. I loved that baby with everything I had in me. He loved me right back giving me a reason to get out of bed every morning and continue fighting.
It was around this time that one morning my son and I drove past a few construction vehicles on the side of the highway. He watched the passing scenery from his car seat window when without any prompting I heard his little voice say, “Vroom”. At that very moment, I felt myself exhale a breath evidently I had been holding for over a year. We were going to make it! I got this. And what I didn’t, he did.
I might have not known how to raise a “man” but we taught each other. He learned how to ride a bike, swim, and climb. While I learned a lot of superheroes, Xmen, and Ninja Turtle names. He taught me how to growl and I taught him to say please and thank you.
17 years later my baby boy is almost officially a man. If wheeling into his size 12 shoes is not reminder enough, a few nights ago he came into my room and said: “in a little more then a year I will be 18.” “Then he asked me if I remembered what I felt like at 18”. Immediately I felt an apple-sized lump in my throat. As a mother, I try to think about what I am feeling before I answer. At 18 I was diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia, went to two different colleges in two different States, got engaged, had a mental break down and got pregnant. So Yes I remember! I wanted to pull my baby on my lap and never let him go. Instead, as I looked into his great big brown eyes, I reminded myself – this is it, what I worked so hard for, for so long. We did it and my baby bird is almost ready to fly the nest. He is smart, compassionate, and strong.
On his path to adulthood, he became a part of this friend group. This group of boys/ men quite honestly is a crazy group of random misfits. But a group of males more honorable, you will never meet. Never have I been questioned by them, as a disabled mother. In fact, on more than one occasion, my wheels have been tossed in the back and I have been brought along. Of course, they are young and silly at times. I would gladly vouch for them anytime. They have given my son and therefore me a gift I could never give him. They took all the parts of my son, whether nature or nurture can claim credit for, and pulled them into the confident young man he is now. I have often reflected on this group of “lost boys” and tried to figure out why, and what? What I have come up with is these are all highly intelligent boys raised by a group of very strong young women, who have found each other. They have created for and through each other the male role models so many boys long for and never find. As big brothers, father figures or whatever they are, these boys have only enriched each other’s lives.
So does that mean I failed my son somehow? No, I would actually argue the exact opposite. I, and so many other women like me, have taught their sons to be independent. Independent, at least in my world, the world of disability, does not mean the ability to do it all alone. It means you are able to do what you can and are resourceful enough to get everything else done. So he can cook, iron, and make coffee, true, but he also knows to ask if he needs advice or how to color coordinate. To me, that is the ultimate form of independence – when you know enough to create a village and to call on them as needed.