We all want to see our kids strive, overcome failures, triumph. We want to see the light of fierce joy in their faces. We want to be there to say hey, great job. And let’s be honest, we want kids to win at life because it makes their parents so proud.
When A was 5, he fell apart all over and had to be hospitalized for several weeks. When asked by teachers and schoolmates, his sister summed it up–“My brother broke and they have to fix my broken brother.”
I can’t really find a better way to say it. Having spent the last five years helping to fix what went wrong, his improved condition is, to me, the merciful second chance we would all beg for, gratefully received by a mother who needs no reminder of how blessed she is.
There are no pretty words to describe that time in our lives. A had always sheltered himself in the shadow of our family, and now we had to hand him over to be put together. He flinched every time strange hands touched him, or a peering face came too close. His animal screams of pain still haunt me today. There is a huge, deep well of sorrow surrounding that time that I refuse to examine deeply for now because I will break too.
I remember not wanting to leave him at night, but doing it anyway. G, his sister, needed a stable routine, and wanted me with her, so my husband did most of the night shifts at the hospital, and I would stumble home, bereft without my boy. I roamed in his bedroom, occasionally sniffing his shirts, howling inside because he wasn’t in his bed. I woke myself up with my crying, then lay there, my hands on my womb, trying to soothe all that primitive mother fear.
My husband didn’t preserve a stoic facade either. When his mother came to help, she sent us both home for a while, and as usual, I offered him the day’s prasad from my prayers. He shook his head, tears spilling everywhere, and said, “A always feeds it to me. I can’t eat any without him.” Of course. I brought the prasad to the hospital and A fed it to him. It was the most beautiful father-son moment I’d ever seen. A has never missed an opportunity to complete a pattern. Being sick wasn’t going to stop him.
Doctors fixed our broken boy, but patterns fixed our broken hearts and spirits.
We recreated our home life in that hospital room. Familiar pictures, books, items from our altar that he loves, his favorite blanket, even our kettle from home so we could drink tea and stay awake through all the doctors’ rounds, procedures, and just plain stultifyingly boring moments. We even had quiet time every afternoon, lying there peacefully while Jagjit Singh filled the room.
Every evening, before I left for home, A would tap my arm, asking for my watch. I would hand it over and he would keep it for the night, a tangible Amma symbol. When I returned the next day, he would hand it back. I still have that watch, and he still appropriates it regularly.
One evening, A stopped me from leaving and was trying to ask me for something. I realized he wanted to sit in my lap. It shocked me that it had been days since he’d been held, he for whom these gestures of love are so important. The nurse helped seat him with all his tubes, and he closed his eyes and breathed me in. I did the same. He smelled awful, of all the adrenaline he’d been secreting from pain and unwanted touch, and of unwashed boy. But he was my sweet bundle, and for that moment, nothing was broken, nothing was lost.
Every time he had to undergo something painful or terrifying, we said the same words to him: A is a good boy. He does a good job.
He hung onto those words, my brave boy. He allowed people to fix him, and over the last five years, has done the best job, fighting for his health. For the right to enjoy his childhood. For the praise he enjoys hearing. For the selfish prayers of two parents who love him senselessly.
Every day since then fixes a crack in my fractured heart. It’s a heart that will never have the same old pattern as before, but the new pattern is infinitely more precious for the scars it bears, formed as it was by a good boy who intuited that the best job is the gift of himself.