God blessed me with a mother who was dedicated to her family, erudite, strong, independent, and gifted. As much as I adored and respected her, my life really began with the birth of my son, Chris, nearly 27 years ago.
I was never comfortable being the overindulged youngest child spoiled by three generations of family. I knew my life was off kilter and out of balance from an extraordinarily early age. The only time I ever experienced true euphoria was after giving birth to Chris. I never expected or needed him to change my life. He just did.
I left my first husband when Chris was 6 months old and I realized he would never be the father Chris deserved. We moved in with my parents and I worked part-time until Chris entered Kindergarten. We had little money and few possessions, but those preschool years were the most idyllic of my life. I would put Chris in his stroller and we walked to every park and place of interest within a 3-mile radius. He was always bright, inquisitive and quick to learn. He started talking early and often, spouting charming jibberish before he could walk. I would promise to give him a dollar if he could remain silent for just one minute and I never had to pay up. He is still the noisiest person I know!
My dad, who was bed-ridden with multiple myeloma, read to Chris daily from age 6 months and taught him to imitate animal sounds. Before his first birthday, Chris was overheard entertaining a small crowd in a busy mall with his precocious vocabulary and animal imitations one summer day, which led to an offer from an agency specializing in child actors and models. I never seriously entertained the notion as I had seen too many crying babies on TV soap operas to want my son to be paid for his misery. Some well-meaning relatives encouraged me to mold him into an overachiever and one of them gave him a wooden puzzle map of the United States for his second birthday. Not long afterward, my father and I were watching a televised game featuring the San Francisco 49ers. Hearing the quarterback’s name, Chris ran out of the room and returned immediately with the map piece for Montana. That day I decided he would attend Harvard, whatever the cost – not! I always appreciated his intelligence and never talked down to Chris. But I wanted him to be the best version of himself, not a flattering reflection of me, with the right core values, good character and the capacity to fulfill his purpose in life.
I was completely consumed and redeemed by motherhood. With Chris at its center, my universe was finally in balance and perspective. I’m not saying that being the object of such intense feelings was always the healthiest environment for a child, but Chris has never had a moment’s doubt that he was loved and accepted just as he is. I was a single parent for most of his childhood. The experience forced me to develop the self-sufficiency, strength and assertiveness of my German foremothers.
Eventually I fell deeply in love with a man who didn’t want to share me with my son. The inevitable breakup hurt and confused Chris, so I vowed to keep my social life separate from my son thereafter. I spent most of my dates wishing I were home with Chris instead. Eventually I gave up on men and romance. Naturally, that’s when I met the man who became my second husband. By that time, Chris was 16 and had not seen his father for five years.
Through no fault of his own, Chris never bonded with his father, who had poor relationship skills and progressively debilitating personal problems. His dad lost everything, including his ability to function as a rational adult, by the time Chris was 11. He was 16 the next and last time he saw him again when his father was hospitalized for a heart attack.
My sister was my childbirth coach and present at Chris's birth. Chris nicknamed her Auntie Cloud when he was 2 years old because she was big and fluffy. He was always extremely close to her, to my mother whom we all called Grammy after her first grandchild was born, my handicapped brother who lives with us now, and my sister's sons. When Chris was six, they moved to a neighboring county and we usually visited them at least once a month. Despite our special mother-son closeness, my sister and her family exerted a lifelong influence that still manifests in his favorite hobbies and interests. His appreciation for technology was formed at my sister's first computer circa 1990 and his cousins' video games. He played an electronic version of Family Feud and created unique team names, including the imaginary Arbyockaseegadays family.
Chris enjoyed staying with Grammy and Auntie whenever I worked during his school holidays and recesses. They took him on special day trips and sometimes lengthier vacations. He loved my mother and sister dearly and was sentimental about even the minute details of family life. When the inevitable moment came to drive home, Chris would become very sad and emotional. As I would buckle him up in his seat belt, he always turned to me and said with his voice all aquiver, "Do you miss Grammy already?"
Understandably, Chris was a little wary when I began dating Luis after we had been a self-contained duo as far back as he could remember. But they bonded on a Thanksgiving trip to visit relatives a month after our wedding. My sister and brother were living in Florida and the large family that I married into was a huge bonus for Chris. I thought my new husband was the best male role model I could find apart from my father, who died before Chris turned three. Regrettably, my husband did not want to share me with Chris or anyone else, either. He insisted on always coming first and catering to his childish demands was a lot of work. He tried to control my space and my time to make me completely dependent on him. We spent six of our nine years of marriage dealing with my breast cancer, which took a toll on all of us. Chris sensed the dark changes in his stepfather before I did.
Chris and I have been through a lot together, never more so than in the past year-and-a-half. My breast cancer metastasized to my liver and my chemotherapy regimen caused chronic anemia, rendering me weak and helpless too much of the time. My husband chose that particular moment to abandon God, me and my family. The collapse of our marriage spanned four tortuous months that shattered Chris’s comfortable life as a college student with a part-time job.
My husband took the last of our money and stole my credit, leaving us stuck with a house payment we couldn’t afford and no way to get out from under it. My brother collects Social Security, which falls far short of covering his living expenses. After using all my sick days and vacation leave, I was getting docked for every visit to my doc, reducing my salary by hundreds of dollars per month. After maxing out the only credit card I own, we spent several months living on the verge of homelessness. Yet I never lost the assurance that God would provide everything we needed. He always has and He always will.
Over the past decade, I concentrated most of my energies and hopes on a man who was not at all the person he wanted everyone to think he was. For example, he presented a loving façade to Chris while mocking him openly behind his back. Meanwhile, my son was becoming the man I always prayed he would be. My husband certainly deserves credit for teaching Chris to be more responsible and considerate, until he unlearned his own lessons. Understandably, Chris cannot help but focus on the fact that his stepfather begged me to die for his convenience with absolutely no consideration for what Chris wanted or needed. At the end, he also manipulated Chris to make him react in anger so he could justify leaving because he was not man enough to take responsibility for his own actions.
In short order after my marriage imploded, Chris began looking for a full-time job and committed to take over the care of his bruncle, the word I coined to describe his brotherly relationship with his handicapped uncle, in the event of my death. In April I had a PICC line inserted for my chemotherapy treatments and Chris flushes the line for me daily.
Chris searched for a job combining his two passions: technology and Japanese language. The hunt was frustrating and prolonged but still an illuminating experience – one that inspired newfound virtues including patience and perseverance. Chris competed against dozens and sometimes hundreds of other applicants for every job, many of them overqualified professionals forced to lower their salary expectations. Finally, in April Chris was one of six finalists out of 300 candidates for a job he felt confident about getting. They never called him back and for the first time he felt discouraged. Of course, that is when he finally obtained his dream job utilizing his Japanese and technology skills for a company that is thriving and expanding internationally. Working full-time would have been an adjustment under the most favorable circumstances. God steered Chris to a position that requires – and pays – 55 to 65 hours per week over six days – and he loves it! He claims it is actually less stressful than his old part-time job.
I always believed in my son’s potential. He is extremely smart, an original wit and creative thinker. He is truly the funniest person I have ever known. I have lived long enough to see that he possesses an admirable work ethic and an unselfish heart. The challenges, setbacks and loss we shared over the past year were all the opportunity Chris needed to blossom – and did he ever!