To tell you the truth, I have no idea how my son Stefan is still alive and breathing. I remember wailing hysterically at the nurses in the hospital as soon as he was born, because he wouldn’t eat. “Relax,” they told me calmly. “Give him a moment. Babies know what to do.” It was pure luck in my opinion that they turned out to be right. There are somethings you don’t need to teach a child. It turned out that he ate, he grew and everything was fine until he wanted to walk, while at the same time put everything he saw into his mouth.I flew into a blind panic. Mothers are like that.
I felt our house in America was a death trap. Tables, staircases, chair corners, doors that slammed, object d’art, plants, dogs, whiskey, cigarettes – all that I’d thought was stylish and sophisticated – were potential tools that could wound my child, even kill him. So I bought a playpen (basically a type of jail constructed with soft fabric so he wouldn’t hurt his head) and I’d plonk him in it while I went about my business. It is a minor miracle that he learned how to walk and then run, without so much as a broken bone.
Then came Kindergarten. He had to ride a school bus that I was not allowed onto.I tailed the bus to and from Hewlett High School for a good two weeks before I was satisfied that the bus driver wasn’t a maniac and the teachers weren’t eating up Stefan’s lunch. A mother can never be too sure.
Just when I got through that hurdle, it was time for high school and a whole new set of worries to deal with. Who were his evil friends? Were they drug dealers? How could I get into his computer? He wanted to drive a car? Somehow, despite the odds, he managed to ace high school emerging on the other side of teenage intact and whole, with just a little stubble on his chin.
Then came college. I agonised over his future, his choice of subjects, his eating habits. Wild parties, drug overdoses, drag racing, calls from the police station late at night. Who would he come home with? Was she tested for STD? Why was it so hard to call a mother and say, “Look I’m going to be late.” I hardly slept a wink through his under grad years. I developed bags under my eyes, which I still have. Meanwhile he gaily skipped across continents and classes to obtain excellent scores, acquiring only a minor cigarette habit. He’s now getting ready for the next big leap in his life. A master’s degree at Notre Dame. He’ll be gone again. I wish I could lock him in his playpen, but I can’t. But I do have him on Skype, What’s App, Viber, Facebook, Instagram and whatever else the internet can toss at me. I’ll always be in a state of high alert when it comes to my son. What have I learned about motherhood? Nothing, I’d say. But I can describe it as a series of heart attacks punctuated by a few moments of ecstasy and joy that make it way more than worthwhile.
Fortunately parenthood comes with a natural instruction manual and it works out just fine most of the time. It has for me (so far) at least.