A Mother’s Secret

How do I tell him? How do I explain to this ball of energy, currently wearing a cape and throwing Legos across the room in an effort to get the dog’s attention, everything he needs to know? There’s no right or easy way, you know? Everyone has this theory of when it’s best, or how to approach the subject, but they aren’t me and they don’t know him — not like I do.

He came into my home with a Superman backpack on a rainy Tuesday. He stood in the doorway next to Dante, the caseworker, and stared straight ahead, expressionless. He wasn’t afraid, which I liked, but he wasn’t interested, which scared me. I didn’t realize it then, but he was in shock.

A five-year-old boy in shock. It makes me want to cry thinking about it.

That first night was the scariest of my life. I showed him around the house — his house — and he followed noiselessly and nodded. I took him to the kitchen, the bathrooms and the playroom with all the toys I bought for him (for all ages, really, because I didn’t know what age my first placement would be).

He never said a word.

Then I showed him his room, the bed with racecar sheets and the blue lava lamp on the nightstand. I pointed out the posters on the wall, one of Muhammad Ali standing in the ring and another of the new Star Wars movie. I showed him the stuffed animals, the bunny with floppy ears and the bear with a cowboy hat. All the while, he stood in the doorway and shook his head, at first slowly and then forcefully.

“No.”

I asked him what was wrong but he didn’t answer. He just shook his head and backed away. I told him it was okay, that we’d fix whatever was bothering him — that I’d always fix what’s bothering him. As if it was always going to be easy and moms could always make it right. But still — I meant it then and I mean it now and I’ll mean it forever. If you are a mother, you know what I’m talking about.

We walked back to the living room and he took off his backpack and sat on the couch. I talked to him for what seemed like hours, telling him how happy I was that he was here, how excited I was to share all this stuff with him and how fun it would be to explore the parks and zoos. I talked and talked while he sat silently, sometimes offering a nod or the beginning of a smile. But mostly he just stared quietly.

After a while, I noticed he began to slouch, then slump. His breathing became steady and soon he was curled up ever so tight on the couch. I covered him with a nearby blanket, dimmed the lights and spread out on the floor. I listened to him breathe on the couch above me until morning. And do you know how that felt? I was scared, I was sad but at the same time I was happy and I was calm. I felt like a mom.

That was three years ago next week.

Everything and nothing has changed since then. He sleeps in his bed now, that is when he isn’t talking incessantly and asking questions of everything and everyone, including a very confused Golden Retriever named Daisy. He loves ice cream, chocolate chip mint and fudge. He hates baths and toothbrushes. He thinks Spongebob is the height of all hilarity.

And yet my desire to protect him, to make everything right no matter what the situation, it’s still there just as it was while I watched a scared little boy fall asleep on a couch. So yeah, everything and nothing.

So how do I tell him? Not that’s he’s adopted — we covered that years ago. No, how do I tell him that he’s my world, that I live for him, for his hopes, for his dreams, for his future. How do mothers tell their sons that they are their everything and their world would never be complete without them? How do they do it?

Well, as my own mother said — they do it every day. And that’s what I’ll do.

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