Does Anyone Else Feel Like They Broke Their Kid?

When my son was small, I felt like I was doing it wrong. Like everyone in the world was judging me for the choices I'd made.

May 7, 2012 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

A few years ago, when my son was about 2 years old, he got really sick. I have no idea what was wrong with him. I just knew that every night, he would spike a fever so high, I could literally feel the heat radiating from his body. I was terrified.

What made things worse was that, at the time, I was still uncomfortable with this "parenting thing." I felt like I was doing it wrong. That everyone in the world was judging me for the choices I'd made not only as a parent, but my decision to become a parent in the first place. I never wanted to be a parent and certainly not a single parent.

Boogie's random, inexplicable sickness was a sign that I had broken him. He was literally self destructing. Like a scene from Inspector Gadget in front of my eyes. 

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I took this on the exact day of the doctor's visit.

One morning, I decided to take Boogie in to see the doctor. I hated taking him to places with other parents. I felt like my ineptitude was palpable. I'd be immediately arrested and Boogie would be taken away from me. I had this paranoia that someone would say, "He's not wearing a hat??? You should be shot!" and that would be the end of my parenting misadventures.

That never happened, but something close enough happened once.

In the waiting room, I was working on perfecting a demure-yet-distant smile that says, "He's not contagious. He just likes to hug people." It seemed like it was working until Boogie sneezed on the little blonde girl in the pink, puffy vest and her mother hustled her away.

We were the only black people in the room. This isn't important, but it's something I notice often. I quietly wonder if I'm also the only one without a ring. These things don't matter, but they do.

After pulling him away from another nervous-looking kid across the room, I make a mental note to start teaching him the difference between who is "huggy" and who is not. 

I notice the woman next to me shift her eyes slyly. She's the kind of mother that makes me nervous. She looks like she bakes and likes it. Like her every waking moment and 80 percent of her sleeping ones are consumed by children and family. She probably has a recipe box.

She looks at me like maybe I'm here because I broke my kid. I'm not sure I'm not, so I shift uncomfortably. My black suede Pumas next to her olive green Crocs tell the real story about who we are. I want to make sure that Boogie's energy isn't mistaken for ill-behaved. I know it shouldn't matter, the boy isn't feeling well, but I've been the "black kid" enough times to know that it does. I don't spot her child. Small waves of panic start to erupt as I wonder if she's the Parenting SPY.

To the casual observer, the Parenting SPY is just the guy making a deposit at the bank or the old lady weighing melons in the store or this very woman staring at me in the waiting room. Sitting next to me in her judgmental crocs trying to figure out if I'm a good parent. I haven't quite worked out who Parenting SPIES report to or why. Actually, no, scratch that, they report to my mother.

I decide to sit up straighter in my chair and readjust my ponytail. I look over to make sure that Boogie isn't trying to force a tiny embrace on anyone. He's counting the fish in the tank, "One, two, three, five, eight, double-you, auntie, Elaiwe... " I smile to myself.

"Well, isn't he a charming little man," the Parenting Spy says.

"Yes. He's a good boy," I reply.  I think quickly about a way to slide in that I read to him every night (okay, every other night) but she's already moved on to her next line: "And he's dressed like a little teenager!" I'm certain she's not using the words she really means.

"He likes to dress like a big boy." I'm not quite sure where she's going with this so I play it safe and go back to ignoring her and her ugly ass shoes.

"Oh, look at that! His little jeans are even sagging underneath his diapers."

And there it is.

In our rush that morning, I forgot to belt my son's pants. Considering, that a) I was going to let him go out in his pajamas and b) a few hours before, his fever was so bad that I could almost see the cartoonish heat waves rising from his body, whether or not his "little jeans are even sagging" was about as important to me as what Boogie planned on majoring in if and when he goes to college in 13 years.

It took me a few seconds to process what she was implying, but when I did, my brain began to speed up in a manic rush of words and insults. I took in the aforementioned Crocs, the suffocating mom jeans, the shapeless bob, the ill-colored and thin-pursed lips. I had my head cocked and the neck in half roll before I remembered the space I was in.

All the times I felt I needed to apologize for my choices as a single mother flashed before my eyes. The times I wondered if the choices I made would somehow be deterimental to Boogie's development. I thought about that morning, lamenting the things I'd done when I was certain that I wanted a childless, unattached life with only myself as a responsibility. The fact that I was paying this visit out of pocket and praying that the card swiped would print out a receipt and not a notice from my bank. I thought about the "honesty box" message I read before leaving the house:

"It's interesting that you are struggling to take care of your son's medical bills but just yesterday, you were bragging about buying him 3 pairs of new 'amazing' shoes. tsk tsk."

I thought about the reply I would've fired off -- "First of all, bitch..." -- if my son hadn't been pulling me to the door thinking he was finally going back to school after missing a week because he'd been so sick.

I was tired of explanations and excuses and reasons. My precious little sicky sick, huggy boy was sagging and he was counting fish all wrong. And he had pulled his hoodie up to cover his big head because that's what his uncle Kebe does. And he was laughing hysterically at the fish that kept hiding in the castle. And I just sat there relieved that he wasn't slumped over and radioactive.

I turned back to the Crocs Mom, inhaled and smiled.

Just then, a brown-haired little boy came skipping over. He looked about 8 or 15, wearing a pair of brown corduroy high-water slacks and an over-sized fuzzy sweater. He began pulling at Croc Mom Parent SPY, screeching, "It's time to go! I want to go!" His mother tried to hush him, get him to sit, keep his voice down or something. He just kept pawing at her, whining.

I smiled to myself, retied my Pumas, stood up with an audible, "Woosah!" and walked over to my son. His pants needed to be pulled up.

That was years ago. 

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E with his shiny new trophy.

I thought about that story recently, after Boogie had just won MVP of his soccer team. My siblings and I took him out to breakfast to celebrate. My sister and I had been talking about some of my concerns about his future. She reassured me that Boogie was better than fine. That all my worries and concerns were unnecessary.

To prove her point, she turned to Boogie in the car and said, "E, are you happy?" and my five-year-old responded, "Of course I am. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Why are you happy?" my sister asked.

"Because I love everyone and everyone loves me. That's the only way you can be happy," answered my son before noting, "Oh God, mom, are you crying again?"

Yeah, but only because we've come such a long way.