Five minutes ago, I was rocking my baby to sleep. She’s 10 months old with an ear infection, the chubbiest of all the cheeks and she’s possibly the world’s most perfect baby.
We had just come from my sister’s house, where she had sat happily in her seat for an hour next to me, smiling at her cousins while they played and I worked on my computer. My sister, who has four rambunctious boys — three of which were home performing at expert level — couldn’t help but notice the well-behaved-ness of this girl. I take no credit — she was just born this way.
I thought about being “born this way” as I scrolled through Instagram while rocking my Abby, when I hit one of those thumb-stopping images. An author Mom I follow posted a photo of a blonde-haired young man, her son, and said he had lost his life to mental illness.
She said she had “no words” — of course. She said, ” I want him back” — of course. I swiped through several photos of him — graduating from high school, smiling widely in a car, dressed up in a silly costume, hanging out with friends. His beautiful, messy life summed up in that series of squares with smiles masquerading the pain that must have been there.
He lost his battle with mental illness, I thought. My husband has a pretty powerful mental illness. I have struggled to a lesser degree with mental illness issues such as anxiety and depression. It clearly runs in the blood and there is nothing we can do to stop it.
I looked down at Abby sucking her pacifier, her little hand caressing the flap of my sweater — and I thought about this Mom on Instagram and how she had once held her little boy this same way, dozens of times. How she had been with him in the middle of the night and given him ear infection medication just like I did today. She taught him how to use the potty, like I’m teaching my toddler. She packed his lunches and took him to get his kindergarten shots and watched him laugh on a carousel ride. She cried for him when someone hurt his feelings.
All of that is spinning in my mind, foreseeing memories we haven’t yet made and wondering — hoping — that I’ll never have to join this club of daughter-less mothers. As much as I want her to stay small, I don’t because I want to see her grow as old as she can be.
Just yesterday, my husband told me he watched “Beautiful Boy,” where a teenage boy gets addicted to drugs and his father just wants to help him but he can’t. He teared up just thinking about that being one of our kids, parents left at the mercy of these relentless, vicious addictions and mental illnesses — the kinds of things that have no cure, that have stigmas, that live shrouded in mystery and helplessness.
I swooped Abby’s hair back from her forehead again and again and watched her eyes close. I kissed her just above the eyes and against my will, fast forwarded 17 years. No, God, no — why that for this Momma on Instagram? Why that even a thought for me? Why does this invisible thing have to terrorize so many people? Why did this boy have to believe what it told him?
The world has gotten a lot scarier since my kids were born. Every story becomes my story. Every freak accident or disease becomes the next thing that could happen to us. I don’t want to live like this — and I usually don’t — but tonight it just hit me.
I saw it that rocking chair with that baby who will turn 1 in two months and I held her so tight. I didn’t want to put her down. I wanted to rock her forever. I couldn’t help but think of that poem that says:
“The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
But children grow up as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.”
My sorrow runs deep for a momma I’ll never meet. But I’ll cherish all of these memories to come just a little more because of the boy in the Instagram pictures. Jesus, be with his mommy right now.