Motherhood is a gift that I always wanted to open. As a little girl, I rocked dolls to sleep and hugged any baby, plastic or real, within my reach. My sister Kate, thirteen years, older, had her first child when I was seven years old. I remember the night she and my first niece came to visit. It was two am and I was sound asleep. They had flown in from Florida on the red eye. I had twin beds in my room- which I shared with another sister Kim. Kim had a sleepover with her friend so I welcomed the chance to have baby (and mommy), all to myself. Kate sat on the bed, turned and propped up her feet. Her baby was a bundle of pink. I wanted to jump up, to see my sister and her marvel but knew that if I made a peep, I would get in trouble for being awake.
A shawl graced my sister’s shoulder and enveloped her baby closer; they were one body still, a circle of love, nearly one month after delivery. I did not say a word. Kate gingerly touched her baby’s face and hands. She smoothed the bundling and closed her eyes too. The baby was suckling and content. I drifted back to sleep knowing within hours, I would be a part of that love.
From then on, I wanted three children. By age ten, I would tell my mother the possible names for my children. Madison, Taylor, Justin, Alexander? Being too young to be a mother, I did the next best thing- babysat. By the time I was in high school, I spent more time with children than peers. At college in the 80s, I was a nanny for hire. Nannies were the newest additions
to families in need of helping hands. The job was perfect while I was training to be a teacher. Read great books. Hold little hands. Feed curious minds. It confirmed my desire to have my own children and gave me the chance to apply my skills. Little did I know then that I would have three children one day, but the births of two of those children wouldn’t involve any labor pains for me. There would be much greater pains at stake.
By the time my husband Kevin and I were expecting our first child, I was 26, and had the rhythm of motherhood down. I
would lie in the tub, belly afloat, book prompted open to the warn pages of Eric Carle or Maurice Sendak. My novice husband
found this early literary intervention, humorous. I enjoyed making my baths a daily ritual, loud and encompassing in our small home- giving him little escape and reason to tease. “She’s gonna say book before mom and dad,” he’d joke. But the books
bounced with affirmative kicks-she liked her mommy’s animation.
When Alina was born, we were elated. I held all 8 pounds and three ounces of her on my belly and took a good look. She was absolutely perfect. Since she rarely slept, we had quality play time. She was cute, curious and clever. We were blessed with a miracle and found her ability to dominate any activity and every part of our home, funny. How could something so small take
up so much time and space?
The summer that Alina turned one, something strange happened. Our family took a bike ride on a warm June
day. Alina was happy in her baby seat, on the back of Kevin’s bike. We were turning a corner and suddenly, there was crying. Kevin, then thirty years old, had lost control of the bike and he and Alina went crashing to the ground.
Later, when we were home, I nursed Alina to sleep. She was calm and peaceful; I was a wreck. It was then that I knew that I would never nurse another child. She was going to be an only child. It was a mother’s intuition. Kevin was sore, but more than his injured elbow and knee, was his dignity, “What happened? Why did I fall? It was impossible for me to keep the bike
up. Something is seriously wrong. I hurt our baby and I feel awful.”
We made a doctor’s appointment right away. Our family doctor then sent us to a sports medicine doctor. The look on his face was disconcerting. “I’m not sure, said the doctor after several tests, “but you might want to see a neurologist.”
Eight exhausting months later, Kevin received a diagnosis: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis- better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a neuromuscular disease – which means, it damages the cells that control muscle movement. Muscles are needed in every human function. Walking, talking, digesting, breathing. ALS causes these muscles to weaken, making simple tasks, impossible. And it’s terminal.
Sniffles and silence accompanied us home. I held on to the words of one of the nurses. “You are your own percentage,” she had said to Kevin, with a hug. “You can beat the odds.” These few simple words became our mantra for six years before Kevin lost his battle with ALS.
I lost my composure that evening when I held Alina. She would be progressing, learning to talk, run and potty, Kevin would be regressing into total dependence- unable to do the simple tasks she was mastering.
Kevin’s battle with ALS ended in 2001. Alina was eight years old. I was 35. My hopes and dreams were placed with my husband in his coffin.
In 2002, my mother sent an article from the Pocono Record. It described how Tina Singer Ames wrote a book, What Did You Learn Today? for her children Nora and Adam, and her husband, Warren. It was beautifully crafted in hopes of helping her children, as well as other children, understand ALS. It was also a gift from Tina to her family to cherish for the rest of their lives. Tina was diagnosed with ALS in July of 2000 and died in December six months later.
People talk about falling in love, a lot. Usually stories focus around couples and how they meet. Falling in love can happen with children too and it did when I met Nora and Adam. I was working as Director of Communications for the ALS Hope Foundation in Philadelphia. I had arranged a children’s day- a day for children of ALS patients and grandparents to have fun and forget. I ordered fifty copies of What Did You Learn Today? Warren, Nora and Adam Ames arrived with the books.
Warren was friendly and respectful. He and I had a lot in common and talked freely about our losses. We missed our soul mates. We cried a lot. We felt empty. But it was his children- Nora and Adam initially, who I couldn’t seem to forget.
Adam was seven years old. His hair was disheveled and his laces untied. His face was that of an older child, concerned. Nora was 11, tall and svelte- nearly my equal in size. Sweet and endearing. I immediately felt their loss like a pull in my stomach. I wasn’t
sure if I wanted to vomit or run. Instead, I pulled them both close to me, into my arms. Sat them on my lap and tried to give them, briefly, a mother’s love, my love. I wanted to let them know that they would be ok. Their eyes, though, said differently, we need our mommy.
That afternoon, I fell head over heels in love with Nora and Adam. Warren was dating someone so I invited all of them to my home for dinner. Dinner was nice. Warren “forgot” to invite his girlfriend.
Then he ended his relationship.
We met at the park. We met at the zoo. Whenever we were together, we were whole. A man, a women and three kids who enjoyed being together and having fun. We were all sad independently, but when together, we managed smiles and laugher. Surprisingly, Warren and I had very similar parenting styles. Tina and I had similarities too. She worked with children, so did I. She was a child’s advocate, so was I. She wanted the best for all children, so did I.
One day, after a dinner at Friendly’s, I asked Warren about Tina’s response to her diagnosis. He looked at me, tears running down his face. “She,” he paused, gained his composure and whispered, “she said, before she collapsed to the floor,” but who will raise my children?
It was then and there, in the parking lot of Friendly’s, that I knew I was chosen to raise Nora and Adam.
People ask me frequently about my relationship with my step-children and how we’re so close. It is very simple really, so simple that I have no elaborate answer. I have never viewed Nora and Adam as step-children, but as my children. My maternal instincts, the ones that were sacred to raising Alina, were sacred to raising Nora and Adam also. I have loved them equally and unconditionally.
Love and faith are the two main ingredients needed to raise children in a blended family and in any family. Let love guide you in your parenting and never differentiate your children negatively.
Always celebrate the wonderful qualities each child brings to the group. Have faith in your maternal instincts and
This best Mother’s day, Adam, now seventeen, gave me a handmade card. It read, “God could not be everywhere, so he invented mothers.”
Then he added, “Thanks for being everything to me.”
Does love get any better than that? Does motherhood?
I did not give birth to Adam or Nora, but every part of my soul thinks I did. And no one can tell the difference.