I am a mother.
If you want to know me, know that first. There are, of course, many layers to “me, myself and I” but this is what defines me with the greatest accuracy.
I have two children, had whispers of more and they bring my greatest joy and sometimes my greatest sorrow. I will focus on just one of them today but know also that they hold absolute equality in my heart and soul.
My eldest daughter, Cate, was the calmest baby I have ever known. She watched the world move around her in quiet contentment. Of course, having imagined motherhood for years and then finding it so much more emotional than I could have dreamt, I catered to her every whim and would have held her 24 hrs. a day. She demanded two things; to be held almost constantly and to nurse for hours on end and later have her bottle, ‘ba ba” as she named it, with her always. She came into this world slowly, at her own pace and time and emerged finally, a beautiful healthy baby, stealing our hearts for ever after. She walked early, spoke early and had an extensive vocabulary at age two. We once snuck a newly decorated play kitchen into her room while she napped and on waking she smiled, a big delicious toddler grin, pointed almost immediately at the kitchen and said “ my gracious Mommy, look how pretty it is.”
Her nighttime ritual as she grew older was to ensure that her multitude of stuffed toys, probably 20 or more, be properly situated in her bed before we could read stories. Every one of them had to be accounted, retrieved from hiding places all over the house and yard, for and tears would occur if we did not place them all just so. This was not because she was frightened or stalling, it was because she didn’t want anyone feeling left out or alone. These inanimate creatures were as real to her as her friends at school and deserved the same respect and care.
We couldn’t walk to school without saving worms on the sidewalk, we couldn’t leave baby birds out of their nests and the questions about why’s and what’s and where’s never ceased each day. She excelled academically but sometimes struggled with her peers because she didn’t understand, even then, how some of them just laughed and giggled. She asked me in Kindergarten “ Mommy why do some kids don’t know how to think”? People described her as an “old Soul” as “mature beyond her years” and this was before, at the age of six, she was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic.
It is not something one who has not had a child diagnosed with a chronic illness can really understand. The pain of seeing your child in pain is not a tangible number on a scale that exists. It breaks your heart; it leaves you feeling guilty and helpless. Imagine that serious little old lady of six the first time we said you need a needle, six needles, everyday and always. And we will need to prick your finger, on purpose, until it bleeds, at least six times a day and lots of times when you are asleep, everyday and always. Therein lies the sorrow that having children brings. Their pain is yours, magnified because your own life brings understanding that your children cannot yet have.
My Cate faced this dread disease and continues to face it each and everyday head on. No, it is never “ under control”. Illness, hormones, stress, food, not enough food, mechanical issues with pumps and syringes, bruised injection sites, flawed test strips, physical activity, mental fatigue – life as we know it makes each day different and affects control. In the face of this she grew into an even more serious child, introspective and determined. It shaped her; it shaped us – our family, her sister, dad and myself. We learned that to survive we needed to have faith that all would be well, that there are no guarantees and that sometimes life makes it hard to breathe.
It was at this point in our lives that our first of many dogs joined our family. We had resisted until then, not wanting the “inconvenience” a pet brought to the table. How silly that seems in retrospect, they have brought us so very much more than we could ever have imagined. Pixie was the first, delivered by my sister the day before we came home from the hospital and a bribe, to be clear, to my poor girl to learn to inject herself in case one of us could not be with her in an emergency. The little white Bichon was the salve we all needed to mend our broken hearts and she became a cherished companion. Cate began to write, long sagas of adventure, poetry, things that were deep and inspiring and way beyond her years. Her Principal at school, who became my boss and friend, said to me one day “ Catey will not find her place until she’s in her twenties. She’s just got too much happening in that little head of hers.”
And as happens all to fast, she grew. As she got older her restless spirit emerged. She was curious about everything, researched subjects at school because she had to know why, felt like no one her age had a “clue” and sought out new adventures. France in Grade 8, Nataushish, Italy, Europe again – always on a trip with other students or solo, she was determined to do everything everyone else could and more, diabetes be damned. All the while I held my breath and then reminded myself to breathe. I worried and worried more. Parenting is hard at every stage but perhaps the worst when you have to start letting them go. Sleepless nights with babes in arms is one thing, but sleepless nights when you can no longer protect them is quite another. I have this constant running dialogue with myself about not being selfish, not holding them so close that I smother them with my love and trust me when I say, it is so very hard to do. Cate has tested this time after time.
Catey and her sister are intertwined in a way that her father and I cannot even begin to comprehend. They love one another unconditionally but can go weeks without talking and can fight like stray cats in a dark alley – verbally, never with fists. The barbs they zing at each other can be impossibly cruel and cut to the heart of each other but their defense of each other is just as acutely powerful. They always know exactly what the other is thinking and feeling and they frequently remind me that with things like “mother, you actually don’t have a clue.” Here, as case in point, is an excerpt from an old fb group chat I was included in regarding Disney movie soundtracks.
Aidan: This is on my CD 🙂 Pocahontas and Mulan have the best songs
Cate: Definitely! 🙂 Breaking gender stereotypes and preaching environmental conservation through the lens of an interracial relationship.. Frozen is honestly not that big of a deal
Aidan: LOL best songs Catey, not best morals (although they have those too). And Frozen broke gender stereotypes in its own right… you’re just mad because it reflects us so well (i.e. you cause the problems, I fix them)
Cate: If you’re saying I’m more like Elsa I wholeheartedly agree : p
She had a teacher in high school who knew then that she wanted to pursue medicine. He wanted her to write, as did I. He pleaded with me to convince her to choose a different path.
He said, “ she’s an introvert and an Empath, a true one. It will consume her, I know this…”
He scared me when he spoke this truth because I knew then that what I saw in her was becoming clear to others. I could only say to him, “ telling her to stop is liking asking her to stop breathing”.
This excerpt is so much like Cate in some ways it is as if it were written by someone who knows her. An exception to this is that she is not “open”, rather more introverted in terms of expressing her own true feelings and would never be characterized as ignorant but more likely assumed to be “stand-offish”.
TRAITS OF AN EMPATH
Empaths are often quiet and can take a while to handle a compliment for they’re more inclined to point out another’s positive attributes. They are highly expressive in all areas of emotional connection, and talk openly, and, at times, quite frankly in respect to themselves. They may have few problems talking about their feelings.
However, they can be the exact opposite: reclusive and apparently unresponsive at the best of times. They may even appear ignorant. Some are very good at blocking out others and that’s not always a bad thing, at least for the learning empath struggling with a barrage of emotions from others, as well as their own feelings.
Empaths have a tendency to openly feel what is outside of them more so than what is inside of them. This can cause empaths to ignore their own needs. In general an empath is non-violent, non-aggressive and leans more towards being the peacemaker. Any area filled with disharmony creates an uncomfortable feeling in an empath. If they find themselves in the middle of a confrontation, they will endeavour to settle the situation as quickly as possible, if not avoid it all together. If any harsh words are expressed in defending themselves, they will likely resent their lack of self-control, and have a preference to peacefully resolve the problem quickly.
Empaths are sensitive to TV, videos, movies, news and broadcasts. Violence or emotional dramas depicting shocking scenes of physical or emotional pain inflicted on adults, children or animals can bring an empath easily to tears. At times, they may feel physically ill or choke back the tears. Some empaths will struggle to comprehend any such cruelty, and will have grave difficulty in expressing themselves in the face of another’s ignorance, closed-mindedness and obvious lack of compassion. They simply cannot justify the suffering they feel and see.
People of all walks of life and animals are attracted to the warmth and genuine compassion of empaths. Regardless of whether others are aware of one being empathic, people are drawn to them as a metal object is to a magnet! They are like beacons of light.
Even complete strangers find it easy to talk to empaths about the most personal things, and before they know it, they have poured out their hearts and souls without intending to do so consciously. It is as though on a sub-conscious level that person knows instinctively that empaths would listen with compassionate understanding.
Here are the listeners of life. Empaths are often problem solvers, thinkers, and studiers of many things. As far as empaths are concerned, where a problem is, so too is the answer. They often will search until they find one–if only for peace of mind.
Written by Christel Broederlow Copyright (c) 2002 Christel Broederlow Shortened Version from The Empath Report 101
Cate went to Haiti, not once but twice, to work with a medical mission. While this was an organized group with much experience and a committed team, it was not without risk to health and safety, Haiti is a country in crisis and has much human suffering and pain. The first time she suggested she might go I adamantly, vehemently opposed such a thing and was laughingly ignored with a perfunctory back rub and a “ you worry too much” as she started filling out forms and introducing me to words like Dengue Fever and Sawyer filters. The second time I just shrugged my shoulders, sighed heavily and asked if her vaccines were up to date.
She boarded yet another plane with a little wave and swift spin away from her Dad and I three years ago, abrupt in her manner of departure because she could not bare to see her weeping mother. I weep every time I go to the airport and every time I promise myself I won’t and fail. That time she was headed to Med school and the other side of the world and pieces of my heart flew away with her. Fear for her was an understatement, alone in a place I’d never seen on the other side of the world but somehow I found the strength to let her go.
This morning, before my first coffee I might add, she sent another Tsunami of emotion flowing my way. Her GP rotation has in fact turned into a semester in a Methadone clinic. She has been threatened, assaulted by patients, seen all manner of addictions and the devastation they bring to these people lives. Many have mental health issues, were raised in violence and are now violent, suffer depression and suicidal urges, the list is long and dark and sad beyond sadness. She is not thinking as most of us might that she need only survive this place for the allotted time that her Medical School dictates but in fact this may be a path she might continue to follow. I am verklempt’, afraid and fearful of course. I argue with her “ she’s a female and personal safety is paramount, she’s too young, she’s a diabetic, her heart will be broken a million times over, her sorrow will grow too big for herself and pull her under too, it’s the system that needs fixing and she can’t fix every one, she should work with children and social services and save the next generation …”
To all of this I basically get told that “this is interesting, it’s about people who are broken and forgotten and still people who need help.”
“Really Mother,” she says, “ you should volunteer more…”
So I go on with each day, my heart in my hands, my fear ‘kept at bay with frequent face time chats and texts and emails. Heck, I even have snap chat so I can see her face and her Australian adventures when she chooses to share them with me (she’s my only contact).
A woman I know who has no children (or at least I hope she doesn’t have any) recently said to me at a gathering; “ don’t you find children to be such a waste, like they turn into adults after they’ve wrecked your body and consumed your life and they just leave and they’re never thankful. They just seem to suck the life out of everyone I know with kids.”
I was so taken by surprise that I didn’t know how to respond. And I didn’t say anything. I have thought about that more than once since then. I know now, given time to reflect, what I should have said.
“Poor you, who has not enough love in your soul to understand that a child brings joy, in a multitude of moments and dimensions that you cannot begin to fathom. Poor you that you feel entitled enough to diminish the love a parent has for their children with your selfish and critical appraisal of the bond that exists between a parent and a child. I do have childless friends who are that way by choice or by fate and I would not presume to understand how they feel or how they perceive their situation, how dare you presume to understand mine?”
To anyone contemplating children or forging their way through the uncharted terrain that each child brings, I salute you and I wish you well.
To my daughter Cate, the intrepid adventurer with the fragile heart and fierce soul, please take care and never lose your convictions but once in a while, go easy on your poor old mother. You grew up way too fast …