by Lindsey Loughrin
He lives in my heart always, but in my house occasionally, and I’m only sometimes his mother by occupation. I take him for awhile when she needs me to, when she throws up her hands and says she just can’t do it right now.
But I’m a better mother than her.
I thought for a long time that if I never said it, I would never have to feel the sadness of it being true, as if I had a dear friend who also just happened to be going blind. It would make her feel better for a minute if I just decided she wasn’t losing her sight at all (because neither of us would want that since we’re sane people) and I could toss her the car keys to show her I had faith in her.
But ignoring it doesn’t make it false, it just makes you more likely to find yourself in an awfully dangerous situation.
So there it is, and I’ll choke it out again: I’m a better mother than her.
Her hands shake endlessly from ancient withdrawals carved into her body for good. My hands are strong when he needs them: to snuggle him when he’s sleepy or tickle his tummy to make him laugh or carry him calmly from the restaurant when he’s having a rough day and needs to kick and scream.
Her heart is tired, crackling dry from thirty-something years of lies and addictions and abuse and the last time she grabbed an old hammer and nailed all the windows shut because she was that scared of his father. My heart is full; it beats steady now from all the years of love given to me by other peoples’ brave good choices and not my own, given to me in a torrent from all sides before I was big enough to wish it or smart enough to choose it.
My eyes are clear from sleeping in peace, clear enough to see how bright his future is. She can hardly lift her eyes from the ground in front of her long enough to get through the day, much less to think about tomorrow.
His father with the deadly fists lives in prison, but his strong-armed, kind-eyed Papa lives at my house. He vaults off the couch and into his arms like a curly headed magnet when he comes home from work, and he loves to hold both of our hands at the same time while he trots across the parking lot or down the sidewalk or anywhere at all.
I’m a better mother than her,
and this truth exists and it’s a painful one to process, but one big truth can shout loud and clear alongside another initially contrasting truth without automatically canceling it out. On this side of paradise we’re always hoping for one good fact to erase a bad one, always looking for ways to make one uncomfortable truth smaller instead of making the space in our hearts big enough to fit them both when they should.
If we are to live the brave lives we want so badly, then the really true things (not to be mistaken for the things we like to pretend are true) must coexist, and they do in time, though their coexistence without the slightest minimization of either seems impossible to us at first.
I am a better mother
but he was made for her.
Because the biggest truth of all is the truth of the Sovereign who lives on a crippled planet alongside us. And if the Way didn’t pull our shared son’s soul from heaven and place it in me to grow and be born, and the Truth didn’t see fit to birth him in another then place him in my arms for good, and Life Himself didn’t deem that either of those inherently holy paths to motherhood are mine by nature or mine by law and grace to fight for, then still and with open acknowledgement of all of this, he is meant for her and not for me, and I will honor that truth with my whole heart, because she is a person, she is my friend, and she is not perfect, but she deserves that.
It is fully true that I am a better mother than her, and there are many things I can give him that she cannot. While he has what he needs in some sense, the life of abundance and joy and boring consistency that I wish for him is not mine to bestow everyday, in and out, sunup to sundown.
I’m a better mother than her, but she is his mother.
If I avoid them because it is too painful for me to admit to myself that most – most – children in this world who are not horribly abused must still grow up in circumstances that we find imperfect, sleeping in technically safe but sad, difficult homes, homes that make us weep in our cars when we drive away after visits, then we all are lost to the tyrannical distancing falsehood that love exists in cleanliness and perfection, that hope lives in great preschool opportunities and new toddler bedding ensembles and not in the inextinguishable God-spirit that sparks in the hearts of humans.
This is the holy imprint that brings heroic leaders and world shakers out of the dust, not because they had darling sepia-toned childhoods, but because someone reached out a hand and pulled them up for love, calling to that truth that lived in their hearts from the very beginning and waited quietly to be explained until the time was right.
And just like my friend needs me to acknowledge her blindness as a thing about her that influences her driving skills but doesn’t define her personhood, his mother needs me to fully acknowledge her weaknesses—the ones she chose and the ones she didn’t—in order to offer her the best of my strengths.
There are amazing parents who came from nothing, who craft glorious lives for their kids with no example to look to. I am not one of those people, so it is not mine to be smug or condeming. It is mine to be clear eyed and honest when I see terrifying things, it is mine to dial 911 when I need to and mine to open my arms and shut my mouth when I need to, mine to be the serpent and the dove, fully aware and fully the love, denying the lie that one lives better without the other, denying the biggest lie that we live better without each other.
She is his mother, and they belong to each other in a way that I will bless in order to bless the One who made it so. I will teach her what I know, I will give her what I can, I will focus on the fact that I wasn’t made to fix the world, but I was given a chance to love a child who needs me to set aside expectations and easy answers in order to love him with my best self. This little child isn’t meant to be mine permanently by nature or by divine ordination, this little child was not born in one place and taught love in another by accident, this little child leads us.