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Won’t Be Idle With Despair


If I could tell the world just one thing…

The January air was cold, crisp, the sort of Chicago winter that seared your boogers to the insides of your nose and made your eyes water, your tears freezing as soon as they emerged from your tear ducts. I was just crossing the river, the grey of the cold January afternoon oppressively suffocating me as I noted the chunks of ice floating down the river. I wished I could fall down there with them, and wake up to a new day, a new life.

I was driving my dad’s old car, the roads wet and icy, the salt making a jaunty click-click sound against the bottom of my red Acura Integra, the one I’d inherited to replace my del Sol for something, well, with a backseat. A backseat that held one tiny infant, with a shock of black hair who squalled and cried, even as we drove. I hadn’t slept in days. To keep me awake, and to drown out the sound of my tiny sons wails, I put on one of my most favorite Christmas albums.

….it’d be that we’re all okay.

I was baffled by my new baby.

His dislikes included me, air, food, being touched, the world, gravity, the universe, and, well, life. Babies are supposed to love this shit, right? If babies are supposed to love this shit, then it’s clearly some character flaw of mine that he couldn’t even look me in the eyes.

In 2001, autism wasn’t The Thing – no one walked, or ran, for a cure – no one really knew much about it. And I certainly didn’t suspect that he had a problem.

He was just…temperamental. And he probably sensed that I was a bad mother, a piece of shit person, and could tell that he’d drawn the shitty card when he was born to me.

In the end, only kindness matters.

My heart was as heavy and oppressive, like my mood.

I’d waddled back home at twenty, pregnant with my young son, tail between my proverbial legs. My parents graciously allowed me back into their home and helped me set up a nursery for him, but, like any other kind deed, this one came with strings so long that I nearly hung myself on them. And my son’s father, angry that I’d had the audacity to get pregnant while on birth control, (while we get along now) well, he wasn’t particularly kind to me.

The last person I recalled being truly kind to me was one of the nurses in the hospital as she wheeled me out to the car with my new baby.

Five months before.

Not to worry, because worry is wasteful and useless in times like these.

Since I could recall, I’d dreamed of going to medical school and becoming a doctor. I’d never considered having children, never thought that I’d be a parent but here I was. And there he was.

I couldn’t figure out what next. If I wanted a life with my son, I’d have to give up on the only dream I’d ever known – becoming a doctor. If I didn’t want a life with my son, well, I could go to medical school, see him on weekends and in between rotations, living with my parents until I was forty, but despite his dislike of me, I was pretty fond of the little guy.

Stuck between a rock and a bigger rock, the future a black question mark of yawning uncertainty, I drove aimlessly around, trying to make the kid sleep, trying to outrun my demons, trying to figure out what next.

I won’t be made useless.

I’d never not had a plan before. It was like waking up to realize I’d lost the right half of my body. I’d dreamed of medical school since I was a toddler – the dream was over. But what to fill it with?

I didn’t have that answer. I didn’t know where to look for an answer. I didn’t know what to do next. The emptiness was overwhelming.

My hands are small I know, but they’re not yours, they are my own.

Everywhere I turned, someone else was telling me what to do. What not to do. How I was ruining my child. How I needed to do this or that. How I shouldn’t ever think of doing this again. I was twenty-one – there was no one in my corner telling me that I could do it if I just got all EYE OF THE MOTHERFUCKING TIGER about it.

I’ll gather myself around my fears.

Maybe I wasn’t the most qualified of people to raise my son; maybe my brother and sister-in-law were (my mother had asked them if they’d adopt my son should I “go off the rails on a crazy train”). Maybe he was better off without me. But he wasn’t going to get that chance. Whether he liked it or not, I was going to parent the SHIT out of him. I was gonna get him a family and we were going to make it.

For light does the darkness most fear.

The dark days outnumbered the light ones for a good long time. I had to learn to smile and nod as I was told that I was doing a bad job at parenting. Every jab, every poke, every complaint about me, I learned to smile and nod. “Yes, that’s right, I am a bad mother, you’re so right.” I ground my teeth into nubs and smiled.

Soon, my path veered dramatically. I entered nursing school, found a new plan and met the man I would marry. The man who would encourage me, after only reading emails I’d sent, to write.

I won’t be made useless.

Maybe my “plan” was gone – so what? The world was a big place – plenty of room for new plans. I would not be made useless. I would do something to make my small boy proud. I’d get him the family he needed, I’d get away from his father, and I’d give him the siblings that helped the autistic child emerge from his own world to join ours.

I did. I found my words as he found his, and together we were able to carve out a new plan – a better plan.

I won’t be idle with despair.

There have been months, years full of despair, sadness. My heart, however, has never been as empty as it was that day, crossing the mighty Fox River, me against the world. If I could tell my former self that day that, “hey, your life will be nothing like you thought it would be, but that’s okay,” I would. I’d give that girl a hug. I’d let her know that it was okay to be scared. It was okay to feel weak and powerless because, well, she was.

But not deep inside. Deep inside, there was a drive, a dream, to become more. To be better. To do something with herself.

And she has.

And I will.

I am never broken.

21 Comments to

“Won’t Be Idle With Despair”

  1. On May 24th, 2012 at 11:45 am amy Says:

    Wow. Good for you. Your son is lucky to have you for his Mom. <3

  2. On May 24th, 2012 at 11:55 am Ewokmama Says:

    You’re awesome. You’re a great mother!

  3. On May 24th, 2012 at 11:57 am Scroogy Says:

    Aw… Aunt Becky! You rock. Hard.

  4. On May 24th, 2012 at 12:00 pm Stacey Says:

    That was amazing and beautiful and inspiring. You found your words indeed.

  5. On May 24th, 2012 at 12:49 pm thepsychobabble Says:

    powerful story. (hugs)

  6. On May 24th, 2012 at 1:42 pm Bubbe Says:

    What Scroogy said!

  7. On May 24th, 2012 at 2:09 pm Betty M Says:

    Awesome as always Aunt B.

  8. On May 24th, 2012 at 2:12 pm Kerry Ann (aka vinobaby) Says:

    Beautifully written (frozen boogers and all). I hope all those feelings felt as freeing flowing out while you wrote this as they felt trapping, terrifying at the time. Catharsis, baby. Be strong. See you on the flip side.

  9. On May 24th, 2012 at 3:24 pm Colleen Says:

    They need to tell high school graduates that at commencement: “hey, your life will be nothing like you thought it would be, but that’s okay.”

    Would get them so much further than that “you are the future” BS.

  10. On May 24th, 2012 at 4:01 pm Becca Says:

    I am amazed at your strength.

  11. On May 24th, 2012 at 4:12 pm Wendy Says:

    I am awed by your strength and tigress love. You made me weep.

  12. On May 24th, 2012 at 5:17 pm Cindy DuBois Says:

    Thank you for writing this. My situation is entirely different but the sentiment is the same, “i won’t be made useless.” You are one of the bravest women I know because you are so brutally honest. It makes others of us know that we too can get EYE OF THE MOTHERFUCKING TIGER and claim our power and our purpose. I send you great heaps of love.

  13. On May 24th, 2012 at 5:57 pm Lisa Says:

    I don’t think anyone’s life turns out like they thought it would. I just can’t see how any teenager or young adult can possibly see that far. There are so many possible detours or just plain potential jumps in the track. So many possibilities. And that is what I see when I look at my children.. worlds of possibility. Not in the idealistic way one might have. May one of them turn out to be a lawyer? Perhaps. Or perhaps a business owner. Or an artist. Or a politician. Or in marketing. Who knows? I am beginning to see those worlds of possibility in everyone I know.. You never can tell where a person will ‘end up’ because life isn’t a destination. Just as the seasons change gradually into each other and none are a destination.. merely what is at any given *right now*, such is life. My teacher parents didn’t stay teachers. I didn’t stay in my field (which was nothing like what I thought I’d do in highschool or younger.) My only wish and prayer for my children is that they be happy and know that they are loved. My only hope for you, your family, and humanity is that you be happy and know that you are loved.

  14. On May 24th, 2012 at 7:01 pm Inelegant Life Says:


    “He was just…temperamental. And he probably sensed that I was a bad mother, a piece of shit person, and could tell that he’d drawn the shitty card when he was born to me.”

    Is exactly what I thought for 16 fucking years. And what I was told! I no longer believe it. And neither should you!

    If I could help 1/100th of the people you’ve helped I would be so very happy. You and the Band are among the top 10 best things to happen in my life. THANK YOU!

  15. On May 24th, 2012 at 11:16 pm Niki Says:

    Aunt Becky, you have just described the way I feel almost every day. I have been divorced for 1 1/2 yrs now, and while I now see that the jerk ripped my heart out so i could find myself again, I am a struggling single mom trying her hardest to finish school and be a teacher while not making enough to buy gas when I’m on E. There are times I feel so alone and hollow. With the ex looking for any and eery reason to attempt to get custody(he has no grounds for it other that to be a royal ass) it is a constant dark cloud that hangs over me. Thank you for giving me hope at a time when i desperately need it.

  16. On May 25th, 2012 at 1:48 am Devan Says:

    What amazing writing!! You rock AB!

  17. On May 25th, 2012 at 7:06 am gramps Says:


  18. On May 25th, 2012 at 7:09 am Starle Says:

    Wonderful post AB. I adore you so very much!

  19. On May 25th, 2012 at 9:05 am kelly fox Says:

    This was so honest. So from the gut honest, that is so rarely seen or heard. Thank you for sharing your life with us. Your bravery in doing so is amazing.

  20. On May 31st, 2012 at 8:56 pm Katie Says:

    ‘Hands’ by Jewel has always been a favorite of mine and I really like how you used the lyrics here. Very strong and heartfelt post.

  21. On June 6th, 2012 at 12:07 am Kate Says:

    Surprise motherhood is not an easy gift to get. I loved this. Hard.

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