“MY MOM THOUGHT I WAS CANCER”

I love my son. Silly, don’t we all love our children? He was what we would call a surprise. Twenty-two years ago, I had a pap smear that showed some “pre-cancerous cells”. (Sidebar: Every pap smear since then has shown the same thing. So I question their value.) I had a rather thorough “scraping” done. Then a little over twenty-one years ago, I went back to the Doctor with some issues and I was pretty sure this was it, the big C. The Doctor ran a battery of tests, including the one always run if you are of child bearing age – even if you are sure there is not a chance in hell… He called me the next day and told me to sit down. Hooooo, wow, I’m thinking “I can’t believe he is gonna tell me I am gonna die over the phone”…. I braced myself. “You are pregnant.”  Ummmm… Ahhhhh… This was a bit more shocking than hearing I was going to die. Years later, my son, who had overheard me telling someone about this experience, told a friend that I had thought he was cancer. Cancer might have been a bit less shocking. First, I thought I could not get pregnant again – even before the rather thorough scraping. Second, I was not married to the child’s father who was across the ocean in Ireland. Third, I was still legally married to someone I did not want to be married to. A bit of a conundrum.

My then nine year old daughter was sitting on my bed with me when I got the news. Lucky for the baby… I did not have any options. I have mixed feelings about abortion. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. But that is some other, theoretical, woman. Not me. If I fell down a flight of stairs and had a miscarriage, I might be able to say, oh well… But to willfully go and do it… There was little joy in my early pregnancy. But my daughter, Brigid, was over the moon. She claimed “her” baby from that first day. Other than very messy diapers, no one was allowed to touch her baby, I was informed. When I went for my sonogram, I said don’t tell me, don’t show me. Brigid of course had a private consult and got the sonogram images for the baby book. If I had the brains I was born with, I would have realized why she was so excited on the ride home. She would never have been so excited about a girl – another girl would be competition.

A boy. Of course, I finally gave in and let Brigid tell me. She was bursting with the news. I was even more floored than by the news that I was pregnant. I could not imagine having a boy. After the death of my father, I grew up in an all female household. I have a half brother but he was an adult by the time I was born. A close friend of mine, a nun, exclaimed I must be so excited. I informed her that people who said they did not care if it was a boy or a girl were lying as far as I was concerned. If I must have a baby, I had wanted a girl. Then one day I was in K-Mart when they announced a blue light special in the baby department. I bought a pair of green Oshkosh overalls, a shirt with airplanes on it, and a pair of tiny topsiders. I was suddenly in love with my son. I named him Tony that day. I was walking around The Gulf View Square Mall when I hemorrhaged. I had to spend the rest of my pregnancy off my feet. Suddenly I was terrified at the thought of losing this baby.

Tony was born via c-section on September 28, 1989. He was a month early and 7 lbs. 14 oz. He was the ugliest child I had ever seen. He had been predicted to arrive a month later at well over 10 lbs. So his skin kinda hung off him like a Chinese Shar-Pei. And he was yellow. And he had hands as big as baseball gloves. Of course he was on death’s door and no one told me. My daughter was handicapped and because of all I had been through with her, my Doctor was reluctant to tell all. My mother called him “the poor lad” and it stuck. But in the end it all worked out and my ugly baby grew into a handsome, amazing toddler. Of course he was still called “the poor lad” for several years!

Tony was always unusual. As soon as he had a clean bill of health, I packed my bags to head back to Ireland. On the way I made many stops – via train – up the East Coast – I was flying out of Boston. He met his Aunt in Virginia and was dismayed to discover you could not be always naked as in Florida. Putting clothes on him was a major trial every day. That damn snow suit could take a half an hour of wrestling. In Rhode Island, I met my BFF at Excellent Pizza on Reservoir Avenue (at Roger Williams). She held him and played with him and said, “I don’t know what ‘IT’ is, but he has ‘IT’. That was a sentiment I was to hear again and again through the years. One friend said, “He’s been here before – no really, I mean it, he’s been here before!” But I think it was Tony himself who ultimately described himself the best. When he was about three, I had pneumonia (an annual occurrence). Tony had a little pedal tractor with a trailer attachment. We kept the turf (heating method used in Ireland) in a shed at the end of the driveway. I had no “man around the house” so I daily had to lug as much turf as possible up to the back door. Tony started making trips up and down the driveway bringing up three pieces or so of turf each trip. He would take up a large piece of his day, every day, while I was sick. One of my good friends told him what a wonderful son he was. He looked up at her and said (in all seriousness), “I’m just a man… who drives a tractor.”

Yep, that’s my Tony.

Don’t get me wrong, it has not all been roses. He has never forgiven me for moving to the US. Although, when I recently brought up the possibility of moving back to Ireland, he told me I had left it too long. Hey, I understand. He has friendships and a very good job – which he would never find back in Ireland at the moment. And despite being extremely bright, school has always been a trial – in one way or another. First it was having taken him away from his beloved teacher in Ireland, Mrs. Conway. Then it was dealing with the size and noise level in the school in Florida. As he said, “They have rules Mommy, they just don’t follow them.” Once he adapted to the noise and the crowds, we had a mostly happy stretch of three years because he just loved the teacher that stayed with his “pod” for the first three years. Except for math. When Tony was three you could say to him, “What is 3+4-2X5+7-6?” and off the top of his head he would answer (wait while I get my calculator), “26”. He had learned his tables like all Irish school children by the time he was in preschool, listening to the older kids in his two room school house. But in Florida, they expected him to show his work, cross out, carry, even started them off by counting on their fingers. They refused to accept him doing it in his head. Tony is very stubborn. He was not going along with such nonsense and he has had a life long hatred of math since then. Then he moved up to the next “pod”. The teacher scared the hell out of him. I told him as long as he did his work and obeyed, he had nothing to fear. But it was tears and agony every evening. The kid was living in fear. Tony never liked raised voices – even if they were not raised at him. I finally had to go to the school to get him moved. I don’t like to do that kind of thing, he had to learn to adapt. But I was working and dealing with issues with his sister in school – she was at fault not the teachers, walking devil that one. Well, it was out of the frying pan into the fire. The only other option turned out to be worse. This old battle axe threw things. Like large, heavy, hard covered books. Aimed directly at the student. These were 3rd – 6th grade kids. When I went to the principal, after she had hit the student next to Tony in the head, I was told that they had such a shortage of qualified teachers, they had to take what they could get. This lead to the happiest year and a half of schooling. Home schooling. Thanks to my mother and under the direction of an excellent school in mid Florida that was too far to commute to. Tony moved so far ahead of grade level that when he did return to school again, up in Rhode Island, he was always a problem – due to extreme boredom. Tony has always been a sponge when it comes to knowledge. He came home from school one day all upset about a failing grade on a paper when he was eleven. He had done this paper in one night. I would have been proud to hand it in as a final term paper in high school. And I went to Classical so I was no academic slouch. It was all about Henry Ford, the Industrial Revolution and the production line. I do not believe in helping kids with school projects so my only assistance had been to drag out boxes of still packed encyclopedias. I went to school to ask the teacher what was wrong. She explained the assignment for Tony had been to write one paragraph on Henry Ford. And as good as this paper had been, he had to learn to do the assignment. I agreed. But Tony still hasn’t and that caused school to be a torture for him. After two and a half years of misery in college, I finally had no choice but to relent and let him drop out – on the condition he find a job he could support himself with. Given the current economy, I didn’t think I had to worry about him finding a satisfactory job. He promptly went out and got a better job than I had. That’s Tony.

Then of course there are the not so great genetically predisposed bad qualities that make it not always roses. He has a terrible temper and when in a temper does not take the time to think about the consequences of his actions. And of course there is a fondness for the drink. Of course genes gave him good qualities too. His good looks. His fantastic sense of humor and the ability to tell a joke or a story. His charm. His love of music and his “ear”. He can pick up an instrument and start playing it – with no training. And he loves to dance. He is fiercely loyal. I suppose I have just described the prototype Irish man. He is very proud to be Irish.

Of course there is the break in his heart that will never heal. The loss of his beloved Brigid when he was ten. He was her baby, just as she had said. Hers and hers alone. She coached his soccer team, she bullied him, she loved him. She was his world. And once she was gone, he was left with me. A very poor second who had very little clue how to mother this unique individual. We have struggled through the last ten years, two lost souls, clinging to the only other person each other had. And in spite of me, as we approach his twenty-first birthday, I see what a wonderful young man he has become.

I love my son. Very much.

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