I was born crooked. I was a C-section baby, and the oxygen apparatus did not work in the delivery room, so the doctor had to give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to save my life. The time without oxygen must have caused the Cerebral Palsy brain damage. My whole left side was affected: smaller, weaker, crooked left arm and leg.
When Evan, my youngest son, at age five asked me, “Momma, are you handicapped?” The query caught me off-guard, but I calmly answered, “Well, yes, I suppose I am.” He accepted this fact, then thoughtfully added,“ But you’re just a lil bit handicapped, right?”
So I feel fortunate that I’m “just a lil’ bit” affected by C. P., yet I am still always aware of my crooked self.
So how ironic is life when three years ago Casey, my middle son, had a horrendous accident (at age 20), and now his left arm won’t fully straighten and he has lost some mobility in his left side? He, like me, has become a bit crooked.
Is not all love, especially mother-child love, somewhat crooked?
Mothers travel a truly crooked road. We begin the journey with quintessential closeness: breast-feeding and a connection that keeps us from sleeping through the night. We even convince ourselves our children are safe.
Then God laughs and shoves the reality of the precariousness of parenthood in our faces. “You think you are SAFE. Ha! Here’s an ear infection with a 102 fever. How about an asthma attack? Or a drug-related hellish accident?” Anytime that tight mother/child bond is fractured, we start to curse the heavens. “Why me?” Our journey of love takes a sudden hairpin turn or it hits a pot hole, or a sudden speedtrap, or a dense fog. The possibilities are endless.
And since mothers have indomitable spirits and bearlike bravery and superhero strength, we maneuver these highway dangers and we fight to keep our most precious loved ones protected. Surviving these inevitable pitfalls of motherly love tightens that mother/child closeness, no matter how old our child may be.
Casey from birth has been my rough and tumble child. He was born so fast I couldn’t get the epidural I so wanted, and his face was bruised and smashed-looking. At age two, he got stitches in his forehead. At four–staples at the back of his head. At seven–more stitches. At thirteen, a broken arm. At fifteen–staples again. Later came the drinking, pot-smoking, speeding tickets, and DWI. The girlfriend drama and the pill problem followed.
On November 30, 2010, the whole teenage mess culminated around midnight when Casey fell 40 feet from a highway overpass. At 6AM the next morning a passing jogger found him, unconscious, on a grassy patch of ground.
To this day Casey does not remember everything that led up to his fall, except that he had taken over 20 Xanax. He shattered his pelvis, broke every bone in his left arm, fractured two vertebrae, and sustained severe internal injuries (including a collapsed lung and a damaged section of his colon that had to be cut out).
Miraculously he had no head injuries.
I spent countless hours in the hospital: helping arrange Casey’s eight-plus pillows around his many broken parts, watching several seasons of Always Sunny in Philadelphia as a distraction from the pain and the boredom, making special smoothies his stomach would tolerate, learning about wound care, pampering him like when he was my bouncing baby boy. After six weeks in the hospital and twelve different surgeries, Casey came home in a body brace and with a partially-open stomach wound.
Today Casey is fine and living on his own, but he is still my rough and tumble boy. That dark, twisted nightmare of his accident has somehow toughened our mother-son connection. I remember walking into his hospital at 6 AM once and Casey, sleeping with nuts and bolts sticking out of his arm, opened his eyes, smiled, and said it was “wonderful” when I arrived before he woke up. Those long hours in the hospital, a mixture of shared silences and sudden heart-to-heart revelations, have made us better understand each other.
When we accept life’s crooked, rough side as much as we treasure life’s straight, smooth moments, then we more fully understand the mystery and wonder of love … even when it’s crooked.
I do not resent or hate my or my son’s crookedness, nor do I need to fix it.
From the allure of a crooked grin to the loveliness of a crooked curl, I embrace my crooked love.
Ginger Keller Gannaway is a Cajun gal who has lived in Texas for the past 30 years. Even though teaching high school English both challenges and inspires her, she believes her three beautiful grown sons (Shane, Casey, and Evan) have created her life’s happiest and proudest moments.
Photo: Erik Söderström