“Happy Mother’s Day, Ladies”, Mrs. G’s voice rang out strong and southern in the cavernous prison unit, where two hundred women were waking up far away from their babies.
Her voice hit me hard in the chest and I thought of my brown haired boy. His second birthday a month away and there was nothing I could do to get back to him. This is an unimaginable kind of powerlessness. Even when it’s happening to you.
As I type out this memory this Sunday morning in May, my now eight year old boy tucked away in his bedroom watching cartoons, I feel the same feeling in my chest. Constricted, hot, complex.
Even now, I’m acutely aware of the stigma, the judgments, the knee-jerk reaction that occurs when people are faced with the opportunity to be compassionate towards a group of people deemed unworthy for integration in our “polite society.” As if needing to separate ourselves is inherently human. Perhaps, it is. The need to create our own identity construct that is pleasing to the world, a construct that meets our desperate need for acceptance rather than exclusion.
It continues to take a high level of honesty and challenging conversation to guide my son through his increasing awareness of my prison time. Explaining addiction, the drug war and the justice system to a four year old (which is how old he was when he realized I hadn’t just taken an extended vacation to Texas) is a conversation that goes a little beyond the scope of what you expect you may ever have to discuss with your child.
I yearn to help him understand what happened without shame. To offer him the possibility of being able to judge his fellow human beings with a more open mind to individual circumstance and connection rather than harsh light and aversion.
The no shame part is really something when, as a first grader, and starting halfway into the year at a new school, his teacher makes an announcement about some charity work she has done with the local jail and my sweet, innocent little boy, aching to connect to his new classmates, raises his hand and announces that he’s visited a jail as well. When his mother was in one. For dealing drugs. This was his first day there.
I had to schedule a parent teacher meeting the next day. Not exactly the family secrets you hope to use as a lead-in with your new community and the PTA.
Not a Mother’s Day goes by that I don’t think of all the Mothers who can’t be with their children, and the children who don’t understand why. It’s a complicated issue and there is so much more to say, the layers are sometimes so dense it makes me turn away from the writing altogether. This is a story that doesn’t just tell itself.
Today, the flowers, the hand-made card, and the delighted look on his face, that I get to witness – is a blessing that I don’t take for granted. I am humbled and deeply aware of the depth and breadth of what it means to be here, what it means to be a parent, a human and a “member of polite society”.
And that definition is far more expansive than I could have ever imagined.