When I was told last year that my 2－year－old son had an illness that threatened his life, I tried to strike a bargain with fate――I would do anything, I would trade my old life away, if only he would get better. We learned that our son would need months of treatment, maybe even a year, before we would know whether he would recover. My husband and I settled into a routine; one night at the hospital, the next night at home to be with our daughter, then right back to the hospital. The days and nights were a blur of medical reports. Fear and despair engulfed me.
I watched the other mothers at the hospital. I saw the mother of the child with cystic fibrosis faithfully administer physical therapy, heard the hollow thump－thump－thump as she pounded the child's chest, her efforts a talisman of dedication, hope and pain. I admired the mother whose infant twins both had cancer and who managed somehow to write thank－you notes to the nurses after the babies' many hospitalizations. I worried that I could not live up to these mothers' heroism. They did what good mothers are supposed to do, what mothers of sick children have to do, and what I did, too.
But I did not feel selfless, the way those other mothers seemed to feel. I was ashamed to admit it, but mingled with my terror and grief. After the first three weeks, we realized we were only at the start of a marathon. The friends who knew me best started telling me I should go back to work. It would be good for you to get a break, they said. I resisted. Good mothers, I thought, do not abandon their sick children for work. Yet when my son's doctor told me he thought it would be fine, that he could E－mail his assessments, I tore myself away.
I could not work a normal schedule――far from it. But as the months of my son's treatment dragged on, he was able to stay out of the hospital for longer periods. My husband and I still took turns at the outpatient clinic or at the hospital. I was lucky that my family and my baby sitter could also relieve me so that my son was never alone.
There were still long stretches when I needed to drop everything to be with him. But to my surprise, I found that going to work when I could eased my sense of helplessness. I could be distracted: there were phone calls and deadlines and a rhythm to be swept into. I could be in control of something.
I felt guilty at first about the solace I took from work. I often wondered what the other mothers thought of me――taking my work clothes to the hospital, showering in the parents' stall after a long night in which we'd heard the cries of all our children.
Eventually, I realized that getting away was good not only for me but for my son and daughter. When my son first became sick, the doctors told me I had to be strong for him. I could not show fear. Somehow I also had to convey confidence to my daughter, to help her endure what had befallen us.
Although I feared that working might be selfish, I could see that it actually seemed reassuring to my children, a sign that we could, for moments at least, return to our routines. Working was a pledge that life could go on. It was a statement of hope.
Once again, as I had so often realized since I had become a mother, I understood how dangerous are the "shoulds" of motherhood, how destructive is society's insistence on one right way to be a good mother. Too many experts tell us that good mothers do not abandon their children to baby sitters. Good mothers prove their devotion by never leaving their children. Yet such rules ignore the truth that mothers are not all alike, that there are many ways to give children what they need and deserve. The rules tell mothers how to act without taking into account how mothers feel and how those feelings will affect their children.
If I had followed the rules, I would have succumbed to terror and failed my children. In the end, this ordeal eased my guilt about leaving my son's side at times. I realized that I, like many others who care for sick people, needed somewhere else to go once in a while to draw breath and find meaning before returning to the work of nursing. For me, my job was that place. For others, it might be someplace else.
My son is recovering now, but I am still too close to his illness to understand fully what lessons I can learn, what meaning I can wrest, from this experience. All I can say is that working when my child was so sick might look wrong from the outside, but on the inside, it helped keep me sane. I grew less intimidated by the other mothers. I allowed myself to see that I was no less dedicated. We were all caring for our children, each in our own way.
2011-03-29 16:27 编辑：kuaileyingyu