“Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.” – Erma Bombeck
I was going to write about comedy as self-help. Erma Bombeck was certainly funny… but I’d consider her a wit… or humorist. Not a comedian. You know, like Twain. Or Rogers.
But she also understood a basic truth:
“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” -Erma Bombeck
I’d read If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits and laughed my hind end off. In 1983, Bombeck’s Motherhood The Second Oldest Profession came out. By then, I was a young mother of two and soon would be adding another to the mix. I remember wondering what the heck this serious essay-poem-thingy was doing in the book. It didn’t make me laugh at all.
Years later, as I was struggling with a child with special needs, I happened upon it again. It took my breath away.
Here is it:
The Special Mother by Erma Bombeck
Most women become mothers by accident, some by choice, a few by social pressures and a couple by habit.
This year nearly 100,000 women will become mothers of handicapped children. Did you ever wonder how mothers of handicapped children are chosen? Somehow I visualize God hovering over earth selecting his instruments for propagation with great care and deliberation. As He observes, He instructs His angels to make notes in a giant ledger.
“Armstrong, Beth; son. Patron saint…give her Gerard. He’s used to profanity.”
“Forrest, Marjorie; daughter. Patron saint, Cecelia.”
“Rutledge, Carrie; twins. Patron saint, Matthew.”
Finally He passes a name to an angel and smiles, “Give her a handicapped child.”
The angel is curious. “Why this one God? She’s so happy.”
“Exactly,” smiles God, “Could I give a handicapped child to a mother who does not know laughter? That would be cruel.”
“But has she patience?” asks the angel.
“I don’t want her to have too much patience or she will drown in a sea of self-pity and despair. Once the shock and resentment wears off, she’ll handle it.”
“I watched her today. She has that feeling of self and independence that is so rare and so necessary in a mother. You see, the child I’m going to give her has his own world. She has to make him live in her world and that’s not going to be easy.”
“But, Lord, I don’t think she even believes in you.”
God smiles, “No matter, I can fix that. This one is perfect -she has just enough selfishness.”
The angel gasps – “Selfishness? Is that a virtue?”
God nods, “If she can’t separate herself from the child occasionally, she’ll never survive. Yes, here is a woman whom I will bless with a child less than perfect.
She doesn’t realize it yet, but she is to be envied. She will never take for granted a “spoken word”.
She will never consider a “step” ordinary.
When her child says “Mummy” for the first time, she will be present at a miracle, and will know it!”
“I will permit her to see clearly the things I see…ignorance, cruelty, prejudice….and allow her to rise above them. She will never be alone. I will be at her side every minute of every day of her life, because she is doing My Work as surely as if she is here by my side”.
“And what about her Patron saint?” asks the angel, his pen poised in mid-air. God smiles, “A mirror will suffice.”
If you are the mother of a child with special needs, perhaps it will touch your heart, too.
I’m not gonna lie. There are people who are NOT touched by this piece. They think it’s simplistic. They wonder why having a child with disabilities is seen as a gift from God? They wonder where fathers are? They wonder why it’s so religious? They wonder many things. Go look, if you’re interested. There’s lots out there.
It has always had the ability to bring me to tears.
My son (now an adult) was born with neurological disabilities (he wasn’t breathing). Life with him was harrowing, heartbreaking, joyful and frustrating. As a young mom, I felt alone and misunderstood by many people, even those who loved me. My son could be difficult… aggressive… annoying. Nobody understood him. To me, he was always perfect and beautiful.
Reading this piece gave me a sense of comfort.
Yes, I was uncomfortable with the thought that I was “chosen” … but I appreciated that God knew what I was going through. It was more than that, though. I was able to share the poem with friends and family. I wanted my son – and me – to be understood.
Bombeck died many years ago and too young. We lost her important voice. But things like this leave a legacy. I, for one, am thankful for it… and her.