Parenting is so weird. You just have sex, a baby is made. Then one day you go to the hospital and give birth to a tiny human that the hospital lets you take home. Even if you are only seventeen years old and are an only child who has never held a baby or changed a diaper in your life. And just like that you are responsible for making sure this tiny person does not grow up to add to the number of assholes in this world. You also have to make sure they eat good food, grow up healthy, do not wreck their car or become a drug addict. It is really a lot when you think about it because really, you just wanted your baby daddy to like you, you were not really prepared for parenthood. But here you are and suddenly looking the window of your seventh floor hospital room holding your newborn baby, you are scared of heights.
There are all kinds of books to help you get ready for a baby, a toddler and even teens. But there are hardly any books on how to parent adult children. What happens when you reach the point in life where they are adults and do not have to listen to shit you say? What happens when they are old enough to make all their own choices but because you have been their mom their entire life, you know they are stupid. Not like, stupid stupid, but just too stupid to do things that land them responsible for another human life when all they wanted was a little love and sex seemed like the way to get that. You know, like you did when you became their MOTHER.
There are not many books on how to handle parenting adult children. How to respect your adult children, keep quiet when they are finding their way in the world and swerving on the road of life. Discerning when to say something and when to just let them find their way. It is not easy to know when to let them fall and when to swoop in and save the day. It is an entirely new phase in life and there are so many variables. But at least you can watch others and talk about this new phase in parenthood.
Parenting a dead child is a totally different story.
There are no “what to expect when your child dies” books. There are grief books and there are now even people on Instagram who are being open and honest about what it looks like to mourn a child. There are support groups too. But there are no books explaining how to navigate through the questions that come when one of your children dies.
How do you answer questions like “How many kids do you have?” or even “How old is *insert name of dead kid here*?”. Do you keep them the age they were when they died or do you keep adding to that number with each birthday. Do you even celebrate their birthday after they die and if so, what does that look like? Who is in charge of keeping up their grave? For Catholics, do you go to every mass offered for them? It is an obligatory mass or do people get to decide if they want to go?
All of these are things that come up and each one of them is
a blow to your grief. And you figure them all out blind with no roadmap because
nobody has written one.
A few years before Anthony’s suicide I went on a road trip across the country to Philly to see Pope Francis. There were many times on this trip that I was driving and did not know what to expect ahead of me because I had never travelled these roads before. I was so scared and it was really bad for a control freak like me to let go and surrender to the road ahead of me. In West Virginia I lost my shit and had to pull over to pull myself back together and wait out the rain. In hindsight that trip is a lot like the journey of Grief that I am on now since losing Anthony to suicide.
I am scared and I lose my shit a lot to the point of pulling over and taking a timeout before getting back on the road. I know where I am going, that is to do my best to get to heaven and pray Anthony is there for me when I get there, but the in-between is full of unfamiliar territory. Sometimes the road is dark and winding in front of me which scares the shit out of me but then the sun comes out and I get a grip.
I have decided to always say I have four kids because I do.
Anthony is still my child. I also say that he is 25 years old because no matter
what, Anthony still IS and the years still go by. Time is a tool for the living
and I am still alive so I will use it. I am his mother so I take responsibility
of keeping up his grave and we have dinner as a family on his birthday where we
let his children blow out the candles on his cake for him. He mattered. His
life was a gift and that is what we celebrate on his birthday. It is not easy.
To be honest, it tears me up inside, but Anthony’s life is worth celebrating.
The most important lesson I learned though is that just how I figured out how
to be his mother even though I was seventeen and had no experience with babies
is how I will figure out how to be his mother now that he is dead. Both
situations are fueled by one thing: the love I have for my child as his mother.
That lives on.
Last night I laid in bed and my stomach itched. I went to scratch it and for the first time since you died I touched the stretch mark I got when I was pregnant with you. With each one of your brothers and your sister it got bigger but it started when I was about eight months pregnant with you. I looked in the mirror at my 16 year old body and saw it. I was mortified. A STRETCHMARK!
I remember the feel of your knobby baby knees scraping against the inside of my body. I would watch you flip around in there for hours. I had never felt less alone in my entire life. I would talk to you and tell you about my day even though you were with me the whole time so you already knew what had happened. I could also tell when the body part that was making an appearance was your tiny butt because it had a certain look to it that was different than your knees. It would make me laugh. I was st my absolute happiest when I was pregnant with you. You saved my life. I told you that a million times while you were alive and I never really could tell you why I felt that way because the words would escape me. But you made me a mom and you also became my side kick. I had been so alone before you came along.
I sit here thinking about your entire life. I do not just mourn the man you were the day you died, I mourn the baby in my womb. I mourn the newborn who was so tiny I could lay you in the space made when I sat indian style. I mourn the six month old who I would put in a car seat and take driving around to show everyone how cute my baby was. I mourn the adventurous you, the you that hated my boyfriend and threw away my cell phone. The you that shaved off your eyebrows and got your brother to do it too. I mourn the you that was strong and encouraging. Maybe I depended on that you too much and that’s what made you sick.
I mostly mourn the you that lit up when you looked at your children. The dad you was by far the best version of you.
I love you so much Anthony. I will miss you forever.
As I native Texan, I do not say “The Border” and in fact I think that term has been coined by the media and it reduces this entire part of Texas that has its own culture and beauty. I get that the US/Mexico border is long and goes past Texas, but still. In Texas we call this part of our great state “The Valley” which is short for The Rio Grande Valley. People from there just say RGV. But never in my life have I heard it called “The Border” and I honestly would be so pissed to see it called that if I was from there.
I grew up in South Texas which is about three hours from The Valley which is weird because you would think that would be South Texas since it is the most southern part of the state. But Texas is huge.
It was not uncommon for my Tio Roy and Tia Mary to help people who had crossed the border and were on foot or hitchhiking from The Valley through their town to go further north. My Tio had a police scanner and sometimes when he heard that the police were after someone who was suspected to be here “illegally”, he would get in his truck and go see if he could find them, give them water and a ride past the county line. My Tia had storage rooms full of donations that she would give to people in need, a lot of them were Mexicans who had crossed the border looking for a better life for their family. These were things that I saw happen my entire life. People have been crossing the border in The Valley for as long as I have been alive and even before then. They have also been dying in the Rio Grande and the desert as long as I can remember.
My son’s biological grandfather was one of those people who crossed the border illegally looking for a better life and he did just that. He worked hard and he raised his family. He was also a Deacon in the Catholic Church and served his community his entire life here in America. He became a Citizen when Anthony was around four or five years old.
I am telling you all of this information because for me, the issue of immigration is an issue that has been a part of my life since before I was born. My first published words were in a letter to the Editor for the Amarillo Newspaper about the issue of immigration and the Government’s failure to fix a broken Immigration system.
My family worked in the fields of the Texas Panhandle and often my grandfather could not find work for his family of American citizens because those jobs were taken by people who crossed here illegally for work and would work for cheaper than my grandfather would. My family also thought that our citizenship made us better than people who came here illegally. Part of that is rooted in history considering that we are Tejanos and the whole -point of Tejanos was that we did not want to be Mexican. This is a real fact that most people do not know since Tejano culture has all but died except for the newly discovered love everyone has for Selena. Hispanics do not publicly discuss this issue in our community though or how so many of the officers working in border patrol or in detention centers are Hispanics and why. We just skip over that part but it is important to note when discussing the “racism at the border” because ya’ll, it is not a bunch of white border patrol agents who are working down there, it is mostly hispanics. We have fallen for the lie that if we are born a few miles north of the river that we are somehow better than those seeking to come here for safety or a better life. I have never understood this at all but it is a reality in the Hispanic/Latino community.
So going to McAllen came with a lot of historical, cultural and trauma based baggage for me. As Hispanic mother who has seen person after person say that these mothers bringing their kids into the US to flee danger are at fault for the way their children are being traumatized and in some cases dying due to conditions in detention centers, it was difficult for me to shake the feeling that I was driving my child into danger and if something happened to him it would be my fault. I was raised by a worrier who saw a lot of shitty things happen to Hispanics.
My mother grew up in a time when she was not allowed into spaces that had signs saying “no Mexicans allowed” and even though we were not Mexican, white people did not care about truth and considered us Mexicans since we were brown and spoke Spanish. (for those of you confused: Native Americans and Spaniards make brown babies that grow up speaking Spanish. That does not always mean Mexican.) So I have an inherent fear of border patrol and especially in a time when the president of this country is tweeting the kind of racist statements I have heard all my life telling women of color to go back to the country they came from. Spoiler: I belong in this country, especially the state of Texas, more than most of the racists who use that line on me. My great grandmother was full blooded Native American from Texas before it was even Texas meaning way way before it was part of the United States of America. As far as I am concerned it is Trump that can go back to where his family came from because my family came from right here.
My point is that I had a lot of anxiety taking my son down there. I had not ever been further south than Corpus Christi Texas. That was intentional. Everyone who knows me knows that I do not go anywhere south enough that I am going to have to go through a border patrol checkpoint to come back. All the nopes.
When we reached the respite center there was a lot going on in the street and there was no parking. I thought “wow, this is great, looks like a lot of people are here to help!” but what I didn’t know at the time is that some members of congress where touring the respite center and holding press conferences there. Here’s my thing. I am tired of seeing members of congress touring detention centers and respite centers and holding pressers. What congress needs to do is do their damn job and start creating solutions to this mess. What is happening now is for sure worse because of Trump’s administration but BOTH parties have failed for decades to create a solution to fix the broken immigration system. It is time for them to get to work, not having photo ops to win elections. It is up to those of us voting for them to hold them accountable. And I mean BOTH PARTIES.
A group of about twenty of us worked for about four or five hours in the Texas heat, which is the worst in the Valley, unloading a semi full of water, diapers, backpacks, socks, shoe strings and other stuff. The people in the semi were boiling but still managed to keep up their spirits. My son Gabe hauled so many loads of supplies on a dolly and put them up for the volunteers of the respite center. The assembly line of people helping to get everything up the conveyor belt was 12 deep. While we probably all disagree on solutions or on who is to blame for this mess, for those few hours, we all worked with one goal in mind and that was to unload this semi and get these supplies into the hands of people who need them. I think that congress can work together as well to help make this crisis better. I also think there is room for pro-lifers and pro-choicers to work together as well to help asylum seekers and work together to hold our leaders accountable. They have used the abortion issue to keep us from working together long enough ya’ll. In the end we all agree that women and children should not be treated like shit, let’s all work together towards that.
One thing that I heard someone say is that we do not even have healthcare or resources to help our own citizens so how can we allow these people in and help them. Considering this came out of the mouth of someone who is pro-life, my thought was that this is what most women who are considering abortion have going on in their mind. I know because I have been in that place three times in my life of finding myself pregnant and thinking “i do not even have enough to take care of myself or the kids I already have, how the hell am I going to manage another child?!”. Guess what? We make room. That is what being pro-life means. That is what being “open to life” means. Open to life isn’t just for pregnancy. We have reduced being “pro-life” to being about stopping abortion when it is so much deeper than that.
Aborting my oldest son would not have solved the issue of poverty. Let’s stop thinking that eliminating the poor is the same as eliminating poverty. Eliminating poverty means building a society where people can work, pay bills, see a doctor and get an education without working four or five jobs. A society that respects the dignity of its citizens is a society where mothers welcome their children into the world. As a brown woman who has had white people tell me that I would not be able to mother my children so I should make the responsible choice to abort them, my opinion is that abortion as the solution to poverty is usually rooted in racism at worst and white privilege at best. But it is for sure not rooted in understanding the strength of motherhood.
These donations are amazing. I was proud to see how much people can do to help others. It was great to work hard in a hot warehouse with people I don’t agree with for a common goal of helping human beings in need. But all of that is a band aid if we keep voting in leaders who are either making these crises worse and/or are not doing their job to fix it. If we do not hold ourselves and our leaders accountable, then people will keep suffering and also children will keep dying.
On the way back I had to go through the border patrol checkpoint. I was so nervous, I had no idea what they would ask for or how the whole thing would go. The border patrol officer asked me where I was going, where I was coming from and what I was doing there. My first instinct was to say that it was none of his business but I already know that is how you make things more difficult for yourself. That is what you learn from a young age as a Hispanic. Which is why I roll my eyes anytime I see anyone say “you have rights”. Yeah, I had the right to tell him I didn’t have to answer him, but that would have gotten me pulled to the side, my car ransacked and taken a few hours out of my day and that is the BEST case scenario. But what surprised me is that when I explained to him what we had been doing he said “so there are still good people in the world”. He was hispanic and looked just like my Tio Roy and was nice to me all things considered.
For so long I had made presumptions about border patrol and they have only gotten worse in the last few weeks. That interaction with this man who was nothing but nice and respectful to me made me check myself and my temptation to dehumanize anyone at all, including border patrol agents. Which to me was the greatest pro-life lesson of the day.
Overall, the Rio Grande Valley is a beautiful part of the state I love so much. I realized it is possible to work with people I disagree with, some of them Trump supporters, for the common good which means that is possible on a bigger scale like congress and I have checked my own assumptions about border patrol as a whole.
As a Catholic sidenote: I went to San Juan and lit a candle for my Tio, Tia and Anthony and got holy water for my mom. It was a great day with my son Gabe which was a blessing since I have come to find so much joy in time with my kids. I am so proud of him for how hard he worked on Saturday. On the way home we stopped at a BBQ place in my Tio’s hometown and as we left there was the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in my life and it felt like maybe God was saying “good job”. Gabe and I went to honor Anthony’s memory and I think we did just that. We will be going back to help at the respite center!