Mommy Monday: Sophie’s Choices

Is the name of the 1982 movie that earned Meryl Streep an Academy Award for Best Actress. It has come to be a slang term for an ‘impossible choice.’ Not a difficult one, we all face those every day. But a truly devastatingly…no one wins choice.

I have been planning this blog for weeks. It is especially poignant for parents because of the story line of the movie. If you have not seen it, let me summarize it for you.

Zofia “Sophie” Zawistowski was a Polish immigrant to New York, who had been forced by the Nazis which of her two children lived…and yes, which died. The movie is about the aftermath of her life after that choice (abusive, co-dependent relationship and ultimately suicide).

Admittedly, few of us as parents will ever face a ‘true’ Sophie’s choice.

But most of us will make several over our times as parents. Too often we will not even realize that we are making them. 

I have spent thirty years…well, twenty-eight…doing my absolute best not to be my mother. You see my mother clearly had a favorite child. And it weren’t me.

As a rational adult, I can dispassionately tell you all the reasons why my younger brother was always her favorite. He looked like her and not a mini-me of the man that abandoned her when she was six months pregnant with a two year old. That struggle set her up to bond with the baby which was some kind of you and me against the world thing. I get all that.

But the one that always bothered me most was…he needs me more than you do. 

You see my baby brother was one of the first children in our small city during the mid-70s to have the label ADHD…Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He was one of the first to be put on Ritalin too…a Sophie’s choice that she always regretted. She felt that this prescribed zombie/zoned out feeling became a gate-way drug later in his life.

Of course, as with any Sophie’s choice…my mother had no way of knowing the outcome. You can only make the best of a bad lot with what you know at the time. She trusted the doctors…for better or worse.

Sophie too never knew the outcome of her decision. Did the Nazis really kill her daughter? She did not even have the solace of knowing what became of her son. He too may have died…a slower, more painful death of overwork and starvation.

Like I said…all parents make Sophie’s choices. To stay late at work to finish that ‘big’ project and miss your daughter’s dance recital…something to you that made logical sense could disappoint her so much that she felt you do not love her…could lead to alienation as a teen…then my writer’s brain takes over…drug and alcohol abuse…failed relationships…etc. From something that you did not think was significant.

Put in mathematical terms it is the chaos theory…and all parents know that kids = CHAOS. Children are the ultimate “complex system whose behaviour is highly sensitive to slight changes in conditions, so that small alterations can give rise to strikingly great consequences.” (Google definition of chaos theory)

Or the butterfly effect…

Chaos Theory

Over the past decade, I have faced more than one Sophie’s choice as PanKwake’s mom…more than all my other children combined.

But one thing I try my hardest to teach her in those precious rare ‘learning’ moments is personal responsibility. No one ‘makes’ you act a certain way. You always have choices…even if they are sometimes ‘impossible’ ones!

So let me take this opportunity to accept responsibility for some of mine…

To my mother…I am sorry. We may have many, many reasons for the way things turned out between us…but wherever you are just know…I understand now. I may not like it anymore as a mother than I did as a daughter…but I do UNDERSTAND.

To JalerDasBirdz…Unlike that Sophie, Mommy does not believe in allowing choices to consume us with regrets and rob us of life itself. In fact, my favorite poem by Robert Frost is The Road Not Taken. It says…

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I never made it back…and if I did believe in regrets…that my beloved would be my greatest of them all. You will always be my hardest Sophie’s choice. I hope that one day you can forgive me for that.

To Mere-mere, Mr Stability, Greta, Little Brown Boy and Idiot Savant…I am truly, honestly and deeply sorry. I worked so hard as you all grew up to not be my mother. I know we often joke about who is Mommy’s favorite. I tell you that…I love you all the same and different. And I do.

But as the parents of special needs children must sometimes do…she needed me more. Please know that those are some of the hardest words I have ever said…or perhaps ever will. Facing that truth has been a long journey for me as mother…and daughter.

Know too that I of all people do understand the pain it causes…how unfair it seems that the ‘good’ ones get less attention. I could say that life is not fair…but my heart cries out…IT SHOULD BE!

I cannot even promise you that it will not happen again…it probably will. Hell, we all KNOW that it will. I cannot even say I am sorry…as you will learn like I have…parents simply do the best they can.

But I can say with complete sincerity…I am more sorry than you know that you must share this road with me…that you feel this pain too. I love you and am proud of the men and women that all of you have become.

To my beloved Cookie Monster…I am completely speechless and in awe. As I have told our friends who share this path, we had no choice…autism choose us. Yet you did…and you decided to love us anyway. All I can say is ‘thank you’ and all I can do is my best to make this road as good a journey as possible for us all.

And to my readers…Sophie allowed her choice to rule the rest of her brief life. The other side of that personal responsibility coin that I talked about earlier is…no matter how bad your past decisions have been…each day offers you new ones. You can decide to make better ones…even hard ones.

Life may suck sometimes (too damned often) but love REALLY does make it worth living.



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