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mamma miaBy Freddie Camozzi

When I was 12, my parents announced to my three older siblings and me that they were getting a divorce. My parents had tried reconciling in the past, but with one parent a recovering alcoholic and the other a three-martini ad man, those reconciliations were short-lived.

My siblings were 4, 6 and 10 years older than me, so, for all intents and purposes, I was left alone with my mom. One of the first things my mom did as a newly minted divorcée was take down the leather-framed Bachrach black and white portraits of her children that had been on display in our living room. Shortly after the portraits disappeared, she announced that we were not allowed to call her “Mom” in public. She didn’t want anyone in our small Connecticut town to know how old her children were, by which they could then calculate herage. (After the divorce, she actually drove me to a “children’s hotel” called Piper’s Hill to tour the place where she planned on placing me when she needed some timealone.)

Cards & Flowers

As a youngster, I tried to make mom happy by bringing her little cards and the first flowers of spring in woven, hand-made paper baskets. It wasn’t easy being her daughter, but over the years with the help of my siblings, I came to accept her neuroses and the fact that she was doing the best she could with the tools she had.

In 1989, I gave birth to a son, Steven, a beautiful redheaded, blue-eyed baby boy. I had been somewhat indifferent to becoming a mother – it wasn’t exactly planned – but my husband and I eventually decided, “Well, if not now, when?”

Mamma Mia!

Of course, underlying my indifference were the multiple reasons why I was not equipped to be a mom – LOOK AT MY OWN MOTHER… duh! However, my husband came from a local, tight-knit Italian family with an apron-wearing, meatloaf-making mother. That, coupled with living on the other side of the country from my family, I thought, “I can do this!” My therapist was ecstatic – now I had something I could really pour my love into.

Two weeks after our son was born, we learned that he had a life-threatening congenital heart defect, a result of Velocardiofacial syndrome. Almost immediately, my vision of being a carpool-driving, cookie-baking, cub scout camping den mother came to a crashing halt before I even had a chance to prove myself – to be the kind of mother I’d been mourning the absence of in my own life.

Steven is on the autistic spectrum and often suffers the consequences of being “different.” He’s told me that he doesn’t believe in greeting cards or gift giving. He says, “I don’t need a holiday on a calendar to show someone affection or appreciation.” I often feel left out when friends tell me of the cards and gifts they receive from their kids.

The Heart Pocket

Soon, Steven will be having his fourth open-heart surgery. Before each surgery in the past, he’s eyed me with fear, anger, and contempt as hospital staff wheel him off to the operating room, just before the automatic doors between us close.

After his most recent surgery, as he was coming out of the anesthesia in the ICU and finally extubated, he whispered to me, “Thank you.” It wasn’t the hand-made card from the rosy-cheeked, jubilant child that I’d fantasized about putting on the ’fridge, but they are the healing words I keep in my heart pocket.

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