A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend on Instagram about our boys getting so old. My son is eight and he loves math. He has started doing math in every day situations. Such as, “In ten years, I’ll be eighteen, Mom!” That’s enough to freeze any mother’s heart. Then he did this: “And you’ll be forty-three! I know because you are thirty-three now and when I add ten, that’s the answer!”
Thinking of my son as an adult, makes me feel old. Thinking of him being an adult while I am only forty-three makes me feel too young. I got married at nineteen! I didn’t have children for several years, but I could have. What if I’m a grandmother by then?!! Lord, help me!
A few days after the Instagram conversation and the math problems, someone in a Facebook group I follow about the 2004 production of North and South commented about how she feels for Mrs. Thornton wanting to protect her son.
Oh, how I can agree there. You come near my son, and you’re going to have bruises. My Mama Bear claws are sharp and at the ready. My son has autism and it’s been a journey to get the diagnosis, keep him feeling safe during all of our moves, to advocate for him with every new school, etc. I’m very proficient at pouncing and defending now. I can almost feel sorry for the girls he will one day bring home. Almost. Really though, he’s an amazing boy and will grow to be an awesome man and whoever his future wife is should certainly thank me.
There are other things in life, though, that Mama Bear can help with even less once he’s grown. Things like work failures.
I don’t talk about this a lot. Just after my son was born, my husband and I had to declare bankruptcy. We lost our house and our car. We had to move in with family and hitch rides for a few weeks before we could even buy a junky vehicle. It felt as all security we had evaporated into thin air and all with an infant.
It was a confluence of things but my husband being let go from a job really was the straw that broke the camel’s back. My husband’s self-esteem was entirely obliterated. I wish I could say that I was super supportive during all that. I wasn’t. I tried to be, but he talked so seldom about what he was feeling and I had my own baggage from the situation. For a year, my husband was underemployed. I had to go to work part-time and even though I made more per hour than him, I worked fewer hours. It was a catch-22 for his ego. If I could find a full-time position with similar pay, I would earn more than him.
We desperately needed the money, so my husband would have swallowed the bitter pill. On the other hand, there was a very human part of him, that had felt he should provide for us. Not because of gender roles but because that was our plan. Our plan that was destroyed by things mostly out of our control and we were clinging to any ability to control things. Additionally, while we had no idea at the time that our son had special needs…he wasn’t exactly average. He hardly ever slept. I was exhausted. Our son truly needed me. He wouldn’t connect well with other people. He didn’t handle daycare well at all. He would hardly let my husband or mother touch him. He got overstimulated if we were out of the house for more than a half an hour including driving time. It was in many ways, a living nightmare and it did reside far more on my shoulders than anyone else’s. Having me work full-time would have probably torn my family apart and the idea that my son would have just adjusted, we have since learned, probably never would have happened. My husband was aware of all that and it weighed on him even more.
As it happened, I couldn’t find full-time work and it soon became clear that after babysitting costs, I only added about $20 a month to our income. We decided to try and cut back in a few areas. Just as we decided that, an opportunity presented itself in which I could babysit a child from home while caring for my own (this also allowed my JAFF obsession to begin). A few months later, my husband was blessed with a position in the industry he had spent the previous eight years of his life working and amassing skills. It included a significant pay raise and benefits.
Just the other night, we were talking about this dark time and my husband was open to explaining his feelings in a way that he wasn’t when it was occurring. It reminded me all too much of John Thornton and his attempt to be honorable and keep a positive attitude while the world crumbled around him and all his hard work was falling. The greatest turmoil to my husband’s peace of mind was not because it hurt his pride to make less money or let our possessions go. It hurt his mind because he wanted to take care of the people he loved and because he felt he had failed in a responsibility to people.
I think it is this attitude more than anything else, that makes me love John Thornton so much. And when I think about if my son should ever have to go through such a time, well, I feel very Mrs. Thornton about it. To have him anything other than his proper position of loved and respected by all would break my heart.
Here is an excerpt from the scene in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South:
‘Mother! why are not you in bed?’
‘Son John,’ said she, ‘do you think I can sleep with an easy mind, while you keep awake full of care? You have not told me what your trouble is; but sore trouble you have had these many days past.’
‘Trade is bad.’
‘And you dread—’
‘I dread nothing,’ replied he, drawing up his head, and holding it erect. ‘I know now that no man will suffer by me. That was my anxiety.’
‘But how do you stand? Shall you—will it be a failure?’ her steady voice trembling in an unwonted manner.
‘Not a failure. I must give up business, but I pay all men. I might redeem myself—I am sorely tempted—’
‘How? Oh, John! keep up your name—try all risks for that. How redeem it?’
‘By a speculation offered to me, full of risk; but, if successful, placing me high above water mark, so that no one need ever know the strait I am in. Still, if it fails—’
‘And if it fails,’ said she, advancing, and laying her hand on his arm, her eyes full of eager light. She held her breath to hear the end of his speech.
‘Honest men are ruined by a rogue,’ said he gloomily. ‘As I stand now, my creditors, money is safe—every farthing of it; but I don’t know where to find my own—it may be all gone, and I penniless at this moment. Therefore, it is my creditors’ money that I should risk.’
‘But if it succeeded, they need never know. Is it so desperate a speculation? I am sure it is not, or you would never have thought of it. If it succeeded—’
‘I should be a rich man, and my peace of conscience would be gone!’
‘Why! You would have injured no one.’
‘No; but I should have run the risk of ruining many for my own paltry aggrandisement. Mother, I have decided! You won’t much grieve over our leaving this house, shall you, dear mother?’
‘No! but to have you other than what you are will break my heart. What can you do?’
‘Be always the same John Thornton in whatever circumstances; endeavouring to do right, and making great blunders; and then trying to be brave in setting to afresh. But it is hard, mother. I have so worked and planned. I have discovered new powers in my situation too late—and now all is over. I am too old to begin again with the same heart. It is hard, mother.’
He turned away from her, and covered his face with his hands.