What happened? This can't be happening! How could this happen? Was it something I did or didn't do? What did I miss? How could I have prevented it? ...How could the boy I raised be capable of this?
Those first horrible days are etched deep in my mind and heart. I was devastated. I had no idea my body was able to make the number of tears I cried. My first and only grandchild, only one month old, was in the hospital with a skull fracture and my 17-year-old son was responsible for causing this horrible harm. It felt as though someone had ripped my chest open and torn out my heart.
I had always sworn that if someone ever harmed one of my children only God could protect them from my wrath. But, I never anticipated the subject of that fury might be my own child. Had anyone else caused this kind of harm to a child I would have called them scum and said they deserved to be locked away and the key tossed into an abyss. But, this was my boy. A boy who had never had a violent bone in his body. A boy that wasn't the evil ogre I had always imagined child abusers were...
My son was a good student until high school, even then he managed mediocre grades in spite of skipping classes regularly. He began running away from home for a girl (Aaron's mother) in the foster care system. When she ran away from her foster home, he ran away as well so that she wouldn't be on the streets alone. He dabbled in drinking alcohol and began smoking marijuana regularly. His girlfriend lied to him, cheated on him and was violent toward him. However, she was his first love and he chose not to heed all the warning signs. In moments of clarity he would break up with her and did so numerous times. Yet, within a short time she would claim she was pregnant and he would reunite with her only to later learn it was a lie.
Eventually the lie became reality and with our help they moved in together to prepare for life as a family. The couple argued incessantly and the police were called on several occasions, one instance resulting in her arrest for domestic violence against my son. My son of course was no angel, he too cheated on her and would go out of his way to make her jealous. Little changed after Aaron was born, in fact it appeared to become a great source of stress for my son.
Aaron's mother did not cook, she did not clean, she refused to go grocery shopping or even to doctor appointments by herself. My son worked fulltime delivering pizza, he did all of the cleaning, cooked meals, took time off from work to take her and the baby to doctor appointments and did the shopping. He was a 17-year-old boy shouldering more responsibility in a relationship than any one person should. The share of family responsibilities were split 90-10 with my son performing the bulk of the work and very stressed.
On the day of Aaron's injury, my son and his girlfriend had again argued. Aaron was a couple of days shy of being one month old. Following the argument Aaron's mother decided she was going to stay with her sister for a couple of days, leaving Aaron at home with his father. My son was caring for his infant son alone for the first time. He had no prior experience with caring for babies when he was growing up. He was the youngest child in the family and as such he was never exposed to any little ones. After Aaron's mother had left he was still angry, he got high on marijuana to help himself relax. Aaron was cranky and wouldn't stop crying, my son became increasingly stressed and frustrated (not an unusual state for a young first time parent). Sadly, my son chose to grab up his son in that frustrated, angry state and forcefully shove the baby into the changing table for a changing. When he did this, my grandson's head struck the wood trim surrounding the changing table pad and it fractured his skull.
Later, in the hospital emergency room, my son called me and told me where they were, why and that the hospital thought it was abuse. My son tried to tell me Aaron had rolled off the bed and onto an unopened box of diapers. I was highly skeptical, but waited to see what the doctors had to say. When the doctor came in he indicated it was his opinion that Aaron had been abused and why he believed it. I was initially in denial and I tried to raise any other possibility, even telling the doctor he couldn't possibly have come to the conclusion he had based on the situation. However, moments later I stood outside alone in the dark crying and used my cell phone to call my husband at home. I related to him what the situation was and suddenly broke down sobbing as I told him that I thought our son had hurt Aaron.
It may appear that I am making excuses for my son's terrible actions that day; I am not. I hold him fully accountable for taking his frustrations out on that innocent baby. In fact, it often seems as though I am the only person within our family circle who does hold him accountable and doesn't label what happened "an accident". I cautioned these young parents several times during their pregnancy about the dangers of letting frustration build and bubble over, shaken baby syndrome, neglect, etc. There is no excuse for his not picking up the phone and saying "mom, I'm losing it, come help me", there is no excuse for causing the precious little person harm. However, I recognize how the surrounding circumstances led up to that moment and I know that my son desperately wanted to show all the doubters that they may be teenagers, but they were capable of standing on their own as adults. That desire to show everyone they could be adults is likely the reason he didn't call me when his frustration grew. I understand that the situation in its entirety was
too much for a 17-year-old to cope with. Because I understand, I can forgive him.
Today, I can logically tell myself that we did nothing wrong as parents to bring about such a terrible event. We made ourselves available to the young parents night and day to help with the baby. I had been there at midnight one night when they called to say the baby wouldn't stop crying. I determined the baby was constipated when I arrived and I rocked him and helped him to bear down, showing his parents how to help him and I stayed into the night until he was calm. I could not have done more and I could not have done less to prevent such a terrible thing from occurring. I can tell myself we were good parents, responsible parents, involved parents. We didn't abuse or neglect our sons and we always let them know we loved and were proud of them. As parents we did nothing wrong to bring about such a tragic end.
Still, there are those moments when those first questions haunt me.
What did I do or not do? Did I miss something? Could I have prevented it? How could the son I raised be capable of harming this beautiful little boy? Will I ever be able to trust my son's role as a nurturing parent again?