I debated the other day, when I wrote about this little baby of mine, whether or not to use his real name. I’ve kept the names of my other children on the down-low, across the public internet. It always seemed like a private thing, like a part of them I would keep to ourselves. But how do I begin to write about this baby who has already (in less than a month) flipped my entire life around without using his name? I want to keep all of him to ourselves. But I can’t. As soon as I start taking him out in the world, people will know right away that there is something different about him. And he will elicit curiosity and people will draw conclusions and I worry that he will be objectified. He is more than his deformities. He is my child. He is Ulysses.
I can’t fix him. I certainly did everything right for all the months he lived inside of me. I am good at being pregnant. I take the best food based prenatal vitamins. I supplement with fish oil and floradix and liquid cal-mag. I drink kale smoothies. I did my best and I still couldn’t make him whole.
That, right there, is a hard one to swallow.
We like to think we are in control here. I’m totally lumping you into my ‘we’ on this one. You know you struggle with the same thoughts. The misplaced pride when everything is skating along easily. The self-doubt and blame when the easy becomes hard. I didn’t need to be reminded that our part in all this is actually quite small. But this little boy of mine will never let me forget.
We named him before we knew he would live. We called him Ulysses because he, even as he was still floating in amniotic fluid, was on a journey like no other. My daughter, the amazing twelve year old history wizard, insists that Odysseus is the most respectable player in Greek mythology, a true hero. Plus, we are fond of mythological associations, anyway (we have a Norse goddess and a derivative of Zeus’ shield in the house already). Anecdotally, the name almost didn’t pass my muster because, according to the social security administration, it was in the top 1000 names as recently as 2005 (albeit at a lowly 982). My taste tilts toward the old and uncommon but tried and true. Also, a literary cross reference preferred.
In this case, time travel yourself back to high school English class. Tennyson’s Ulysses is one of those ubiquitous poems, oft studied but perhaps cavalierly overlooked. Kind of like the way everyone and their mother read The Grapes of Wrath when they were teenagers, but that doesn’t keep me from considering it the best, most brilliant, work of fiction ever written. Trite? Possibly. But still perfect. So even if you had to memorize Ulysses once upon a time, you probably haven’t read it in a while.
Since it’s the last stanza in particular that resonates so powerfully with us, that’s what I’ll share here. Some big, strong words for a small, broken boy. But we think he’s up to the challenge, and we need the inspiration to make sure we are, too.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.