Motherly love is an extraordinary and almost indefinable thing, isn’t it? Whenever we humans encounter it – whether in our own kind or even among animals – we wonder at it. It embodies a fierce and steady passion, a consistency and fixity of purpose and a solid stoicism even in the face of obstacles.
Some mothers face more challenges than others, of course. When Christine Staple-Ebanks learned that her son Nathan had cerebral palsy, she fell into a depression for two and a half years. She was told not to expect much. The prognosis was gloomy, and she felt helpless and isolated. However, mothers don’t throw in the towel so easily. Christine began to arm herself with information (thank God for the Internet!) She found a book, Children with Cerebral Palsy: A Parent’s Guide, edited by Elaine Geralis, which proved invaluable. That was the start of her search for ways to love and support her son, as an informed and confident mother. Christine put her despair behind her, and after doing some fundraising she took Nathan to a rehabilitation facility (Health South, in Sunrise, Florida), where he received his first interdisciplinary assessment, and she her first parent training. This was a revelation for them both.
A mother like Christine, under such circumstances, needs support – and not only from her immediate family. A mother with a differently abled child will indeed encounter indifference, pity (which does not help) – and that aversion, that “I don’t want to know” attitude that many people adopt towards the challenges of others. Yet, once she decided to take things in hand, Nathan’s mother increasingly found both support and inspiration. Her fears for her child, and her own self-pity, began to slowly evaporate as many of her anxieties were explained and clarified. In 2007, Nathan’s parents established the Nathan Ebanks Foundation – to give other parents and their children hope through a holistic approach to development. Every child, Christine firmly believes, must be empowered to be the best they can be. The potential is there, in every child.
When I visited Christine recently, I found her happily wandering in and out of the verandah of a friend’s home, admiring the garden in the silky morning sunlight. Several women then appeared, introducing themselves one by one. Like Christine, they were all alumnae of St. Andrew High School for Girls, now living overseas. The friends were back in Jamaica for the school’s Homecoming Week, on its ninetieth anniversary. One was delightedly eating a mango – a treasured treat for Jamaicans who live abroad. As we sat down to breakfast, memories of school days flowed. It is always enjoyable to remind one another of experiences shared, especially when telling your collective story to someone like me, who did not have that experience. There was much laughter when Christine mentioned the all-important “ballerina shoes and bobby socks” – considered so cool at the time. The general view was that a single-sex school helps one to focus; and there was the bonding, team work and creativity among the girls, which they greatly valued. Their education was extremely well-rounded, all agreed. “You could be yourself,” they noted; but there was a high degree of discipline.
The group of friends emphasized the school’s wide range of programs. The girls explored areas that they knew nothing about – from gymnastics and field hockey to flower arrangement and pottery – discovering their strengths. Christine herself still believes in the holistic approach in education, and embraces it for her son Nathan, a student at Liberty Academy. She would like to see the stigma of disability removed, and for educators to change their attitudes and become more open-minded: “We need vision.”
The alumnae were in Jamaica to celebrate their school – and their friend Christine. They had nominated her for the school’s Trailblazer Award, “to support her vision for the children of Jamaica, impacting current and future generations.” Advocacy has become increasingly important to Christine; her work is not just about helping people like herself and her child, but speaking up for them – especially those who are less empowered. So, she decided to write a book, which will be officially launched on May 7 at St. Andrew High School.
“Raising Nathan” is part family history, and partly an effort to “inspire, to give hope,” Christine notes. An “amazing Jamaican research scientist,” Dr. Fay E. Brown, first encouraged her to write her story. Dr. Brown, who is Associate Research Scientist at the Yale Child Study Center and the Director of Child and Adolescent Development at Comer School Development Program, spoke at the Nathan Ebanks Foundation’s eighth annual conference in Montego Bay last October. Christine had already been journalling (and praying) for years; so, with the further encouragement of good friends – “I just wrote…every day for three months,” she smiles. There were further challenges with the editing, but again Christine found a solution online – where a wonderful UN volunteer “reorganized” the book for her. She met Yvonne Coke, who gave her much spiritual food for thought and wrote the foreword to her book. Et voilà!
Christine’s old school has played a critical role in her life. She grew up in disadvantaged circumstances, and going to St. Andrew High was like entering a “different world.” She laughed as she recalled that she was “wide-eyed” at the way the other girls spoke and behaved. She grew to love language and literature, and debating. She was so proud of her badge, which said simply “Leader.” She set aside her feelings of inferiority (including the stigma of the address where she lived – which is real in Jamaica). She subsequently trained as a Marketing and Research professional.
“I didn’t know I had a story,” said Christine, with tears in her eyes. “This is where these ladies came in. They put the responsibility on me.” She spoke of the kindness and generosity of her friends in the diaspora, now living in Connecticut and New York. By then we were seated in a comfortable circle in the shade of a lignum vitae tree in the front garden, while Christine read excerpts from her book in the growing heat of the morning.
And now? Christine is settling back down into a new office and more work. She is also looking forward to helping Jamaica celebrate the International Day of the Child on May 26, during Jamaica’s Child Month. She is also preparing for National Child and Adolescent Mental Health Awareness Day (May 26 ), which the Foundation inaugurated last year in partnership with the Ministry of Health. Christine believes that mental health delivery systems must be transformed to serve the needs of our children – many of whom, we know, are experiencing varying levels of trauma due to violence, abuse and so on.
Here’s one more thought on maternal love, and I believe it applies to Christine and to many other mothers. An Australian biologist named Jeremy Griffiths said: “Mother’s love created our awe-inspiring moral sense.” It’s true that motherly love is, indeed, a true, almost pure force that seems to override other considerations. How this happens is, to me, a mystery. But it happens.
Mother’s Day is coming up on Sunday. May the force be with you.
If you would like to read more about Christine Staple-Ebanks’ journey, please go to: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2653 – an article I wrote in April, 2015.