She’s been calling me for days. I thought I was making it up, but she is persistent.
Go see Mom.
“She’s not there,” I think. “You’re just chasing a memory. You’ll go and the stinky, moldy trailer will be empty, and cold, and you will leave empty and cold.”
“Because I’m lonely.”
Wait, she’s lonely? I thought she could come see me anytime. I thought that when you’re in spirit, you’re free? Maybe there are things that need to be righted though. Maybe there is unfinished business.
Maybe those final days there were not days she would have wished for. It was not how she wanted to leave it. And my presence will bring love and companionship, even if for a minute.
It will suffice.
And I will keep going back, Mom, even if I’m making it up. I’ll keep going back to say hi until there are no more reasons to go, or no more tears to shed – I guess? I honestly feel like this isn’t just me.
That was your heaven on earth, you said. So I will visit your temple.
I will enter in prayer, and I will leave in prayer.
I wish you peace. I wish you abundant love. I wish you goodness, and light, and laughter all of your existence.
Joni Mitchell has been singing to me too, Mom:
“It’s coming on Christmas They’re cutting down trees They’re putting up reindeer And singing songs of joy and peace Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”
“Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom!” I just kept saying it over and over for several days, as if I could conjure you. I was lost. My guttural howls could not take away the emptiness.
I knew I would not be prepared. How could I be?
I thought our relationship was solid and clean, but regret has inched in anyway. Why couldn’t I save you? Did I do enough? Was I a good daughter, Mom? Did you feel loved and cared about?
I am limited, and I wish with all my heart I could have made your life better. I never got beyond thinking about how to do that, and everything we talked about doing felt like moving a mountain.
I imagine you’re free and flying around in the spirit world – or have you reincarnated (which was your fervent desire)?
It breaks my heart to think you might have stepped into another life – abandoning me again. I was too much for you – your children were too much – so you left, even if not physically. I was a child and needed you Mom. All your children needed you. I still feel like I need you.
I can understand how difficult your life was, and I know you loved us, but love is also a verb.
I forgave you as life went on, and I thought we got whole. I guess the onion metaphor is apt, but how many damn layers are there?
You did make living amends when I had my son, your only grandson. You were such a great grandmother. You helped heal so many of my childhood wounds, but your passing opened them again.
I wanted you to be here my whole life, as unrealistic as that is. I would have kept you suffering in your painful body for my selfish desire to have you near me, like I owned you or something. Like you somehow belonged to me – and I think that’s a trauma bit from when I was so very little, and so much terribleness was happening in our family, and in the world – just like it is again.
You’re lucky Mom. You got out. You’re not suffering anymore.
Do you miss being here though? Or is it better “there”? Where is“there”? Are you conscious? Is consciousness outside of the body, and we just believe it’s in the brain, or are you completely gone?
Please forgive me for my lack, Mom. Please forgive what I couldn’t manage. I don’t know if it was my job to make life the best it could be for you, but it feels like I failed you.
I liked our conversations and our mostly shared values and morals. I am grateful for the time I got with you. I am so glad I was close enough physically and emotionally to help you and spend time with you regularly.
I had wanted to do a “Tuesdays with Morrie” thing with you, but never got it together. I was going to call it “Wednesdays with Mom.” I have never been accused of being original.
Today is Wednesday, so, I guess I’ve begun. If you’re answering me, I’m too dull to hear it. I keep waiting for a sign that you’re still around, but I would doubt whatever you would send me anyway – and you probably know that – so why waste your energy?
Energy is something I absolutely know you still have because of the first law of thermodynamics: energy is neither created nor destroyed. It can only change form or increase. Physicist I am not. I don’t even understand much of it beyond the simplest of terms. Not that I don’t try. I blame my love of standing in front of Dad’s Lincoln Continental and breathing in the leaded gas fumes coming out of the car’s grill for my intelligence deficits. Sweet Jesus, why didn’t anyone stop me? I was 5? Did you even know about that, Mom? I doubt it.
Now, of course, we know that the leaded gas was spewing toxic lead into the air and landing everywhere, especially into my tender lungs and organs and bones as I stood there breathing deeply.
You wanted to make it to 103 years to best your Dad’s 102 years on earth, but you missed 90 by two months instead. Still, not a bad stretch.
I believed you though. My whole life you repeated that like a mantra. You were going to live to 103. It was just a fact we all accepted. You seemed to know, but obviously it was just hope.
And maybe you would have made that milestone if you didn’t drink so much, or if you had let us clean up your mildewing/ moldy stuff trailer while you lived – or if I was able to follow through on getting you a new-to-you trailer, or a tiny house that could have given you those 13 more years?
I know that what I was able to do was worthwhile. I have some sweet memories to savor. My job now is to keep the bitterness from spoiling them.
So many things I’d like to know – please tell me about your life. You think I worry too much, or that I think you’re in trouble all the time, and I’d like to change that.
Are you happy? Is your life as full of joy as it is of challenges?
If I start asking the right questions, maybe you’ll know that I want enough for you, in all your life. Balance is key. Laugh, love, sing, dance, study, question, believe, cry, fail, succeed, care, think, and act.
I trust you and your life path, and that replaces my fear. Believing in you, believing that you won’t waste this short life, or that if you do, that’s your choice, and it’s your prerogative.
My only ‘job’ (I wrote ‘joy’ by mistake, first, but I think it also applies) is loving you. For sure, ‘love’ is a big word. It encompasses all of life – not just the easy or joyful parts.
Life is learning. That never stops, so I’m still learning too. My emotion self is still immature, but my life experience is ever evolving.
Thank you for increasing my growth opportunities, and my dearest hope is staying connected – even as you wander further away.
In the time that’s gone by, I tried to see a reason for us, but ‘it’s one of those things’ is said, and ‘be glad you found it before you’re dead’, and I am.
Thousands of songs and poems say why: ‘it’s not the colors in his eyes, or the way he wears his clothes, or how he knows the things he knows, but it’s in how he thinks of and looks at me.’ It’s how he loves me so thoroughly – it’s so new.
I keep deciding to pull away, to leave and find my life another way, but I’ve started asking what I’m running for, because I truly know that there’s no better than this.
But this is not all there is, I know, and we don’t live to make the best in show; we have found happiness and joy, a port in a storm, a bond I won’t destroy – again.
So settle down I tell myself, this love we’ve found is real and precious.
You are the compass that points true, you are everything I needed but never knew, and if I tell the fear to leave me be, then it will always be you and me, together.
This is my song to you – to us – to love – to life’s joyful expression amidst life’s agony.
Thank you for your love, for your steadfast care and hope, and for giving me a chance to truly love you too.
101 Dalmatian pajamas, 4T. I breathe into the fabric, trying to catch the scent of my little boy, but I forgot that I washed them before packing them away in the box of baby remembrances when he had outgrown them. The box also contained his cloth Madeleine doll, which showed where the scar was from her appendectomy, and the yellow rubber duck received at his baby shower that he had to have at every bath time. I say ‘contained’ because when his sister, my nearly step-daughter, had her first child four years ago, I sent the rubber duck, after sterilizing it, with a letter, saying that I hoped her daughter would like it, and if she remembered how her brother had loved it when he was a baby.
His sister emailed me after she got the package, telling me how sweet that was, and her daughter liked it too. When we went to visit them a few years ago, it was gratifying to see the rubber duck in among the bathtub toy collection.
She mentioned in a post how her daughter was enjoying the Madeleine books, and I knew it was time to send along the Madeleine doll, so beloved by my son at her daughter’s age, along with a little monkey puppet for her latest family addition, who is now a year old, and I haven’t yet met. I got a note the other day telling me they received the package, and her daughter asked if she could keep the doll forever.
It seemed overly sentimental and silly to keep those few things from my son’s childhood, but I have no keepsakes, and no pictures from mine, so it was important to me, and I thought my son would one day appreciate the link back to his youth. He thought it was cool that I had sent his niece the Madeleine doll, and we spoke about how he used to watch the Madeleine cartoon, and have me read the books over and over. Rather than merely keeping useless things that only had meaning to me, the items became an heirloom of sorts, and re-connected my son and I with a happy memory from the past, as well as furthering my son and his sister’s bond, with her children too.
Keeping sentimental things just adds to my pile of stuff, so I’ve done my best to pare down, taking pictures of things before giving them away or recycling them. Having some tactile link to the past is important to me though, so the 101 Dalmatian pajamas will remain in the (now smaller) keepsake box.
I found this letter/ode I had written to my son in a bunch of old papers I was going through to recycle today. I wrote it when he was twelve, and pulling further and further away from me – right on schedule! But just because biology dictates a thing so, doesn’t mean it wasn’t terrible for me…
Evolution Of A Boy
When you were born I held you close, rocked you, walked you back and forth while you screamed with colic – or was it protest at being out in this cold, drafty world from the temperature controlled, fluid womb?
You stayed in a crib until you were two and a half and began crying to me of your needs in the night, or in the morning, coaxing me with “Up, Mommy? Up, Mommy – peas. Peas, Mommy?” How could I ignore that? You asked so politely, so pleadingly.
As a toddler, and ever since you were born, I read to you day and night. It became the bedtime routine: books and a back rub until you fell asleep. Often you would play with my ear – a throw back from your nursing days – a comfort habit that never bothered me. Whoever held you until you were four or five would have their ear manipulated by you.
Nighttime was our time. It was sometimes the only peace in the day. I was really present most of the time for you then, and we both knew it wouldn’t be a struggle of wills; it was a time any outside observer wouldn’t question my parenting skills.
That nighttime routine when you wanted me to lay down with you after reading and rubbing your back until you fell asleep – or nearly – lasted until you were eight or nine. I would sing Mockingbird – replacing Papa with Mama, of course – and Lily Of The Valley, three or four times each, and sometimes you would sing along. Then we would always play the ‘I love you more than’ game. “More than chocolate cream pie with ice cream and marshmallows, and a ton of whipped cream” – or whatever we would dream up. A phrase we had read: “I love you to the moon and back”, began a long tradition of sometimes jokingly arguing over who loved the other more – “I love you the most – eternity, infinity!”
The mornings nearly always had me picking you up and carrying you into the kitchen for breakfast until you were about seven years old. It seemed to help you wake up just that little bit more.
Sometimes you would jump up into my arms for a hug and you did that until you got too heavy for me to grab you up into a hug like that.
Now you’re twelve. You are on that precipice between knowing you are not a dependent child to knowing you are not quite grown-up either. It can be confusing, frustrating, and scary – but exciting too.
You are, at times and often, so much more than you think you are. You have so much to offer this suffering world. She needs boys and men who care, as you do. Societies may seem indifferent or hostile to boys and men who care, but that is because societies are not grown-up either. They don’t know how to accept the whole boy or the whole man – but they are learning. Just as I am learning to let go – but I have built a path from my heart to yours – and there is a path from your heart to mine too – so that we’ll always know there is a home for us, especially when you find the need, or just to be reassured that it’s there.
Happy Birthday to my beautiful son. He is the best thing I have ever done, although I take no credit for his amazing capacities and talents. He is his own person; I just ate well while he was growing inside me, and then made sure I fed him good food, gave him as many opportunities as I could afford, or could imagine, and taught him to appreciate reading, which he now loves. His cognitive intelligence exceeded mine when he was about twelve, but my emotional intelligence stills beats his – hah!
He is bound to fare better in his life than I did in mine, and that is the best a parent can ask for. I love you, my dear boy/man.
My son is getting his first apartment with college friends. I’m pretending it’s not a big deal. I mean, he’s been away at college for two years now, so, it’s basically the same thing. Except it isn’t. He’s had his bed and most of his stuff here, and in three days and several hours, it will all be gone. I’m trying to stay in the moment, and not trouble trouble until trouble troubles me, as the saying goes.
I was in my son’s room packing up what I can until he gets here and pares down what he wants to get rid of. He already told me he’s not sentimental and doesn’t want his old school year books, or photos, or other keepsakes, but I am sentimental, so I’m keeping most of it. He may have a wife and/or children some day who will actually enjoy seeing some of the things from his youth. It isn’t exactly archeology, but it is history, and I loved seeing my ex-boyfriends’ childhood pictures. It’s a way to connect the past to the present and beyond. I so enjoy looking at my Mom and Dad’s pictures of their youth and childhood. Ever since my Dad died several years ago, those pictures have taken on more meaning. Even though I often rail against life, I also revel in life’s complexity and variety. I embrace change as much as I loathe it. I may not like changing all the time, but as long as I have company, it’s really not too bad.
I’ll be fine with this new life passage, I’m just not overjoyed. I also know that many people are overjoyed to have their personal time back when their children get older and leave home, and maybe I’ll feel that way, eventually.
It was such a lovely morning. My son gave me a beautiful sweater, and he liked the few gifts I got him as well. He really enjoyed his stuffed stocking, and it makes me so happy to see his happiness. That’s the best aspect of parenting. I don’t care how old your child/ren is/are: wanting for, and taking pleasure in, their happiness, and success, is paramount.
We had a scrambled eggs and bacon breakfast, and then we made our Gingerbread house. We don’t have a good track record at that activity. We’ve only made two of them before, both of which came out awful. We didn’t name the first one, but we dubbed the second one: “Sucky, the Gingerbread House”, and this one my son named: “Mediocre, the Gingerbread House”. We did have a lot of fun making it, and maybe any future attempts will give better results.
My son’s feeling mostly himself again, although he still has a cough, and he told me he woke up drenched in sweat in the middle of the night so he left his room and slept on the couch, where I found him this morning.
He left a little while ago to hang out with friends, and while I want him to stay well, it was really nice to have him home and wanting my help and company for the last few days.
My friend’s dog died two weeks ago. He was one of my favorite dogs. I met him a few years ago at a party I attended at my friend’s house. I had a plate of food and sat down outside and there were at least twenty other party guests sitting around with a plate of food on their lap, but Cooper decided that he wanted to sit next to me. He followed me all day long even though I never offered, or dropped, a bite of food. I didn’t know it then, but we had just become friends.
Any time I went to my friends’ house after that, Cooper would follow me around and be so happy when I would pet him or pay attention to him. He was a sweet bulldog and I’m so happy I got to know him.
I went to my friend’s house tonight after a fun night out on the town, and we were so full of our evening that I didn’t even absorb Cooper’s absence until I went into their living room, and it hit me so fully that he is gone. I was misty-eyed as I remarked that it was so weird that Cooper wasn’t there, and my friend’s husband said: ‘here he is’, and pointed to the pretty box with his ashes. I held the box for a while, even though I know Cooper’s soul isn’t in there, but I really felt that beautiful dog’s presence in the room with us.
There are very few times in one’s life that the feeling of unconditional love is encompassing, and tonight was one of those nights. My friends said that Cooper’s spirit now lives on ‘Bulldog Island’. When I was a child, and our dog had to be put down, my father told me that she went to live in the ‘happy hunting grounds’.
All I really know is that Cooper was a good dog, and he will be missed.
Twenty-one years ago I was pregnant with my son. I had wanted more children, but it didn’t work out that way. I can still have a child, but wouldn’t want to. It was a beautiful, balmy, late September day today, but it started out more overcast and muggy than it was twenty-one years ago. It was sunny by this afternoon, and I decided to take a drive in the hills. The leaves are just starting to turn, but the scenery was lovely anyway.
All those years ago I had woken up feeling fine, and had to run some errands. My mother was staying with me at my apartment in Vernon, Vermont, to help out after my son’s birth. I began feeling strange shortly after waking up, but thought it was just Braxton-Hicks contractions, so I went about my day, driving my mother into Brattleboro later that afternoon to do some grocery shopping. While we were at the grocery store, I began feeling more odd and nauseated, but I didn’t feel like I was having contractions because I had some serious contractions the week before and gone to the hospital in the middle of the night where I was chided by the nurse on duty for not knowing false contractions from true ones. If it were all happening again, I’d tell her what a stupid thing that was to say to someone who, a) never had a baby before, and 2) could have been in real labor regardless of what she thought. I know she was just taking out her bad day on me, but I wish I had been more outspoken back then!
So, I reluctantly went to the hospital so that they could run a monitor strip on me to check contractions. I got to the hospital around 5pm, and my mother and I were put in a room and the nurse on duty asked us if we wanted something to eat while we were waiting as it was dinner time. I had some peanut butter crackers because I wasn’t feeling very well, but thought I should eat something, and my mother got a meal. It was after 6pm by this time, and I was still waiting for the nurse to come and hook me up to the monitor when my water broke. My mother started laughing as I blurted out “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit”, while trying unsuccessfully to make it into the bathroom – as though I had an uncontrolled bladder issue…
The nurse came in moments later and said: “Well, you’re not going anywhere now!” I got moved into a room in The Birthing Center, and I told my mother she could just take my car back to my apartment until I had the baby and would have my sister drive me back, but my mother no longer had her license and didn’t feel comfortable driving in the dark anyway. My sister was living fairly close to the hospital so she was able to get Mom and have my brother-in-law bring her back to the apartment after my birth coach arrived.
My son’s dad was living in New Jersey during the week for work and told me he couldn’t get back until that Friday night or Saturday morning, and it was only Tuesday. That was disappointing, but not really unexpected. My birth coach, Ruth, was a friend I had known since college, and she had two teenaged girls and was probably the best person to have with me. I had decided to forgo any drugs, and even an episiotomy. (I’m just grateful being tied to a tree wasn’t still in vogue.) I was determined to do everything ‘right’. I ended up with forty-two stitches that my doctor said would have been less if I had let her do an episiotomy. Lesson learned, doc!
Not to be too graphic, but my response to the more intense contractions was throwing up. Ruth ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while I was resting, and I had to ask her to please chew some gum, or somehow get rid of the smell of peanut butter on her breath because it was making me more nauseated than I already was.
She laughed because I was worried about hurting her feelings. At the height of contractions (nearing the, literally, eleventh hour of labor) I told Ruth that I didn’t think I could keep doing it, and to her great credit she didn’t laugh at me, or roll her eyes, but just squeezed my hand and told me that I could, in fact, see it through. I didn’t freak out and scream like the clichéd ‘woman having a baby’ motif, but it was the hardest, most painful, experience I’ve ever endured. After my doctor sewed me up I told her that I was never going to have another baby. She said “If I had a nickel for every patient that said that, I could retire now!”
At 5:49am on September 26, 1990, I gave birth to an 8 lb.,1 oz., 19.5 inch long, beautiful boy. He remains the absolute best thing I have done in my life, and I would do it all again.
I love you, my dear son, more than I have ever loved anyone else. I am so happy I got to be your Mom.
That’s how old the boys are that I provide child care for occasionally, and spent my day with at a lake yesterday. I used to watch them regularly but changed jobs last year. The older boy was just two months old when I started the job.
My son was in full-blown adolescence then so it was perfect work for me to watch a child who needed and wanted me as my child was pulling away. The difference between my son as a baby and the baby I was caring for was so stark. I didn’t know a child could be so easy to care for. My son’s pediatrician told me that my son was a ‘high need’ baby as I sat in his office back then, crying from lack of sleep and feeling so inadequate as a parent, and indeed, I was nursing him every two hours, which continued for seven months before he stopped nursing so voraciously, and he was colicky as well. My mother came to help me during that time, while my son’s father was two states away at his job, coming back on weekends. My son’s father and I weren’t happy as it was, and having a child only put more stress on our relationship. We broke up and I moved out when our son turned a year old.
When my friend’s second boy was born, I began watching him at two weeks old, and he was an easy baby as well. I loved caring for those boys. It was so good for me because I wasn’t watching a whole group of children as I did when I worked at a daycare center, and I didn’t have twenty-four hour responsibility for them.
I still had parenting duties with my son, even though it wasn’t very joyful anymore, but I had enough positive experiences that dealing with my son’s adolescent angst and unpredictability was more manageable than it might have been.
I would give my son hugs and tell him that I loved him every day, as he stood there, arms by his side, at least allowing me to hug him briefly. I would say that although he was rapidly changing, I was not, so it was going to take me far longer to adjust. It was so painful for me to go from living with a boy who wanted to be with me, who called out to me several times a day that he loved me, who enjoyed spending time with me, to the stranger who I now occupied the same physical space with, but could hardly be further from emotionally. Oh, and did I mention I was living with treatment-resistant depression, and I was a single parent?
I might have screwed up far more than I did with my son if it hadn’t been for my childcare job. As the boys got older, they were somewhat in awe of my son, especially the older boy I watched. When my son was there the older boy wanted to follow him around and it was sometimes a challenge to help my son have private space when the boys were with me. I would usually see if my son could spend time with one of his friends during school vacations or days when I had the boys and my son was around.
I took those boys on many adventures during our days together, but our favorite pastime was finding cows. I’d drive them to farms and we’d visit with cows and read books about cows, and while other animals were included, cows ruled.
I don’t think I could love those kids anymore if they were my own, and I’m so grateful when I get to watch them now. The last few times I spent with them, the older boy has been questioning me about why they don’t see me that much. I explained that I had another job, and they have school now, and days that I could see them their schedule and mine didn’t work that often. He looked at me and said, “Well, we just don’t see you enough.”
So, I can’t get adult relationships right in my life, but I have a six year-old who knows how to work a room! Yesterday before I left he hugged me and said “I just don’t want to let go.” I said, “I know, me either!” The younger boy and I have a happy, loving, and super fun connection too, but the older boy knows how to articulate what he’s feeling, and isn’t shy about telling me.
I have to figure out how to spend more time with them because they’re going to be seven and five in a few months, and the opportunities to spend significant time with them grows slimmer with each year. While I so enjoy working with children, it can also be heart-wrenching.
I’ll be bringing my son back to college in a week, and he’ll be back home for Thanksgiving and his winter vacation, but he won’t be back next summer. We know we love one another, and our bond is solid, but he’s a man now – no matter how much I wished to keep him a boy – and I feel the grief about losing him rising up all over again. I don’t need to be consoled through platitudes or pity – not that anyone is trying to – but I do need a new purpose and I don’t know where to go or what to do yet.