I’ve been doing this job longer than any other in my life and I’m still not sure I’m good at it.
I’ve been a mother for twelve years now. She’s eleven. Her pregnancy was ten months and one day. How many babies did I wish over only to lose until I had her? Too many. Then there was my rainbow baby. My life hasn’t been the same since.
The thoughts flicked through my mind as I lied in bed and the kids took turns snuggling up against my side as I resisted getting up. It was a Sunday. Sundays used to be the sacred day of oversleeping and coffee while watching the news. Now it’s a mad dash of feeding my short people, known as children, and then moderating debates over potential plans for the day and the territorial skirmishes over toys and cartoons.
Today though, it marked the two year anniversary of when our family began our lockdown for COVID. My breath filled me as I had a silent reflection on how relieved I was that we survived the last two years without being infected, how much I missed those I’ve lost, and a wishful prayer for the days ahead. Please let us not repeat history. Please let things get better…
I slung my body to the side of the bed. “Will things ever get better?”
She startled me and I smiled at her inquisitive expression. I lied as easily as any other parent, “I said, “I hope you’re feeling better.” “ She smiled, nodded, and bounced into the other room. Not for the first time I wondered if she heard the words that escaped me. Will she ever learn to lie convincingly? Does she lie to herself when it comes to hiding the pain?
It’s been eight months since I lost my mom. Much like parenting, grief doesn’t have a clear timeline. You can keep a tally of the milestones but sensing the time as it passes isn’t possible until you’re looking back. Those early days of being a mother where each day is an eternity and each year is a week. Two babies come ripping through your life and every reference to a movie or song made prior to them turning five is completely lost on you. You suddenly understand the refrains of “where did the time go” and “it goes quick” but you come to hate hearing them even when you find yourself saying them. Especially when you hear yourself saying them because they’re true.
Memories come unbidden when everything reminds me of her and that I’m nearing half a century, that I’m a mother myself now, that I thought I would have my life sorted out by now but I don’t feel any closer to having it together than I did at eighteen. My body feels eighty and my brain feels like I’m twenty on a good day. These past two years haven’t helped with that and I know that it’s true for many others who are grieving as well. I shouldn’t feel alone when I have so little privacy but I’ve felt alone for a very long time and the last two years have underlined this.
When I can’t sleep, I watch movies that I’ve already seen. Ones that conjure up happy memories or that can lull me to sleep with the reassurance that others understand the pain I’m going through, at least in part. “Big Chill”, “Terms Of Endearment”, “Steel Magnolias”,…if someone accused me of wallowing in my pain I would agree. In the past, I would have felt embarrassed but now I would just smile and ask, “Why not?” I can’t think of a better time for introspection than a pandemic and a possible World War III. So, honestly, why not?
There’s a new Amy Schumer series on Hulu, “Life & Beth”, that was unsettlingly relatable and in the last episode she has a line: “No one loves you like your mom and no one hurts you like your mom.” I was glad that it was the last episode because I was officially a mess after that line. I know that my mom loved me but I don’t think she ever realized how much I loved her. No matter what I did, it wasn’t enough to make her happy or save her from herself. I desperately wanted her to be proud of me but I would have settled for her having a life that she was proud of herself and not dying in disappointment like she did.
Sometimes I find myself overdoing things for my kids because I want them to know how much I love them. These Clark-Griswold-esque moments have even become a running joke in our household and I’ll fully acknowledge when it’s happening. The kids even say, “Uh-oh, mama is Clark-Griswold-ing!” Birthdays are birthday weeks, major holidays last a month, and presents are planned months in advance to guess at what the person wants before they even know they want it. All because I want to give my kids what I never had. Not just the outings we take, the surprises, the adventures, or the indulgence of facilitating their curiosities. I want them to know that I understand them, see them, and love them for who they are; not what they can do to please me or that they need to seek my approval.
It’s ok if other parents stare or make comments. They can judge my parenting as odd. I’m trying to be who my kids need even when I’m not what they want. So masjon jars of preying manti hatch on my windowsill, artwork remains taped to the wall indefinitely, birthday decorations stay up a month at a time, Christmas lasts until almost Valentines, typed instructions for laundry are hung up like treasured recipes, my son’s room has its own security system of criss-crossing race tracks and train tracks leading to his bed, photos are taken of play areas so that there is a permanent record of how beautiful a particular creation looked in that light so we can finally move it to a shelf, and I wear the same wardrobe for ten years now and don’t cut my hair any shorter than my shoulders because it’s too upsetting for them.
I know my mom loved me and that she knew I loved her. It’s never as simple as those words though. Someday they will lose me as well. I’ve never loved anyone like them and I hope that they find people in their lives that come close to the love I have for them, my rainbow babies.