Waning moon.

His limbs wrap around me like a boa constrictor. My neck, my waist, my left leg encircled and a hand stretched impossibly from the base of my skull to my cheek.

This 6 year old belongs in his own bed. But I don’t move him. I don’t resist his nighttime slithering and squeezing because I know this will not last. Soon enough he’ll decide he’s too old for this.

As my mom laid in a hospital bed after learning she was diagnosed with a cancer that would all too soon take her from us, I slid myself in next to her. I wrapped my limbs around her and squeezed.

My mom was a next level snuggler. She loved us in her bed. At some point though, I was too old for such raw affection. I stopped my slumbered slipping into her room.

Now my big girls, once baby boa constrictors themselves, still find their way into my bed. Mostly when they’re sick but sometimes, on rare weekend mornings when we’re not rushed to get to a soccer field or ice rink, they’ll snuggle. We’ll talk about the things on their minds. Big things and small things. But it’s not enough.

That warmth, their whispered questions in the pale morning light, their arms around me. It’s pure mama bliss.

It’s dark tonight. Clouds send the waning moon’s light back toward heaven.

I’m not moving him out of the bed.

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Broken promise.

I promised myself I wouldn’t mark the day of her passing anymore. That I would celebrate her birthday in absentia. That I would whisper a Happy Mama’s Day to the universe and hope it finds its way to her. That I’d take a couple minutes to prepare thoughtful questions before teacher conferences and always remember to express my gratitude to the people who devote their lives to making my kids wiser, more empathetic some-day adults. That I would sit with her memory on Christmas Eve after everyone else was in bed and quietly count gifts to ensure fairness and count blessings to remind myself of just how freaking lucky I am. 

And I’ve done all of that, except the first. I’m marking the day. 

It’ll be 6 years tomorrow.  6 whole years since we held her hands, kissed her face,  and told her it was okay for her to go when absolutely none of us thought it was okay.

It will never be okay. If she had been 115 years old it would not have been okay.  

So I’m marking the day because I have to. Because ignoring it doesn’t work. I’m marking it because a lot of wonderful and awful things have happened in this past year that she missed.  Because Michigan footfall is fun to watch again. Because her grandkids are big, and fast-witted, and telling stories she’d love to hear, and challenging their mothers in ways we’d love to discuss with our mother. Because a man of limited vocabulary, humanity, foresight, Constitutional knowledge, historical perspective, restraint, respect for others, and glove size (which, in this case, is a euphemism for grasp on reality) wants to be President and I’d love to hear what she’d have to say about it. Because there is a new Harry Potter book and I almost didn’t read it because she would be so mad to have missed it. Because I’ve made some big, hairy decisions about my professional life, and broke my knee in a fluke slippery tomato accident, and am turning 40 next month, and I still need my mommy. 

I’m marking it because it reminds me that all of it–all of this wild and magical and inexplicably terrible and brilliant life is infinitely better when shared with someone you love, who loves you, who loves even your harshest edges.

I’m marking it because I’m lucky to have had her love for almost 34 years.  And because even though it was an awful day, it was a day with her and I didn’t get enough of them. 

Soggy metaphors for loss and love on the second day of summer camp.

It tends to comes out of nowhere, when it is the furthest thing from my mind. And then it is there, my frontal lobe sending mom-soaked dopamine compounds throughout my brain. Making me stop for a moment in my tracks, just long enough to pass through a sidewalk sprinkler of memories and emotion. The moisture is barely noticeable, quickly evaporating on a summer day. I can choose to stand still and let the sprinkler hit me again, or walk on. Usually I walk on, the shock of it quickly passing. Sometimes it leaves me chilled, but mostly it feels good. Cool and warm at the same time. Like her.

When my mom’s death was fresh, raw and recent, it felt like I was standing at the shore break after a storm. Unevenly spaced waves were crashing around me, carrying tangles of seaweed and other harsh matter dredged from the ocean bottom. It was hard to breathe. I couldn’t move as the sand gripped tighter and higher around my ankles with each wave. My eyes stung too much to open, making it impossible for me to know when the next wave would break over me.

It sucked.

Now, almost 5 years later, it sucks less. I can breathe. My eyes are open and I am no longer stuck in the sand and waves.

Still sometimes, I am drenched by loss of her.

Today was the second day of summer camp for my 3 year old son.  Yesterday’s drop off was easy, but by pick up time he was sobbing.  This morning he was refusing to enter the classroom.  Asking for a new camp, asking to go home, yelling for “one more minute of talking.”

I was late for work already, my mind racing with thoughts of the thousand things that [still] need to get done.  I was tired from his mid-night calls for trips to the bathroom, sips of water, made-up songs about tall towers, and blanket adjustments.  I wanted to pick him up and drop him in the middle of room and run.  I wanted to scream.

I closed my eyes for a second and was hit by the sprinkler. Confusing and cool, the thoughts rained down. I felt her. I felt her perpetual calmness and infinite patience in all child-related matters. I sat down on the bench outside the classroom and looked at his tear-soaked face. I asked if he wanted to play with me for a while and he nodded. We played with imaginary cars and jet planes. Then we zoomed those cars into the classroom and I asked if he wanted to see where his sister sat when this was her classroom. He nodded, then audibly “ooh”-ed as he sat in the chair that was his sister’s. A minute later he waved me off with a quick goodbye and I left.

It was comforting to him to think that his sister once sat where he sat. It is comforting to me to think that my mom was once where I am. I am not her. I don’t have the tolerance that she had; but I still have her.

I have the ability to call upon her, or to have my subconscious call upon her. To splash myself with the memory of her, and let those thoughts work their sometimes sad but, now, mostly wonderful magic. To remind me to stop rushing, to breathe. To let my kid find his way in his time–just like she did for all of hers.  And to abuse oceanic and neuropsychological metaphors–just as she would have done.  Love and miss you, Mommy.

All smiles on the first day. Not so much on the second.

California Dreaming

My mom did not have any traditional lullabies in her repertoire.  House of the Rising Sun, American Pie, Hotel California. These were the standards.  I’ve carried on this tradition with my own kids and added a few, but nothing from this century. The Joker, some Rolling Stones, and the Greatest Love of All.  This last one made it into the rotation in the predawn hours one morning when I was reaching for a song that I knew all the words to, one that would be just long (and boring) enough to finally put a teething little insomniac to sleep.

When I was a kid, I listened to Whitney Houston sing that song over, and over, and over again on my Easter egg-colored little boom box.  I laid on the floor with the lavender machine in front of me, repeatedly pushing the pastel play and pause, rewind and stop buttons. Testing the resilience of the thin cassette tape, and carefully re-spooling it with my fingers when the brown plastic loops would go slack.

I was singing it again last night as I rocked my almost 3 year old back to sleep after a nightmare.  We sat in same chair that I’ve rocked all 3 of the kids to sleep in.  But it’s too small for this function now.  The boy is half my height and the two of us together in the chair looked like a sloppily twisted soft pretzel version of the Madonna and Child.

This time Whitney’s call to action, her plea for us to let the children lead the way and show us all the beauty they possess inside, left him curious and unfortunately more awake.  There was a running commentary and stream of questions as I sung off-key.

Mama, why no walking in da shadows?  Is it dangerous?  Walking on ice mountains is dangerous. I like shadows. Can we make shadows now?  What mean “dignity”? Let’s search for heroes.

Lullabies are no longer sleepy background noise in our house.  They are songs with words and meaning, and the little person–no longer a baby–sprawled across my body was asking for more. More information. More context and definition. More time with his mama in the middle of the night.

I was rocking and thinking how much I love that I can give him these things in this too small, loudly upholstered in black and white floral chair–the same chair that my mom held his sisters in.

He’s clever and he loves his mom.  I was thinking about how my mom so loved cleverness and would have, so very much, loved him.

I was thinking about his Grammy and Granddad and his Pop Pop, aunts and uncles and Great Aunties.  All of whom rocked him and his sisters before him in that chair.  All still here, cramming themselves and one or more kids into that chair, rocking and reading with them from time to time.

I was thinking about how easy it is to get lost in wanting something or someone you don’t have, and how lucky our family is to have so much past and present love around us.

I stretched the blanket to cover his feet dangling over the side of the chair and told him to close his eyes so he could listen to a new song.  I went with California Dreaming.

Found on Etsy.

Found on Etsy.