“I had an awesome day!” said my big girl as she got off the bus. Then as I was trying to get dinner ready, something shifted. She stormed up stairs, flung herself on my bed.
“Everything was bad today.”
At this point I sigh deeply and hope nothing is burning on the stove. I want to remind her of all the good things about her day, the ones she bubbled about when she got off the bus, the things we’ve done since. She hates it when I say things like, “It was terrible when you got pancakes for breakfast. And you hated having gym today. Then I made you play soccer.”
“Mom, STOP IT!” she says, annoyed but trying not to smile all the same.
I do stop. I let her tell me what was bad—the friend she didn’t to sit with at lunch, the project she wanted to work on when she got home, the bike she wanted to ride before it got dark. I acknowledge it is hard when we have to choose what to do, when we can’t do all the things we want. I get her calmed down enough to go check on dinner.
When we sit down at the table, I ask who has three happy things.
“Can I go first?” she asks. Turns out her day wasn’t all bad after all.
Her mood shifts strike me lately, coming as they do at dinner time or bedtime. I just want to get food on the table, get every one tucked in. I’m tired this time of day—and sometimes I get grumpy. Sometimes I need to refind the happy in my day too. The other day I posted this on Facebook:
3 happy things today:
- playing games with my kids in front of the fire this morning
- pre-dinner backyard soccer
- the gorgeous orange-pink sunset behind the bare trees spotted during that soccer game
It was a peaceful cozy start to my day. I admit, I didn’t really want to go out to play soccer, but my big girl’s enthusiasm was infectious and the fresh air woke me up. I found myself smiling even before she stopped the ball and said, “Mom, look at the sky!” We both paused to soak it in before she started kicking again. When we looked back, the color had faded our fingers grew cold, and we agreed to go back in.
We typically say something we are thankful for at the beginning of dinner, and perhaps that would be more appropriate in this season, but this week, at my neighbor’s prompting, we started saying three happy things.
Once we get started, the kids can’t seem to stop. They rattle off five or interrupt each other—”oh, oh, I have another one.” It’s not a bad way to spend dinner.
Today, the my little girl’s use of the word splendid during a game delighted me, bright sunshine fills me with joy, and finishing up a project that I’ve been procrastinating makes me happy.
What ‘s making you happy today?
My journals are filled with the sad, angry, worry, and confusion. There are moments of joy or contentment, but they tend to be briefer, less frequent. I write often to sort things out.
But happiness, hope, joy, and gratitude have a place too. Write about what makes you happy today. List it (a happiness journal rather than a gratitude journal) or choose one and freewrite about it. Start with sensory details. Take of a snapshot of this moment in words.
Share what’s making you happy today in comments.
K was on the carpet, pushing up to standing at a child-sized chair. I hovered behind her, hands ready to steady her. Another mom, one I didn’t know, dark hair, asked, “Is she your first?” And I sat in the terrible pause where I tried to decide how to answer that question. I think she kept talking, something about how with your first you’re so excited when they stand and with later kids you almost push them back down because you know what’s coming.
“She’s my second. My son died when he was six and half months old.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
I carefully watched K, didn’t look into those eyes to see if they were sympathetic or horrified or looking for escape. I didn’t want to cry, and I didn’t have it in me to make this okay for her if she needed that. As I gathered my strength to scoop up K, grab my diaper bag, and run away, another voice said quietly, “Are you Henry’s mom?”
The tears that had been threatening leaped up. I blinked them back as I looked up this time, at the woman with reddish hair and a post-partum belly. I had seen her earlier, but it took me a while to place her. I had met her in the summer of 2007 at a baby group with Henry.
Even once I made the connection, I didn’t say hello. I didn’t ask about her new baby or how having two kids was. I didn’t ask if she was sleeping or had enough help this time around. I realized why I knew her but said nothing.
But here she was with a little boy of Henry’s would be age and a new baby, asking if I was Henry’s mom.
“Yes,” I said simply. And she told me her name and her son’s name and how she knew me. She asked me about K and told me she had thought of me often since she heard that Henry had died. Our little ones moved in opposite directions, and following them we separated, but I went home so relieved and grateful to have been seen as Henry’s mom.
I didn’t reach out first, but I followed up. I found her email address on an old list from 2007. “It was nice to see you again,” I started and then:
“It was nice to be recognized as Henry’s mom. Having K has been wonderful simply for who she is but also healing. Still, my heart aches for my baby boy who is not here, so to simply be called his mom kind of made me smile a little all day. So, thank you. “
Six years later, I still smile at that memory. I’m still grateful that she was not afraid to say Henry’s name or to greet me as Henry’s mom.
I am many parts, some of them more obvious, some of them more active roles. As mom to my girls, I go to parent-teacher conferences, watch soccer games, volunteer with the PTO, make dinner, sit through meltdowns, read stories each night. As Henry’s mom, I remember. I hold pieces of him. I love Empty Arms, I go back each fall to Boston Children’s, I walk in the Buddy Walk as ways to be more actively, more obviously what I am every day, Henry’s mom.
Today is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Today I remember many babies gone too soon and I honor the women I’ve met who miss them.
I see you:
Charlotte’s mom; Angel Mae and Owen’s mom; Sierra’s mom; Lucia’s mom; Hope’s mom; Jordan’s mom; Georgiana’s mom; Birdie’s mom; Emma’s mom; Hudson’s mom; Teddy’s mom; Tikva and Jesse Love’s mom; Ezra’s mom; Lakshmi’s mom; Lyra’s mom; Calla’s mom; George’s mom; Thomas’s mom; Georgina’s mom; Isabella, Sean, Samantha, Tristan, and Maggie’s mom; Justin’s mom; Sally Ann’s mom; Matthew and Ashley’s mom; Madison’s mom; Eva’s mom; Jason’s mom; Emilio’s mom; Caitlyn’s mom; Magie’s mom, Devon’s mom, and you, with the baby unnamed but loved.
I see you.
“Let me take your picture before we eat,” I said imagine chocolate smears from the muffins all down her first day of school outfit.
As I grabbed the camera (I still don’t have a cell phone), she raced to the stand in front of the flowers where her sister had stood for her first day of school picture last week.
“Only with K!” she demanded wanting her sister in there too. Then quickly she changed to, “I wanna take a selfie.”
My preschooler wanted to take a selfie.
I didn’t go to preschool, but when I was in school, I didn’t know the word selfie because it didn’t exist. When my first day of school pictures were taken, my mom took them with a camera. With film. Long after school started, when we finished the roll and remembered to drop off the film and remembered to pick it up, we got that film developed and actually saw the pictures.
These days, my kids want to see the picture practically before I take it. “Let me see. Let me see!” Digital means you know if you got a good shot or not, but there’s no waiting, no anticipation. Sometimes it feels like everything is RIGHT NOW all the time.
But last week, my big girl headed off to school on Monday and the little one turned to me as the bus pulled away. “I’m bored. There’s no one to play with.”
Despite everything feeling “on-demand,” she had to wait for more than a week for her school to start. But today was her day. She was up early and dressed in the outfit she had picked out, the one that wasn’t my favorite on the rack, but was so her, bright and bold and sassy. She was all big grins that she had the same kind of muffins her big sister had had for her first day of school.
She waved her sister off and then hurried to the car. It was her day, and she was ready to start.
Both my girls are back in school, and I’m settling back into my own routine, including writing more regularly.
Are you writing today?
Think about what’s different now than when you were a kid. Make a list or zoom in one change. How do you feel about this change?
At lunch, her face crumpled, or flattened out rather, chin pulled down, eyes wide and blinking. She was trying not to cry.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
Her mouth tightened from its frown, and she took a minute before she answered.
“I’m going to miss Mrs. Foley,” she said, the last word rising into a near wail. “I’m sad she isn’t going to be my teacher anymore.”
Then my big girl sighed and took another bite of her pizza.
Last Thursday night, as I put teacher gifts together and sat down to write notes, my mind flashed back to the first day of school:
Mrs. Foley read The Kissing Hand. When she asked a question, my big girl’s hand shot up and she answered in a loud clear voice. I wondered where my shy preschooler had gone.
Now I wonder where this year has gone. Weren’t we just chasing the bus up to school on that first day?
In the last few months, my big girl has started reading and writing. She’s riding a bike without training wheels “on the pavement!” and I let her go to the end of the street and back by herself. She lost her first tooth.
The images of her year ran through my mind as we wrap up this year, moving at fast-forward speed as they seemed to have done. Friday at the picnic, I smiled as my big girl took her certificate and squealed with her friends under the water in the spray park, and I felt the sadness of an ending too.
Yesterday I came downstairs after quiet time, and as I opened the fridge to get the iced coffee, I saw the note stuck up with a magnet:
I am sad.
As I set the coffee on the counter, another paper fluttered to the floor. I stooped to pick it up.
I am sad.
I saw her trying not to cry face again. I felt my own end of the year, my baby’s growing up so fast happy-sadness. I remembered the feeling of “this will never be again” even as a kid.
I found I am sad sprinkled all over the house. I gave my big girl a hug and looked her in the eye. “You really are sad, aren’t you?”
She nodded, eyes big with tears that didn’t fall again.
“It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to miss your teacher. I’m so glad you loved her and had such a good year in kindergarten.”
She nodded again and snuggled into my hug. We sat for a moment, paused in that ending place.
After she squirmed out of my arms and went off to play, I looked again at the note, amazed because it wasn’t so long ago that she couldn’t write. It wasn’t so long ago she didn’t know how to say I am sad. Those days of thrashing tantrums as she learnedon the floor seem so long ago and not.
I am not sad to have said good-bye to tantrums, but I feel the tug of what was, what is passing, even as I embrace what comes.
It’s the first day of summer vacation. Yesterday’s rain has passed. My big girl came down this morning smile wide and bright. The summer stretches before us. with beach and camping and picking blueberries to look forward to. At breakfast, her face clouded, “I’m still a little sad,” she said. And then she noticed the squash flowers in the garden and the log with a hole that would make a special fairy house. She’s holding what’s passing and what is and what’s coming in this ending-beginning time of year.
Write with Me Wednesday
Write about an ending today, either one you are experiencing or anticipating or one from your past.
Were you sad? happy? relieved?
Choose one moment from that time of end. Put yourself in that moment. Start writing there.
The day before your son’s eighth birthday, you stop at the market to get sausage for breakfast the next morning. You go to the bank, get gas, buy coffee. You meet a friend, eat quiche, drink coffee, write, like you do every Thursday. The checklist of errands, the routine of your writing day soothe you.
The day before your son’s eighth birthday, you notice the lilacs are fading quickly, though you still catch a ghost of their scent, but the deep purple irises have just opened near the back door. You stop to watch a butterfly hover and rest on a flower, its wings nearly black with white spots on the underside, with more yellow on the top. You stand and watch even though mosquitoes hover around you and the air is steamy and your garden is full of weeds. Your son taught you to slow down, to notice. You needed to relearn that lesson throughout his life. You keep trying to relearn that lesson now.
The day before your son’s eighth birthday you get your older daughter off the bus as the leaves turn up on the trees and the wind picks up. You wait for rain that doesn’t come. You hear a low rumble far away.
“Let’s make Thunder Cake!” your girls shout. It’s not the cake you planned to make, but you eight years ago you learned that your plans don’t always play out. You read the story with the girls clamoring on the couch around you. Then you set them to beating the egg whites in the old hand mixer while you measure out the other ingredients.
When you try to take the cakes out of the pans, one sticks and crumbles. You look at the mess and sigh. It will still taste good. Imperfect things can still be amazing.
The night before your son’s eighth birthday, you sit in the rocking chair and sing your girls their songs. You remember the song you made up for your son who should turn eight tomorrow. You remember singing it, tentatively, quietly, in the NICU surrounded by beeping machines and another baby who couldn’t stop crying and parents you knew only by sight and nurses. You remember how tense you were in those first days and feel yourself wound tight again. You take a deep breath and try to let your shoulders down.
You try not to yell at your girls who have to use the potty, see spiders, have “bad thoughts,” can’t sleep. You tuck them back in. You give them good thoughts. You say, “Be quiet. Its late.” You say good-night one more time.
On the night before your son’s eighth birthday, you make chocolate frosting, the really good one that takes a long time. You flip the mangled cake onto a plate, spread the thick frosting on top. You flip the other layer on top and smooth frosting on again. When you are done, you look at the cake. The smoothness of the top that will not be punctuated by candles breaks you for a minute. The tears that have been waiting come. You need them to come out. You don’t know if there are more.
On the night before your son’s eighth birthday, you plan out your morning:
egg sandwich early in the quiet before everyone is up
sausage and cake—your neighborhood tradition
get your big girl on the bus
snuggle and read with the little girl
tend Henry’s garden.
On the night before your son’s eighth birthday, you remind yourself that your morning probably won’t go that way. You’ll sleep late or the little one will be up early. Your big girl’s tooth will fall out or the little one will have a meltdown. Thunder will rumble and not bypass you this time. Things won’t go as planned. He taught you that, too, your boy, though letting go of plans and control is another lesson you have to learn again and again.
You step outside, look up to the ¾ moon bright in the sky. You want to feel him in the stars like you did one night in Maine. You want to feel him warm and sleepy up in bed. You shiver in the cool night air, feel the grass damp beneath your feet. You go inside and tuck your girls back in, shifting the big one’s feet back on the bed, wiping sweat from the little one’s forehead. You breathe deep this moment—the chill night air, the dog snoring on the couch, your girls cozy in bed. You sit with this moment. Right here. What is.
Tomorrow your son would turn eight. You plan to sink your hands into the soil in his garden. You plan to eat chocolate cake and strawberries. Maybe you will, or maybe not.
The day will unfold, just as his life did, on its own terms regardless of your plans. Tomorrow your son would turn eight. You will try to let go of your plans, hold onto your memories, and find beauty in the day whatever it brings.
“Can we go out an play in the puddles?”
“Not today. Too cold.” It was gray all day and grew rawer as the day went on. Our wood stove is cranking out heat again after a few days off. And I know my kids and our neighbors didn’t just want to splash in puddles in their rain boots, they wanted to run and romp and roll in them. They wanted to dump murky water over each others’ heads and need an outdoor shower before they could come in the house.
They did that—with our okay—last year. We okayed it because the spring sunshine made it hard to head home and get ready for bed and there was a little wine left from dinner and they were so excited about it.
I okayed it because I remembered my mom saying yes, some 30+ years before on vacation in New Hampshire. I remembered the sheer joy of jumping and splashing and lolling in the mud, the soft-grittiness of it. I smiled thinking about lying down in the puddle like it was a tub. I remember laughing and dripping in my teal terry cloth romper (forever stiff with dirt after that), my favorite outfit that summer.
Today was too late, too cold, but one day last spring I said, “Yes.”
“Remember when mom let us roll around in that big mud puddle?” My sister and I both do.
My little one asks me for stories about me when I was little every day on the way to school. I always begin, “Once upon a time, when I was a little girl . . . ” stalling, trying to come up with a story I haven’t told her. She doesn’t care though, as long as it’s not too short, so I tell her about the mud puddle and the time we went camping and I woke up in my own bed. I tell her about the time I went missing but was in my garden the whole time and about my sister’s rabbit that peed on me and the time the neighbor’s horse charged at my dad while he was getting our new bikes out of the car.
I wonder what stories she and her sister will remember and retell.
What memory has stuck with you since you were a child? What family stories do you retell?
Share your stories in comments or with somebody in your family.
Take some time to write today—and join me for a month of writing with Grow. We’ll connect with those stories that have stuck with you and the moments right now that you want to stick. You don’t have to say yes to puddle jumping, but say yes to some creative time and support for you.