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.
They sorted through the bags looking for the tags, checking the numbers. This year they can read the numbers on our Advent calendar themselves.
22 . . . 19 . . . 18 . . .12 . . .9 . . . 11 . . . 8 . . . 6
Even before the book is out of the cloth bag, jolly with gingerbread men, they start exclaiming, the little one peering over the big one’s shoulder.
“Oh, I LOVE that book!”
“Me too! I luv it”
And then “Can we read it now?”
I sit on the couch and snuggle in on either side of me, a red head resting on one side, the a blond one on the other. I melt into that middle.
“On Christmas eve, many years ago,” I begin.
My big girl half shivers next to me, anticipating the rest of the story, and leans in a little closer. I smile and keep reading.
I heard the bell for many years, but then nothing. I worried that I’d never hear it again, that Christmas would be quiet and dim in our house.
Even though this month is still full of shadows, light has returned—the gentle glow of the Christmas tree, the warming light of the fire, the dancing excitement in my girls’ eyes.
They run around the house sometimes singing “Jingle Bells” and shaking the bracelets they made with tiny bells pipe cleaners. It’s a tinny sound, but in that enthusiasm, I can almost hear the richer, magical tones of that other bell.
When I’m done reading, we sit for a minute in the warmth and light and quiet before, I prompt them, “Time to get ready.”
The sky, and with it the room, has brightened. The bus will be here soon. In the bright kitchen, I stir oatmeal and call out to the girls to get dressed, but throughout the day there is that moment of peace and warm light and maybe a little magic.
Do you hear the bell at Christmas?
In the comments, share something that gives you comfort or joy this time of year.
I signed my kids up for the summer reading program at the library today. K wants to log enough hours for a small stuffed dog. Last summer it was a hula hoop. I don’t remember prizes when I was kid. I do remember coloring 50 segments of a dragon poster, one for each book I read. I finished it easily. Now, reading 50 books (if I don’t count picture books read over and over) in a full year is a feat.
My current stack: a mix of memoir, YA, fiction, mystery, and writing guide
When my girls were infants, I read more than I expected. I was sitting for hours a day feeding a baby, and I could read while I did that. When K was a baby, I reread childhood favorites mostly: Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, A Little Princes, The Secret Garden . . . When E was born, I jumped around reading gardening and food books, memoirs, and mysteries. I read late at night when I should have gone to bed and during nap time and in the pale dark morning light. Then they grew and started to interact and move, and my reading slowed down again.
Still, I keep a stack of books by my chair. Usually at least one has one of E’s watercolor bookmarks in it. I read at night, and if it’s a particularly gripping book, I keep reading in any spare moment I can find. I had just wrapped up Unbroken before vacation, but the beach has not been book friendly to me for years.
Then came last week. My sisters stacked beach chairs and boogie boards in the car, while I made sandwiches and packed up the towels and sunscreen. I don’t know what made me do it, but I tucked a book in my bag, shoving it under a towel as though I didn’t want anyone to see it.
Last year, I couldn’t imagine ever reading at the beach again. And yet this year, I packed a book—and I read a chapter.
I chose carefully, mind you. Molly Wizenberg’s Delancey has short chapters. It isn’t deep or complicated. You don’t need to follow a complex narrative. It’s interesting but not so gripping you can’t put it down.
I read a chapter of a book at the beach, and it felt like a small miracle. I’m coming out of a time when I couldn’t imagine reading the beach or making dinner while my kids played outside or writing several times a week, all things that I’ve settled into this year.
Looking ahead to this vacation, I was excited to get a dose of the ocean. As I drove, I realized too that I was also looking forward to having help. My kids would run with their cousins instead of telling me they were bored. My sisters would deal with a meltdown while I got dinner on plates or send somebody back to bed while I organized stuff for the beach the next day. We’d all see what needed to be done and step in and do it. So even though I was still figuring out meals and changing the little girl who wet the bed, even though I was packing for the beach and finishing the grocery list, it felt like vacation. I got a little break. I laughed. I was in one of my favorite places with my clan. And I got to read.
What are you reading this summer? (Or what’s in your want to read stack?)