Still the best day…

It’s Mother’s Day, and I am reminded that my children are the best thing I’ve done in my life. And I do know they’re not “mine,” not really. They came to the world through me, and I’ve guided them as I’ve let them go.  All letting go of them ever meant was allowing the bond between us to grow longer. They are, truly, the people I love most.

It might be more precise to say that they evoke the most love from me. That is my comfort; that this love is deeply me, and in that sense, I “have” my children. But I miss my son and I love him so much, so very, heart-achingly much. Still; it’s my love, and always will be.

This is my second Mother’s Day since Philip died. I have the last Mother’s Day card he’d given me on my desk. That year he and Natalie picked out particularly lovely cards, so I laid them flat on my desk, fan-style, as a decoration. This is what the front of Philip’s card says: “You are not only my mother, you are the woman who shaped my life.” He signed it, “Yeah, it’s corny. But it’s true. I love you.”

There is a reason – a very real reason – people say, “Don’t go to bed mad.”

So here are some stories because I very much need to talk about him right now.

Two weeks before Philip turned two – and while I was four months pregnant with Natalie – his Grandpa Bill (Phil’s dad) died. I took Philip to the wake. Death is a fact of life and I don’t think it should be hidden from children. The question is how to tell them? There isn’t any right answer. There’s you and your child and your capacity to know what s/he can handle and some imagination about how to broach the subject. I wanted Philip to begin to understand that sometimes the people in his life would no longer be there. I didn’t want to say his grandpa was sleeping and I didn’t want to say he was dead. One was a lie and one was too difficult to explain. There’s only so much an almost-two-year-old can grasp. So I knelt down to face Philip with a belly full of Natalie and said, “Philip, we’re going to see Grandpa Bill. He’s going to be lying down, and he’s not going to get up. Is that okay?”

Who knows how much he understood of what I was saying? But he was a calm child, so I wasn’t worried. I got him dressed, then picked him up and stood him on the kitchen table to straighten his little shirt, smooth his little pants. As I was being  a (slightly) fussy mom, I asked, “Philip, do you know where Grandpa Bill is?” to see if he’d say, “Sleeping.” Instead, he raised his little hand high in the air, index finger pointing toward the ceiling, smiled, and said “In the light.”

Whoa. I stepped back and stared at him, this sweet, innocent, amazing little boy, standing there with his hand in the air, full of smiles and secret knowing. I didn’t know where the hell that came from except to say that children are closer to something that gets lost for most of us as we get older.

After Philip died, Phil, Natalie and I went to the house he’d been living in to get his things. I took his notebooks, and it was just a couple of weeks ago that I looked through them. I found a short essay he’d written about his childhood, and he talked about two things. The first was the apartment we lived in until he was seven, which he described as small, dark and cramped. It wasn’t. It was a big, bright apartment, the entire first floor of a house. But the room he shared with Natalie was small, and maybe that’s what he was remembering.

The second thing he wrote about was the wake. He thought he was four years old, said that he saw his grandpa lying in a coffin and it was creepy, but that he looked around and saw people talking and laughing and then he knew it was okay. Being there struck him deeply, more deeply than I ever knew.

And this is what I mean about Philip being a calm kid:

We were a “traditional” family. Phil worked, which meant I got to stay home with the kids. They were my “work.” I nursed them because it was a way of loving them, washed their diapers because I didn’t like fuzz and plastic, made clothes for them because I love what I can do with fabric. I put them to sleep when they were tired and stayed up with them when they weren’t. And when they were ready for solids I made their food, which mostly meant throwing whatever I cooked for dinner into a blender. I don’t get buying Designer Baby Food packed in teeny, expensive jars. I can mash my own bananas, thank you very much. And what was the point of made-for-baby-applesauce when Mott’s-no-sugar-added served the same purpose? Earth’s Best came from my kitchen and not from a jar, no matter how many green fields, fresh fruits and diapered-only toddlers its adorable label had.

But traditional doesn’t mean popular, and the few friends I had went to work soon after their babies were born. My world was small and lonely before I had Philip, and shrunk to mostly me and him after he was born. By the time he was a year and toddling around I hadn’t changed my mind about staying home, but I was bored and frustrated which I attributed to my lack of imagination and not my circumstances. Most of my conversations were the ones I was having with myself, which is pretty bad news since I do not keep myself very good company.

One thing I did was set up a nook in the corner of my dining room where I could sew. Which involved pins. Lots of pins. When I worked, I’d wind up spreading out to the floor and the dining room table and I took my pins with me. Carefully, because pins in the hands of a child are weapons, which they’re likely to turn on themselves in ways I still don’t like to imagine.

But I wasn’t careful enough. One day Philip toddled over to the dining room table. One determined hand grasped its edge while one curious hand went searching until it found a box of 200 pins which made a slightly pleasing tinkling sound when he knocked them down and they scattered all over the hardwood floor.

Drastic times call for drastic measures, and it seemed to me that picking up the nearest chair and banging it repeatedly on the floor while yelling, I CAN’T TAKE IT ANY MORE! was the exact right thing to do. Except no matter how much I tried to lose my mind, a piece of it remained. “What the fuck?” it asked. “Your kid is watching you and you’re scaring him to death.”

Philip was behind me, and I imagined the terror that must be on his face, his eyes tearing, his mouth turned down and trembling, ready to open up and start howling. Goddamnit. I stopped with the chair and turned around expecting to gather him up to shush and reassure him, except he didn’t need any of that at all. He was watching me, little Buddha, waiting for me to stop, and if he could’ve talked I swear he’d have said, “Better now?”

I was, enough to laugh and pick him up and forget about sewing pins for a while. Which makes me think of the saying, “Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.” It never occurred to me what they were talking about.

© 2013 Denise Smyth


11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. tersiaburger
    May 12, 2013 @ 13:01:33

    Hugs on this day. It is my 1st Mothers Day without Vic. It was dreadful.


  2. Kirsten Lagatree
    May 12, 2013 @ 13:03:09

    Happy Mother’s Day, Denise. You are doing Phillip proud with your incredible essays. I so enjoyed today’s.


  3. behindthemaskofabuse
    May 12, 2013 @ 14:35:49

    Happy Mother’s Day. I’m thinking of you as you celebrate Natalie and miss Philip. xo


  4. Denise
    May 12, 2013 @ 18:28:58

    You’ve been so kind and so sweet; thank you.


  5. Aimee
    May 12, 2013 @ 20:46:31

    Happy Mother’s Day, Denise 🙂


  6. Denise
    May 12, 2013 @ 21:02:40

    Thank you, Aimee; and a happy day to you, too.


  7. Denise
    May 12, 2013 @ 21:03:57

    I just realized you’re a mom, too; so Happy Mother’s Day back to you ;o)


  8. Becki Duckworth
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 17:13:33

    Denise I also made my own baby food, Whatever we ate, they ate. I had a food processor and the days meals were placed in there and made into mush :). My children loved the food and they were pretty free of common colds and viruses. They were healthy chunky babies, they all as adults are now fitness addicts.


  9. Denise
    Dec 18, 2013 @ 08:26:16

    Such an easy thing to do – I mean, buy bananas in a jar when you can mush ’em yourself??


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