Wantings and Warnings

I’ve been nominated several times for blogger awards, most recently by dear Lucia from Luminous Blue. I want to take a moment to say thank you; I am honored. And I haven’t meant not to “accept” the awards so kindly offered. It’s just that there’s a whole long process involved, and I haven’t had time to sit down to do it. But I am grateful for even being considered.


Natalie and I have officially moved. We have no internet service, so I haven’t been online in days.

Just sayin’.

There’s a story about Philip I’ve been wanting to tell, but I couldn’t figure out why except for thinking it shows just what a swell mom I am. I was working on it last week. Turns out maybe I am a swell mom, but that’s not what the story is about. It’s getting complicated, so I’m taking a break because it’s been hard to concentrate. I am not feeling so very well. See, Philip’s dead and my stomach’s threatening to hurl its contents. How to live in a world where such things happen, where every moment parents all over the place are getting whacked into this appalling reality? How many times can I say it’s unbearable, even as I get up and bear it anyway?

Ed’s been talking to me about a young man and woman he’s working with at the college where he teaches. They’re a couple – she’s 21 and has her Master’s Degree; he’s 25 with two Masters from Columbia and will probably go on to his Doctorate. Ed says they are beautiful and brilliant with a future to envy. They are all three passionate, with Ed wanting this future for them and teaching them what he knows to help them have it.

That’s the story as Ed tells it. I listen, then make my own story. The one about these beautiful, brilliant kids who have life by the balls because something was granted them that wasn’t granted Philip. To say “granted” is me having a tantrum. Truth is there isn’t any answer why people are the way they are. I thought my efforts to raise my kids would yield a certain kind of future; I thought if I loved them, fed them and read to them, they’d be good to go.

A couple days ago I thought about a story I read when Philip was a baby. It was in a magazine called “Mothering,” which was (is?) the go-to manual on birthing/raising children au natural. You know – born at home, nursed, cloth-diapered, fed organic foods, carried around in calico cotton slings that fit across your torso. Vaccinations and circumcisions were hot topics, with writers on the side of nay to both. See, that was me; wanting to live down to the bone, wanting to stay at home and hand-raise my babies. Thinking that would make them into some version of what I wanted to but couldn’t be. Philip had the same innate intelligence I had when I was a kid; but he was generous, kind and friendly and so I thought his world richer than mine, me with my troubled, emotionally crazy responses to Life. So what makes some kids beautiful and brilliant and other kids dead from heroin?

I know that’s not the question. But I can’t help feeling sick with envy at beautiful and brilliant while my son is reduced to ashes in an urn.

But the story. The story was written by a woman who had five kids. All born at home, all nursed, all taken care of by a 24/7 Mom. But one of her kids, a son – he didn’t do so well. He was an addict, he was wild. One day he disappeared. She didn’t know where he was, didn’t know if he was dead or alive. A warning that all the breast milk in the world won’t guarantee your children will live longer than you do.

I thought of that story many, many times over the years. I got what she was saying; I really did. I was touched and humbled and so very sad for her. Still, that was her life and I didn’t consider the possibility of something like that happening to my son. What parent would? That kind of stuff happened in magazines and newspapers; what had that to do with my life? Thing is, for all the years I read “Mothering,” that’s the only story I remember. It’s another piece of what I’ve already written about, that in some larger sense I was being prepared for Philip’s death.

How is it that I believe in the pattern I see evolving, yet so often feel on the edge of unhinged? And get what happened yesterday:  First off, for anyone who doesn’t know, there’s a woman’s clothing store called Forever 21 (it’s written “XXI,” and it’s the reason the name of my blog can’t also be its address). The clothes are trendy and not made so well. Neither Natalie, Nadiya or I shop there.

I still have stuff at Nadiya’s, and yesterday I was packing some of it up. I made a decision to get rid of something I’d been holding on to for a long time. It was a hard decision, but I’m in letting go mode, so I took a breath and released. Getting rid of this something involved tearing up papers. Lots of papers. So I took a stack of them, sat on the bottom stair in the foyer and started ripping away, wondering if I was really doing the right thing, scared I was going to be sorry for this one day. Then I noticed something on the floor, next to the garbage bag. I looked closer, picked it up and son of a bitch if it wasn’t a clothing tag from Forever XXI.

I think I need to go think about that; I need to really, deeply think about that.

© 2013 Denise Smyth





16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. afichereader
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 15:31:58

    I haven’t thought about Mothering magazine in a long time. That’s fascinating that that’s the story you remember.

    I’m sorry you feel envy for the bright, shiny 20-somethings. I hope you can let it go someday, but if you’re feeling it now, then I’m glad you are allowing yourself to feel it, and feel it through.

    Peace to you.


    • Denise
      Aug 13, 2013 @ 11:27:40

      You’d think I’d know better, envying some future that won’t ever come except as the now, and that one day won’t come at all, for any of us…


      • afichereader
        Aug 13, 2013 @ 14:12:15

        What we know doesn’t matter, right? This is the realm of feelings, which have greater knowledge than we can know. If you’re envious, then envy. Feel it. It may take you somewhere beyond it. I just feel bad for you because it’s a crappy feeling! (I just emerged from feeling chronically envious of and distant from others. Nasty stuff, those feelings.)

    • Denise
      Aug 13, 2013 @ 15:24:31

      You just reminded me that when you fight – or resist – a feeling that you don’t want, you only make it worse. You’re then not only upset at what you’re upset at, you’re upset that you’re upset at what you’re upset at. It truly amplifies it all.

      I swear I was much better at this stuff before Philip died. So much of what I was practicing I don’t want to do. It’s all so hard…which means I need to breathe, stay present and just let the nattering in my head be.


  2. tersiaburger
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 16:24:35

    My dear friend- as mothers we do our best. Right or wrong we cannot do more. Our children are beings in their own right and make their own mistakes as we did. We can only love them and pick up the pieces. We cannot live their lives. Much love and healing wishes!


    • Denise
      Aug 13, 2013 @ 11:32:56

      It’s the damn pieces, Tersia; if I pick up one, I drop another. I don’t know – maybe it’s the move, but I’m so down, everything feels so impossible.


  3. grahamforeverinmyheart
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 18:15:49

    Have you watched the brief video that I linked on my site: “Hooked on Heroin” (it’s on the first page of my site)? It’s from a CBS Sunday Morning program and it shows another mother whose son died from a heroin overdose. She, too, did everything “right”.

    It’s a shock to discover that you can do everything possible to provide the most nurturing childhood for your children and still, things can go wrong. I think I always felt very lucky – having two healthy, wonderful and brilliant kids. And yet, some things in the world are beyond our control and we can’t protect our kids from everything forever. If we could, none of us would be facing life without our children.


    • Denise
      Aug 13, 2013 @ 10:24:08

      I just watched the video. I’ve never taken heroin, but I’ve been addicted to one thing or another since I was 11. Thing is, an addict has no fear. Just the way no parent thinks their kid’ll die first, no addict thinks their substance-of-choice will kill them. And I thought much of the reason for my drinking and drugging was the difficult childhood I had; I thought I’d love any kind of need right out of my kids. It doesn’t work that way; as has been said, our kids will do what they do. I know I didn’t do anything wrong…or do I? Intelligently I know that, anyway. But one thing I’m sure of is that Philip died knowing he was loved, and that means much to me.


  4. Lucia Maya
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 20:49:04

    Wonderful post, as always. And I can relate to so much of what you say! I, too, read Mothering magazine, breastfed, made my kids healthy, organic food, used natural cleaning products, etc… Yet my vegetarian, yoga-loving 21 year old daughter got cancer and died!

    There is so much we try to do for our kids, to protect them and keep them safe, and there’s no way we have control over what happens, ultimately. It’s both devastating and freeing. Of course I can still find ways to blame myself somehow, on my bad days, but mostly I believe we’ve all done the best we can, and our kids have too, and now we continue…


    • Denise
      Aug 13, 2013 @ 10:48:00

      Funny…all those things, and I never realized how much I thought I was protecting my kids against death. I mean, that’s what we do, we parents, each in our own way. Yes, devastating and freeing. As I’ve already written, you can’t control one part of life without the responsibility of controlling all of it. But it’s so hard to understand that, so easy to fly off the handle about wanting to make them come home.


  5. amourningmom
    Aug 12, 2013 @ 22:11:32

    Thinking of you and Phillip. I wish that none of us had to live in a world without our child/ children. Sending you hope and hugs.


  6. Becki Duckworth
    Dec 18, 2013 @ 19:24:21

    I remember the Mothering publication , Hadn’t thought about that in a long time. You are breast milk cloth diapers, cloth slings and even family beds change nothing. I am still super mad today at Max, can’t get that out of my head.


  7. Denise
    Dec 18, 2013 @ 19:47:47



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