What I See

Philip at seven

Philip at seven

Last week I walked into therapy, sat down and made an announcement.

“I want to have a baby,” I said.

“What you need to have is a man,” she answered.

First off, in case you’re wondering, the baby ship sailed about five years ago. Second, that’s not exactly what my therapist said; she’s way more subtle and nuanced. But it’s what she meant, and it’s not about being saved – it’s about what I need and how I take care of myself.

It’s not just having a baby. I want to feel the fullness of pregnancy, I want to walk in the world belly-first. I want to use words like holy and sacred and cherish and tell you I’m on hallowed ground because that’s what it felt like to carry my babies. I want the peace and wonder of those all-too-short nine months. Twice in my life, I used to think; only two times in a whole lifetime do I get to be pregnant. And maybe I’m remembering all this in a blue haze of sentimentality, but I’m longing for Philip and it’s making me crazy.

The need I feel doesn’t seem to be for a man; but I suspect I’m needing to hold and be held, and it’s easier to feel it for a child than an adult. Hence maybe it is for a man. But I can’t see it, not the way I see my child’s gaze, my child’s sleepy arms around me when I carry him to bed. I can’t see it. I’m an adult. If I’m yearning to be held, then I have to think about how that happens. I’m never going to be pregnant, not in this life. If I have a need, I have to figure out a realistic way to meet it.

I don’t know how I got on to that whole thing when what I wanted to write about is what I see when I look at that picture of Philip, and how there are times when I feel like his death is killing me softly and slowly. I try to write truthfully, to stay away from sentimentality, from victimhood. But when I look at this picture – and for some reason I’ve been thinking about it and staring at it for days now – I see an angel and I remember what a sensitive kid Philip was. I remember the way he used to toddle after me, even into the bathroom, how he’d cry if I closed the door. And I loved it because I knew it wouldn’t last. I remember the poem he wrote in second grade, where he named all his friends, but ended by saying that I was his best. I remember the day when we first moved to Montclair – he was seven, like he was in the picture – and I looked out my window to see him in front of our house, leaning on a telephone pole, watching my neighbor’s kid across the street. Jimmy was a year older than Philip. He was on his front lawn playing with what looked his entire little league team. Back and forth I looked with a tight stomach and sagging heart, knowing Philip wanted to be invited over, knowing that if they were letting him stand there, he wasn’t going to be.

But Philip got himself into that, and he’d have to get himself out of it. What parent doesn’t wish they could protect their kid from any-and-every-thing? But we can’t – and if we think about it, why would we want to? Because sooner or later they’re going to be on their own, and what then, if they’ve never figured out anything by themselves? And how does one live more deeply and with meaning, without having had to move through suffering in some way or another? Because not only don’t we get out of here alive, we don’t get out without grief.

When I look at that picture I see Philip at nine, at a pool party with his friends and their families. I see him coming over to me and Phil crying, because his friend Tim pushed him. He didn’t understand why Tim was mean – that’s what got to him. One by one the kids in the pool began looking our way and whispering. It’s that pack mentality that senses weakness – it’s the scent of blood, and they were circling for the kill. Philip’s weakness was wanting to belong but not feeling he did. Plus he broke the unspoken rule of not “telling” on another, a sin with a hard recovery.

Phil went to speak to Tim’s dad, who told him Philip should have pushed back. I think nine is a good time to tell your kid not to lay your hands on another kid if it’s not self-defense. But what do I know of a boy’s world? What I knew was my son was crying and everyone was watching. And what greater humiliation than to be the shut-out of the group, to be the kid leaning on the telephone pole, watching.

When we got home, I knelt down to talk to him. “Philip, look,” I said, “I don’t care if you cry. But those kids aren’t going to be nice to you if you do. Maybe you could try really, really hard next time not to cry, and just tell yourself you’re going to wait until you get home. Because here you can do what you want. Go in your room if you have to. Cry, yell, whatever. But don’t give them any reason to make fun of you.”

I was begging him, really, to let it go, because then could feel better. You know how it is – your child doesn’t hurt without you hurting right along. But it didn’t work. Philip was upset and didn’t say a word. So I stopped talking and stepped back because this was something else he was going to have to puzzle out on his own. And I had to trust that he would, and that both of us were going to be all right.

And that’s not all I see, but it’s all I’ll talk about for now.

© 2014 Denise Smyth


22 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. dharmagoddess
    Mar 02, 2014 @ 09:15:43

    I loved reading your memories. Bittersweet. It’s so hard to step back from our boys’ struggles, especially when they are sensitive little guys. My eldest (almost 18) was very sensitive and had some moments like you described above. As the protective Mother Bear, I realized part of that role was feeling everything my child felt but recognizing that did not automatically carry with it the [right] empowerment to make everything better. Wowzers that is the toughest part of the Mom role.

    As a sidebar, longing for a child is (to me) very different from longing for a man, but then again, I’m not that kind of doctor. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, as always.


    • Denise
      Mar 02, 2014 @ 17:29:53

      I often talk about the way I communicate with Philip – and one of the things he said to me was, “You remember how you hurt when I did? How do you think I feel watching you suffer like this?” When we suffer we have an affect that we don’t understand.

      Yes, the longing for a child is certainly different from longing for a man; but in the context of my life as it is now, what we were talking about is relevant. It’s yet another thing I’m grappling with.

      So good to hear from you.


  2. behindthemask
    Mar 02, 2014 @ 12:55:46

    Hugs xo


  3. tric
    Mar 02, 2014 @ 14:14:11

    I smiled when I read your opener, as very recently my friend said something similar…. well like you said, not quite. She has a 17 year old and is very anti sex before 18. Shortly after her young son died she said, “there could be worse things than a new baby in the house”. Then we both laughed knowing that what she had gone through had changed how she saw the world hugely. A real case of walk in my shoes before you can comment on my life and choices.


  4. Greet Grief
    Mar 02, 2014 @ 14:54:31

    The power of a picture to take us back to reflect on the past and to see new things – a good way to process, a good way to grieve. And yet what pain – thinking of you and sending a virtual hug.


  5. jmgoyder
    Mar 03, 2014 @ 06:07:14

    What a beautiful photo of a beautiful boy. You can see his sensitivity and I am not surprised you feel his presence still so strongly in your life. Thank you for telling us about Philip – it is a gift Denise, if that makes sense. Thinking of you. Julie xxx


    • Denise
      Mar 05, 2014 @ 12:38:47

      Hey Julie – thank you for saying that. Of course he’s truly a gift to me. I didn’t realize, even when I started the blog, how important it is to share him.

      Thank you for being there xoxoxoxoxo


  6. Bonnie (Coit) Dean
    Mar 03, 2014 @ 12:31:03

    My heart feels your pain.


  7. tersiaburger
    Mar 03, 2014 @ 13:55:53

    What a beautiful photo of Phillip. You cannot replace Phillip, but a child – adopted or biological will help fill the emptiness. A child would keep you occupied. Lots of hugs!!!


    • Denise
      Mar 05, 2014 @ 12:42:39

      Thanks, Tersia; I do love that photo. I live with Natalie and I work – not ideal for adopting. But I’ll tell you, it’s crossed my mind. I used to think I’d do foster care when my kids got older. I was home with them, and figured I would love doing that once they left. But things work out the way they work out. But who knows – maybe one day.

      I’d sure like a grandkid, though (but don’t tell Natalie – at her age, she looks at me cross-eyed when I say that ;o)


  8. kmlagatree
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 19:02:48

    Such a beautiful photo of Phillip. He exudes the sensitivity you describe so well. If only we could save those we love from suffering. I’d save you, if I could. You have a shining soul and are a wonderful friend, even through your grief. xo


  9. Denise
    Mar 06, 2014 @ 23:06:41

    As you are; and it’s been too long. You’re back? We’ll see each soon and I love you.


  10. lensgirl53
    Mar 07, 2014 @ 06:19:43

    Those eyes….so beautiful. I remember the times when Brandon was hurt by other kids and it was a painful, powerless feeling. It is a natural instinct for us to be the saviors and to shield them as much as we can. I am glad you have that memory about telling Philip how to handle the problem of being left out that every kid must face at some point in childhood. I am sure your wisdom and love impacted him in a most positive way.

    I have felt that desire to be pregnant again sometimes or to just relive the feeling of life kicking from inside me…wanting to be born. Yes, all those wonderful feelings (minus the heartburn and backache) that make us know we are part of a miracle that men can only envy. Much love to you dear friend.


  11. Denise
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 13:30:31

    I know that sometimes I just want to stop feeling this grief; and being pregnant is one of those fantasy-ways I think would make it go away. But round and round I go – I wouldn’t give my grief away even if I could, because then goes the love which is its other side. I’m just tired, Dale, and all the sleep in the world can’t help. Unfortunately, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

    Thanks for being there. xoxoxoxo


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