Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stepping in it.

Before one procreates and adds to the world’s populace, one tends to have preset, romanticized images and expectations of parenthood and all that it brings. 

That perfectly baby scent. Sweetly soft cooing and long lashes resting on soft rosy cheeks. Tiny toes and rosebud lips. Baby blues and tiny fingers wrapped around ours.

There are those of us who choose never to do so, and those of us who choose to … many times over. There are those of us who know in their heart of hearts that they are destined for motherhood and motherhood above all else. And there are those of us who believe that women have every right to stand at the helm of the world’s most powerful entities with equal ability to fulfill our desire to guide and mold and nurture the precious lives we’ve borne. There are those of us who want motherhood so desperately, only to be thwarted and to hide the tears when others come to it so easily and others still turn away from the role. For each woman, motherhood and the possibilities and risks that come with it is perhaps one of the most profound decisions we make.

I have two degrees, a highly pedigreed boarding school education and life experiences that are, at turns, shockingly outrageous and unmatched in their poignancy. I’ve watched wizened women carve a life of warmth in frigid extremes, centered on family and hearth. I built a successful career and then rearranged it, sacrificing professional aspirations for personal fulfillment and a deep sense of responsibility. I survived one of the most painful journeys the human heart must endure, and I am stronger and wiser for it.

But nothing has been as terrifying and fulfilling as the role of mother.

It did not come easily to me, a gift I longed for and that I couldn’t deliver that family and friends pressed for it from the moment the ring settled on my finger. I began the process of grieving for the loss of my own fulfillment and all of the possibilities that were wrapped within it.

Then suddenly it all changed and where before I thought I would have none, I had two of everything I had ever dreamed of. And more.

The perfect baby scent. The cooing. The rosebud lips and baby blues and tiny fingers and toes. And sleepless nights. And poop oozing out of diapers and swollen breasts and skinned knees and first butterflies and collections and carefully drawn family portraits Christmas mornings and laughter and tears and sleepy Sunday mornings. Two hearts to mend.

Standing here in the pre-dawn darkness, my naked body shivering in the cold light of the refrigerator, I stare blindly back on the last decade – the happiness the pain and the triumph – and one thing is clear.

Vomit is vomit. No matter how old they are when you step in it.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Breaking Free.

It’s a funny thing that we, the living, do to ourselves when we’re ignominiously left behind by the Ferryman. 

Any number of books on the psychological warfare that is grief will tell you that while there may be six stages, how and when we navigate them is individual to ourselves and our circumstance. Where one drowns their misfortune in alcohol, another finds fulfillment and rebirth in philanthropy. Where one regrets time lost and steps away from the corporate pressure cooker to live life to its fullest, another drowns the pain of loneliness in work. But no matter when we hit the six stages, we inevitably hit them all. Some race by while others are emotional quicksand that drag us down in a seemingly eternal emotional hell.

Merry widows, indeed.

Nearly six years in, this is what I know:

We have no concept of what the human body can withstand, until we survive it. We think we understand life and love, but what we know is really just the first layer. There will always be a missing element in my children’s world. Less coffee. More vegetables. I should have listened when my husband’s friends told me to start living again. Just because he died doesn’t mean I did. Death does nasty things to the bodies of the living. I would change some of the decisions I made. I should have done more, seen more, played more and relaxed more. I drank far too much wine.

(Go ahead and judge. When you fall asleep beside someone alive and wake up to find them dead, one bottle is worth far more than a thousand sheep.)

I left the six stages behind a while ago, but what no one tells you is that the path to new life is paved with hope and renewal and excitement and regret and fear and caution and reckless abandon. And for some, the shackles of the past linger irritatingly.

For all of the rushing forward – for all of the living we’ve done – I have waited six years to slam the door that his death left open.

The first year has vanished from memory. The second an angry blur. The third was transitional. The fourth tentative, filled with hope and careful laughter. But it is the last two that have dragged like an eternity because I have been awake and hungry and frustrated and my patience has run thin. I am tired of waiting for life to begin and the simple truth is this.

To reach the end, I must return to the beginning.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Fading Crests.

“Mom, can you please pick a different shirt for tomorrow?”

The whispered tremor in her voice cuts through me like a cold scream. I cannot see her in the darkness but in my mind’s eye I can see the tears cutting silent paths down her warm, rosy cheeks until they fall like raw diamonds into the tiny hands she clenches.

I know her sadness – I do not need her to say the reason. I do not want to hear her say the reason. To hear the words that give shape to her tears.

When she walked out, draped in the faded black t-shirt that hung over protectively over the tiny leotard just as the faded crest once hung protectively in life, she seemed smaller somehow. And my heart stopped to know that I had not realized that her simple request would uncover the pain hiding quietly beneath the surface. In my hunger to see the smile in her eyes, I had thought only of the request and not the consequence.

A simple shirt, no longer simple.

The silver Phoenix is long faded, the year beneath an inconsequential reminder of how much has come to pass. Too large for my tiny frame, it hid the body I did not believe in until it draped the belly of my future. The Phoenix rested on my heart for years, a simple crest fading as time passed and my life grew full. For more than a year his clothes remained where he left them, until one quiet morning my fingers ran along the dusty rows of crested t-shirts.

A Phoenix for each year.

But it was the faded Phoenix that I could not let go, its silver wings a reminder that held so many memories. For so long it had been my constant companion, a symbol of my husband’s oath to protect and serve the city we had both come to, separately, to start anew. In losing him I had lost its comfort and the sense of belonging that its wings had delivered.

Slipping it on, I sank beneath the soft weight of the faded crest, the memories woven into the threads a warm embrace. And when the tears would no longer come I realized that the fiery Phoenix would always be mine and that I would rise from the ashes and be born again, a woman shaped by everything that had come before and everything yet to pass.

She does not yet feel the warmth of the Phoenix, only the coldness left when its wings are no longer there. But I see the fire inside and I watch as she spreads her wings fiercely, demanding that life repay its debt.

And I see that the Phoenix once lost was always in my heart.