I am spending a lot of time with my children right now.
I guess we all are. It’s one of the blessings and curses of this pandemic. Every day is family day.
Anyway, since I rarely leave my children, they’ve become even more attached to me than usual. It’s meant that bedtime takes longer because no one wants me to leave, and that Claire insists we talk about all sorts of intense subjects at the end of the day.
Almost every night as I’m leaving her room she says something like, “don’t die, mama, okay? In case you do, I want you to know that I love you so much. I love you so much!”
I always reassure her that I love her, and that I’m not going to die. (I mean, who knows! I guess I could die in my sleep but dear GOD I need to be able to leave her room at a reasonable hour, so I go with a gentle reassurance instead.)
I guess it’s not crazy that my kids think this way. I mean, in a blink of an eye, their father was gone from this earth. They know it can happen. But it worries me that Claire is so obsessed with the idea that I might die. That can’t possibly be healthy, can it?
But here’s the thing: I think about it too. Not about me dying, really. But about losing one of them.
Of course, I thought about it before Shawn died. I think living through my mom’s illness and death as a teenager made me more aware that bad things can happen to the people you love. I also think it’s part of being a parent. I remember confessing to my mom’s group that sometimes I checked on Claire a dozen times before I went to bed just to make sure she was breathing. Many of the other moms told me they did the same thing.
But it’s not really part of the kind of parent I want to be. I want to be the parent who says, “go out and ride your bike wherever you are and come home when it’s dark.” And so I do that….and then I find myself obsessively checking the clock when the sun is low in the sky. I push myself to try and be a more relaxed parent, to let my kids have their freedom and make their own mistakes.
But damn it’s hard.
Because what if something happened? I’m not talking about a failed grade or a skinned knee – what if something really happened to one of them?
It’s a thought I have to actively push away every single day in my head. Because I know that bad things can happen. And I know what crushing grief feels like.
But I guess that’s part of love, isn’t it? It’s a risk we take as a lover or a parent or a child or even sometimes as a friend. We can love big….but it means that if (or when) that love ends, the pain will be as big as the love was.
My daughter seems to understand this. She gets that life could end in an instant and that if it did, she would be in pain. She wants to guard against that.
And so do I, of course. I want to wrap them all in bubble wrap and never send them out in the world. I want to keep them close and know that they will be okay.
But that’s not really how love works either, is it?
Mother’s Day makes me reflect on a lot of things. How much I miss my mom, even though I’ve now lived more years without her than I did with her. How much I miss Shawn, even though this day wasn’t really about him. How much I worry about my children, even though today should be a day when I don’t think bad thoughts at all.
I guess it’s all part of living a life that’s full of love. These holidays – Mother’s Day, my wedding anniversary, my children’s birthdays – make me smile. At the same time, they can also make me cry. They remind me of everyone that I have loved. They remind me of all that I’ve lost. And they remind me of how deep and wide my love is for the people in my life, especially my children.
The kind of love I have for my children is dangerous, in a way. It’s the kind of love that I’m not sure I could live without. It’s the kind of love that is so powerful that sometimes it scares me when I think about it.
And yet, I wouldn’t want it any other way. “I won’t die, baby,” I say every night to my daughter, willing it to be true. I want that reassurance for her, even if I know it’s not something I can truly promise her. Even though I know she can’t promise me the same thing, either.
We don’t know what the future holds, and it’s scary for both Claire and me to think about a world without each other. But I think life is about facing down that fear and saying, “I love you so much anyway. No matter what the future holds, I’m going to keep loving you this deeply. Because that’s the kind of life I want to live. Because that’s the kind of love we both deserve.”
Happy Mother’s Day.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.