April 26, 2017
When I got home tonight, it was already close to bedtime for the girls. I walked up the stairs with M and started the bedtime routine of snuggling in the bed, talking about the day and just listening to what she had to say. Bedtime is our alone time together. She can be heard at bedtime, and I can stay connected to her. Tonight she wanted to rank the people she loved. She decided she loved her teacher the most and then I came in a close third to R and steamed, white rice.
“I’m happy you have many people to love and that love you,” I said. She thought about it a second and then said, “Actually you are tied to my teacher. I love you.” I kissed her goodnight and moved on to R’s room.
If R decides to sleep with our very excited, rambunctious miniature poodle, I usually don’t lay down with her and have the dog jump all over my head. I make her choose. I asked her if she’s sleeping with the dog. “It’s a tie between you and the dog. Maybe you lay down with me tonight, and the dog tomorrow night.” I lay down with her, and we connect again about her fears and what made her happy that day. I kiss her goodnight and head out the door.
Not sure what to think about my ranking equivalent to rice and the dog, I reflected on the early days after their father’s death, and how M couldn’t sleep alone in her bed, and how they fought over me putting them to sleep. My drop in ranking meant their independence and their growth.
The girls gave me two labels, both a surprise to me and based on their perception of me. “Mommy,” says M, “You are forgettable. Every time I ask you about something you forget it and can never remember.” R says, “Mom you are lazy. You like to just lay on the couch, sleep late and take a bath.” I try to explain to them that I’m not forgettable and lazy, just busy and enjoy my down time to recharge. There is no acknowledgement from either of them.
Rather than getting annoyed with it, I started using it to my advantage. “Mom, did you buy me new shoes?” “Nope, I forgot.” “Mom, do you want to jump on the trampoline?” “Nope, I prefer to just be lazy and relax on the couch.”
I started realizing when I owned my given label, it gave me an excuse, and they didn’t get mad at me. It was a bye – YES! Expectations were lowered, and I never had to live up to them because I could use my label. It was a way to avoid responsibility.
They were wrong about my labels, but, interestingly, I started to become my labels. Instead of being active with R, I could default on “lazy”. Instead of writing things down to remember, I could default on “forgettable.” I then realized it was a warning on labels.
3 1/2 years later and I’m now just able to reflect on the worst day of my life. When you go through something traumatic, you just survive. You go back to the basics. All the superficial things are no longer in your way. You cut to the heart of what matters – living, your family and your good friends, the ones that are by your side in the hospital and at your husband’s funeral. In some ways, going through something traumatic, can provide clarity. An instant shutter of all the things that get in our way, that tempt us, that distract us from who we really are and what is important to us. In an instant it all changes, and you go back to the basics. What is most important in life.
I remember debating whether I tell my girls how sick their father is, debating whether they should go see him on life support. I got a lot of opinions, but I went with my gut. I was their mother and now I must be the one to make all the decisions for them.
On March 7, 2013, I drove home alone to get my girls. I looked my two-year old and five-year old in the eyes and said, “we need to go say good-bye to your daddy. He’s dying.” I drove to the hospital with tears down my face, trying to pull myself together for what would be the hardest thing I hopefully ever had to do as a mother. I walked them down the hallway past all the sick patients in the ICU, and led them to a small room with lots of machines. Their father was hooked up on a respiratory with tubes and machinery in his mouth and a life support machine to keep his organs working. His arms were all bruised and taped and dirty from weeks of tests and machines. I remember sweet M stroking his one finger that poked out of all the mess. She kept repeating, “his eyes are closed, his eyes are closed.” R was frightened and didn’t know what to do. She was very quiet. I looked up and saw a tear in the nurse’s eye. All I could say was, “Girls say good-bye to your daddy. He’s going to heaven. We won’t see him anymore.”
No one thought it was a good idea for the girls to say good-bye to their father in that state. They thought it was too traumatic for us, but it was actually too traumatic for them. For the people watching. For the people fearing what we were going through. It would have been too traumatic not to say good-bye. We didn’t have the luxury of fear.