Maternal in Spring

I miss bathing suit shopping in spring 
Watching you run toward the car at the pickup line, as though you would combust had you stayed at school another second, your bag flung over an arm while bouncing off your back
I miss listening to your chatter, venting the day’s frustrations
I miss watching, after you fell, how you let your sister to help you back up
I miss you climbing on my lap while I’m on the telly 
I miss scrunching your socks, pulling them over your toes as you dig toward my tummy, and sometimes missing because you keep kicking to avoid being tickled
I miss packing your lunch and writing a note inside, wondering if you will feel loved or embarrassed, or maybe both 
I miss your friends telling me how cool a mom I am because I was the only parent willing to carpool everyone to concerts late at night
Though I miss the quality time spent in the car, I do not miss the terror I felt as you learned how to drive
I miss your sleepovers with friends, the random bursts of laughter echoing from the basement 
I miss missing you when I am away for a weekend
I miss having to trust that Daddy has everything under control while I am away
I miss your FaceTime calls and the blurry floor lines while you run through the house to show me the fort you built, and how you pulled a real jar of pickles out of your pretend refrigerator
I miss the nail polish stain on the sofa
And the drawings you brought home from school, how disproportionate your figures were with their chubby hands and stick fingers
I miss watching you climb trees and build forts in the woods, how you would sweep dirt and pine needles with a tree branch before I was allowed to come inside
I miss you helping me in the garden, your little plastic shovel flicking dirt into your hair
I miss the excitement in your eyes each winter at the first snowfall
I miss how when we made art, you reminded me to go outside of the lines
I miss you singing along to the same Disney song over and over while kicking your car seat to the beat
I miss your body changing and the questions you’d ask me, and how proud I would feel at your lack of embarrassment
I miss worrying about you every day
I miss you teaching me to play: to get messy; to go outside of the lines; to break the rules; to be in the moment; to laugh at small things 
I miss your intellect, your bravery, your curiosity, your laughter, your talents – the many parts of you that I never knew
It is sometimes so painful
How much I miss you

Winter peels back her layers, revealing buds that climb out above a brief season of damp brown hues. Morning sun spreads over the Heights like a clean linen sheet thrown up and slowly floating back down. It lands on a mattress of vines and bushes. I feel the hopeful energy spring brings with it. Last week there were two days in a row that felt like summer. For forty-eight hours it seemed as though everyone was on a serotonin reuptake. There was a renewed pep in the neighborhood. Dogs walking people. People riding bicycles. Late-night strolls. My friend and I took advantage of the warmer weather with a 10-mile bicycle ride at 1:00 a.m., book-ending our first 20 miles of the season with a fancy dinner followed by a scotch tasting before mounting our bicycles one last time. It felt like the quick shift into summer bliss we both look forward to. Each morning I wake to the sing-song of birds. Yesterday from the kitchen window I heard a baby bird calling out with its little peppery squeaks. 

While resting an elbow on the green leather armchair at my dining table, I gaze out the window toward a long line of treetops. It is springtime in Cleveland. The leaves look like moss, a varying shade of lichen scorched by sunlight grown the size of Jack’s beanstalk. Four shades of tulips rest in a jar to the right of me. On my left, the ringing sound of spring birds drowned by buzzing cars. After a few minutes in this meditative trance, I realize there is an immense inner contrast between what I am experiencing externally and what I feel internally. I am surrounded by bright, cheery life. Springtime seems to inevitably nurture new birth – a sense of hope. And here I sit, impregnated by hopelessness. Saddened by loss and grief. How loudly the empty silence penetrates.

Earlier in the week, I had been in session with one of my couples. “Do you have any children?” the wife asks for a second time as I return from what was hopefully an unnoticeable dissociation. The tension in my chest started to crawl up my neck. I pretended it was not happening. What I need to be doing is making this time about them, not about me., I think as I reorient myself.  I quickly push back with a forced smile as words tumble out of my mouth like a handful of rocks soaked in drool. A sloppy admission to my lack of actual experience; “No, I do not have any children. I do have over thirteen nieces and nephews. I helped some of my siblings raise their kids. And I raised my youngest siblings for the first part of their lives.” Growing up with so many siblings, I found purpose in protecting others and buffering neglect. I became a master soother. Soft, slow, tender touches. Empathic curiosity. Play and laughter. These are the things for kids. I was razor sharp on these skills. I knew how to listen in a way that engendered safety or feeling seen. And so, naturally, at a young age, I decided I wanted to have my own little nest filled with peppered squeaking baby birds. When I offered a response to my client, she pulled her shoulders back in a way that seemed as though she regretted probing.

The question of whether or not I have children is difficult not to take personally. If I pay too much attention, it stirs up my own grief. Anxiety begins to percolate. The most recent time a client asked me, the sting continued throughout the week. I suspect it is because lately I am surrounded by those little reminders of spring; newness and hope and lovely evening light. The tawny gold kiss against white walls in the evening reminds me of early bedtimes, those intimate moments when I held a baby safe and content in my arms. I miss the way their little bellies swell when they breathe in. How they flip-flop as restless toddlers attempting to get comfy on the very edge of sleep. How they finally fade into a deep sleep when I trace their eyebrows, softly following eyelids down their cheeks. Or how with toddlers and school-age children, silence would suddenly halt a room of chatter when I opened doors to check on them. Bedtime has always seemed to me to be the most magical and intimate moment because it naturally calls upon a soft calm that enables reflection. Even for a child. Questions come heavy at night time, with silly comments and open curiosity. Questions bounce off the ceiling while we lie down and I tell stories after tucking everyone into blanket burritos. 

In spring, one can tell whether their plants have survived winter. Are they growing more full this year or struggling from last? Being a parent, you look for the same things. Check-ins with the school to assess progress. Birthday reflections. The need for bigger clothes. Starting conversations about puberty and consent. The uncomfortable topics your own parents never dared to bring up. You wonder, “Are they thriving? Are they struggling? Why are they locking themselves in their bedroom? Do they not love me anymore? Why do they hate me? Are they doing okay? Are they hanging out with good people? Are they bullying or being bullied? Should I pull them out of school for their own safety? Where are they going to college? Why won’t they break up with that jerk? Why don’t they see how beautiful they are?” The worries never end. Yet, in those lingering moments at bedtime, beyond the struggle and fatigue of both parent and child, exists the stillness of wonder. The intimate reflection a parent engages in while hovering over and pouring love onto the child as they peacefully rest, unknowingly soaking it in. 

These are the things spring stirs in me. An invitation to remember my own losses while hanging on to the moments of intimacy with my loved ones. To acknowledge the longing where life has left me barren; and to look to the blooming, budding flowers, trees, and bushes, allowing gratitude while also feeling sad for what is not. Even if I have no one to call “mine” or haven’t experienced the difficulty of what it is like to be a mother day to day, I have had small glimpses. I hope that the ways in which I have mothered those I love has made a difference, that they know I am always there for them. In the same way that I can temporarily enjoy blooming flowers in season, I can also enjoy the temporary moments of intimacy with the children in my life. Like when my niece asks me a personal question as she transitions through puberty. Like when there are questions about God and college and relationships. When the curiosity extends into bedtime probing. In these brief little moments, I can appreciate that there was and is still meaning in my own ways of mothering.

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