My dearest sky full of stars…
This morning, as I was doing the most basic Mom thing in existence (pouring cereal), I chatted with you about the upcoming weekend. We are driving to NJ again for a family wedding, and you’re all excited to see your grandparents and have one more road trip before we stay put for a while. It was totally mundane, totally normal, and totally filled my heart to the brim. Sometimes the love I have for you shakes me to my core. Of course, I get caught up in the details, and get flustered and frustrated; but moments like this help me to catch my proverbial breath, and take in the fruits of my labor (literally and figuratively).
The last month has been a whirlwind of activity for us. We moved homes, we traveled, we had holidays, hosted a party, hosted family multiple weekends, and did our best to enjoy an unanticipated week off from school. I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with (and away from) you. I’ve gotten time to simmer on life, on what I want out of it. Not only on who I’ve already become because of the accumulation of experiences, but more importantly, who I want to become. It’s been no secret to the world that you three have been my propeller in this journey; my hopes for you thrusting me forward, and miles from my comfort zone. It dawned on me, though, that you might not quite know it yet. While I think you’re all a little young to have this conversation out loud, I didn’t want to let the moment pass without writing it out, so someday you can match your memories to this time, and see your role in our life transformation.
You see, there was time in life, when I was young and naive. A time when I thought your father falling out of love with me could be the worst thing that could ever happen to me (I even had nightmares about it). I loved him so deeply, and with my whole heart, that I would have followed him to the moon if he wanted to go there. Things weren’t perfect, not by a long shot, but we really had something. We had true friendship and love. Little did I know how bad it could get. Watching him go through what he did, well, it was terrible. Knowing you were watching it was worse. Losing him, and watching you lose him, knowing you’d never remember the real person that he was before he was sick; it felt a lot like have my arms tethered to the ground, slowly being pulled down into quicksand, powerless to stop it. Telling you that Daddy was going to be going to Heaven, it was the catalyst that made me snap right in half. I’ll forever have your little faces etched in my mind, so confused, so hurt, so small. While we survived the weeks that followed, I knew right that minute that I would do anything in life to make it up to you. I couldn’t save him for you, no matter how I tried, and I wouldn’t be able to bring him back for you. But I could do my best to show you that life was worth the agony of that minute.
Since then, it’s been a tornado of life. I’ve made decisions, and I’ve made mistakes—I’m only human after-all. You might not realize that just yet, but I bet someday you will. I’ve learned more than I ever could have imagined, just in the nine months since we’ve had that conversation. I’ve learned that not everything happens for a reason: people will tell you that, and they’ll say it often; it’s not true. Sometimes things just happen, and it’s up to us to learn how to accept it for what it is. I’ve learned that we can’t change life, we can only learn, and do our best to live our best life despite it. I’ve learned how to manage a household on my own (or as best as can be expected with three kids), how to let go of things that don’t need to be prioritized, and how to go with the flow. I’ve learned to accept “trial and error” as a way of life, not just a scientific concept (I’ve also learned that once I get the hang of things, you all will switch things up on me, and the process will start all over again). The most important things though, I’ve learned just from watching you three.
Cami girl, your indomitable nature has inspired me. Through everything, through nearly five years, a tiny you has stood taller and stronger than us all. It wasn’t without a price. Like us all, your smile was a notch more dull, your laugh, more a chuckle than a howl, but you were tough. One night, a few months ago, I put a movie on for you kids. You begged me to sit and watch. The thing about being a single Mom is that I have very limited time where you aren’t throwing the house into a tizzy while I clean up. I was managing dinner, washing dishes, tidying the toys. Finally, I caved. I sat, maybe for the first time in months (or years?) to watch, when the most amazing thing happened. You erupted into the deepest, loudest, most breathtaking laughter I’ve ever heard come out of you. If my heart didn’t explode that minute, I don’t know that it ever will. You found your laugh again, something that had been in short supply in our home for a long, long time. I found myself laughing, not because it was appropriate, but because hearing that belly laugh from your core helped bring me back to life. It’d been a difficult few months; I felt so lonely, so sad, so dejected. If I smiled it was a miracle, and there I was, cackling too loudly and straight from the heart, and it was because of you. You are so strong, you are so brave, and you are such a beaming example of staring adversity in the face, and saying “Fuck you.” And yet, through it all, you never lost your kindness. You’ve received awards two years in a row for your caring nature, and I get notes all the time from teachers and other parents about how sweet you are to their kids. The bitterness that life can dish out hasn’t crushed your spirit, nor your heart. I pray, every day of my life, that you hold onto that tenacity. That night not only began to thaw my heart, it made me learn to slow down, to sit up and pay attention, to take in those moments I get with you all.
Benny boy, my sweet, sensitive boy, so bright, so tender. The last few years have been toughest on you. Daddy was your best buddy, until the treatments took over, and suddenly he wasn’t. Its only now you’re starting to let out what you’ve been holding in all this time. Day by day, though, I watch you heal. I watch you push yourself, time and again, to do more, to do better. You are such a bright spot in this world, with your infectious smile and buoyant personality. You might look exactly like your father, but you are me incarnate. I want so much to protect you from the pain of being an empath by nature, and from blaming yourself when things go wrong beyond your control, but I know I can’t. I can only teach you to learn how to steer the emotions. In turn, you’ve taught me more this year about bouncing back than anyone. Every time I think you’ve become scared of your own shadow, you shock me with your bravery and stoicism; from learning how to ride horses with gusto, to learning the confidence to read out loud even though it scared you to say the wrong words. You’ve shown me that strength doesn’t always come with stature, but instead with the size of your spirit. You are small, but mighty my friend; and you’ve reminded me that I am little, but fierce, myself. You are the embodiment of “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” You are nothing, if not determined. Whether you’re tinkering with your toys, trying to make some “mega-toy” (engineering is in your future), or figuring out how to roller skate, you never give up until it’s right. Seeing you persevere makes me think, “If he can, I can, too.”
And my dearest Nate baby. You were our little miracle in the madness. Your shining spirit kept us all alive when we wanted to die, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. At the end of things, your Daddy was in bed for almost two weeks. We knew he’d be leaving us soon, but we didn’t know when. There was no sleep, there was no sanity, there was no hope; only a very slight peace in knowing that Daddy wouldn’t feel sick anymore soon. We sat vigil. We spoke to him, we told him that it was okay, that we’d be okay, and we prayed. Everyone who loved him came to say goodbye, and it was so dreadful that, at times, I found myself hiding behind a couch to get away. Just when the pain felt so great that it might shatter my rib cage, there was you. Bright, shining, wild and ginger-haired you. So unaware of what was happening around you, dragging everyone outside to play with you. You saved us all, Nate baby, just by existing. You are living proof that life goes on. You’ll never remember your father. You’ll never know the guy that was so excited that you were coming, that he told everyone before we ever even heard your heartbeat. You’ll never know the man that lovingly held his hand to my tummy to feel your incessant acrobatics. “He” was gone before you were born, but he loved you before he left, and I promised him that I’d remind you of that, always. You are smart, and wild and every last cliche of a rough and tumble little boy. You are so young, so untouched by the chaos that you lived through the first two years of your life. Your carefree spirit reminds me of why I needed to get up and keep going. Where the rest of us can lose ourselves in memories, in sadness, in “what ifs,” you drag us into the “now.” You keep our feet in the present, and watching you grow into the precocious toddler you are has prodded me, forcing me to grow into my new role as a single mom along with you.
Together, the three of you have given me not only cause, but desire to move forward. It’s not been without guilt, sadness, or setbacks, but I’m proud of myself; I’m proud of us. Every time I’ve found myself on the ground in tears, every time I haven’t been able to catch my breath, every time I’ve turned back around and wanted to go back, there was you. When I spent those first few months wondering if I was crazy for our new start, there you were; playing with friends, thriving at school, being total normal kids. Every time I wanted to sit on the sidelines and watch, there was you, begging me to join. So I did. I played the games, rode the horses, skated the rink, shook my booty in the kitchen dance party…and before I knew it, I felt alive again, too.
So from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for reminding me that it’s okay for me to live, too. Thank you for making me slow down. Thank you for inspiring me to feel, to heal, and that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as we bounce back from them. Thank you for reminding me to stand tall, even if I’m only five feet high. Thank you for pushing me to risk looking foolish in the name of fun, to dance often even though I’m terrible at it, and to always, always, always keep going. I only hope someday, when you read this, you’ll be as proud of us all as I am. I love you more than any of these words can say.