As I sit down to write this post, I am inching ever closer to my 34th birthday. And, as happens every year around this time, I find myself turning inward, reflecting on the life that has unfolded around me. Getting super mushy about the blessings that have been bestowed upon me. Wondering about the pieces of life that haven’t played out quite as I may have once hoped or planned.
This year, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my parents. The last time I spoke to my dad was on my 29th birthday…five years, and an entire lifetime, ago. A couple years later, my sweet little boy snuggled on my lap nursing while my shaky relationship with my mom finally imploded with just one short conversation. The reasons and stories behind the end of each of these relationships are long & complicated and filled with the kind of pain that you eventually accept is never going to go away.
Most days, the pain lurks in the background.
There are moments, though, that push it front and center, and I’m left reeling.
Feeling empty and hollow.
My birthday is one of those moments.
And then there are moments where the pain dulls, and I’m flooded with memories.
Feeling nostalgic. Aching.
Somehow, my birthday is also one of those moments.
That looming date on the calendar creates within me a intense tug-of-war between happy and sad like nothing else ever has. Except that a few weeks ago, something else found a way to pull at me in that same way…
“Mommy,” came the voice from the back seat, “why don’t you have a mom?” His words hung in the air for a moment before I managed to gather myself enough to respond. At first, I tried to leave it at a simple explanation of how far away she lives, but he followed up with more questions about why he doesn’t know her, whether he’d ever met her. When I told him yes, that she’d visited once when he was a baby, he asked me to tell him all about it.
I took a deep breath, my mind racing, tears threatening to fall. When I finally started to speak, I was surprised by where my heart took the conversation.
I shared with him the story of his first trip to the airport when he was just a week old. I told him about how he wore a special outfit that she’d bought for him while I was pregnant and about how we’d ended up spending the majority of the day waiting because her plane was delayed. I told him how excited she’d been to hold him for the first time and smiled as I thought about that moment when I put him in her arms. “Mommy,” he asked, “did she like me?” I swallowed past the lump in my throat as I replied to him, “Yes, baby, she did. In fact, she loves you very much.”
We sat in silence for a few seconds, him gazing out the window while I concentrated on the road. Then his excited voice declared, “I loooooove airports, Mommy. That’s why I’m going to be an airplane for Halloween!”
I haven’t been able to shake the wave of emotions that came over me as we chatted in the dark that night. For so long, I’ve tried to prepare myself for these some-day talks with my boy. In my head, they’ve always been these deep, heavy conversations that leave me searching for words, hoping to make him understand. Praying to hold it all together while I stumble through sharing with him these stories and decisions that leave me with so much sorrow.
I never imagined they’d start this way, but I realize now that I’m glad they did.
I know there will come a day when the conversations will go deeper. There are big, lifelong lessons to be shared with my son through the story of my childhood experiences and the relationships that I entered adulthood in with each of my parents. I hope that I’ll be ready for them when the time comes.
In the meantime, I will cling to the lesson my little boy taught me that evening in the car. I’ll look around the pain, nudge it to the side, to live in the good memories. I’ll help him to discover the magic in the clouds, tell him about school breaks spent criss-crossing the country with my dad in his semi. I’ll share memories with him of camping trips and days spent on the river, and I’ll teach him to master some of the same meals my mom once taught me to make.
He needs to know the good stories, to have the opportunity to live in the light of the happy. I need that, too. I think I’ll start by asking him to help me make Mom’s famous fried chicken for my birthday dinner…