Letter to Myself in Mourning

Dear Myself in Mourning: I am writing to you from the future to say that it is worth living towards. I know it feels as though the world has relinquished all of its joy and purpose. I know life feels … Continue reading

Remembering My Mother

They say mourning grows easier with time, but that isn’t quite right—at least it hasn’t been for me. Perhaps the loss becomes more normal, but that is not to say it ever becomes comfortable. Losing a loved one creates a … Continue reading

Like Any Emotion

I’ve never seen my father loose his temper. I’ve never heard him raise his voice or witnessed his silent anger. Not once. Not ever. And while my mother was a more passionate presence in my life, I’ve never seen my parents … Continue reading

The Wrong Idea

Have you ever realized you’ve had the wrong idea—be it about a person or a situation? I have. Especially as I was growing up, I kept learning that some of the logic I’d used to figure out the surrounding world was faulty. I was recently reminded of this when one of my Facebook friends shared the following exchange she’d had with her young daughter.

Child: “Mom, where was I when you were living with Grandma?”

Mother: “Well, you weren’t born yet.”

Child: (Frustration building) “No, Mom, when you were a little girl living with Grandma, where was I?”

Mother: “You were in my belly.”

Child: “No, your belly wasn’t big.”

Mother: “You’re right. Every little girl is born with tiny little eggs in her belly. When she gets married and wants to have a child, one of those eggs grows into a baby.”

Child: “Oh! I get it!! First I was an egg, then a chicken, then a baby!”

I couldn’t help but be amused by the child’s logic. She was trying to understand something a bit beyond her mental capacity. She was attempting to reconcile new information with what she already knew. Sure, she had the wrong idea, but who could blame her? Besides, it’s incredibly cute.

Seeing that story reminded me of some of the times I’ve had the wrong idea about things. I blame television (cartoons mostly) for many of them.

My contact with cartoons as a child was inconsistent and often surreptitious. I primarily saw them on play dates or while visiting family members. In my own home, I was only permitted to watch PBS—and I wasn’t allowed to watch television at all on school nights.

However, despite my moderate exposure to this form of entertainment, it left quite a marked impression on me. Anxiety, mostly. The majority of those fears have proven to be futile, but at the time, I took them very seriously.

As a child, I was extremely afraid of, and felt it very important to know how to escape, quicksand. That can’t be blamed entirely on cartoons, but it seemed that a lot of characters in stories and shows met their untimely end walking innocently through a jungle and then happening into quicksand. I didn’t stop to consider the high unlikelihood of encountering quicksand in the concrete jungle of my urban environment, but I was afraid of it nonetheless.

In no particular order, other things I feared to an unrealistic extent were scorpions, poisonous snakes, and falling anvils. Cartoons definitely undermined my confidence in the cranes I occasionally saw hoisting pianos and other large furniture items up and through open windows.

Eventually my childhood logic was overtaken by mature understanding, but until then, there were matters I completely misunderstood. Some of the things I had the wrong idea about were sexual.

Wet dreams: My mother told me that wet dreams were when you peed the bed while you were sleeping. In hindsight, I cringe when I consider how many times I could have claimed to have had a wet dream during my childhood. I can only hope that being a bed-wetter was so sufficiently embarrassing, that I didn’t discuss it and therefore had no cause to use the incorrect moniker.

Rape: When I was very young, I was aware of a news story about a rape victim. During the attack, her face had been slashed—cut with a broken bottle, I think. So for the longest time, and I can’t remember how or when I had the aha moment that changed my mind, I used to think that being raped meant having your face slashed, and I wasn’t quite sure why it only happened to women.

There were other things I had the wrong idea about. I thought “eavesdrop” was “ease drop” and “significant” was “signifigant.” (That second one survived until I was in high school, believe or not.) I also had a difficult time with the name “John.” At least until age ten, I had the nagging suspicion that “Jhon” might be the correct spelling. I had no issue with “Wednesday” or “Oedipal,” but to this day I’m still not completely confident about “rhythm.”

Most frightening of all was my first lunar eclipse. I couldn’t understand why no one was panicking. Everyone explained how the earth’s shadow would cover the moon, rendering it dark. No one took the time to clarify that this effect would not be permanent.

Children constantly have to change their understanding of the world to make room for a flood of new information. As an adult, it can be difficult to adjust. As a child, I was certain I knew whom to trust. Now, I’m more stubborn, and it’s less clear who makes a reliable source.

New knowledge often leads to change. In the past year or two alone, I’ve had to revisit and revise or reinforce my views on racism, feminism, sexuality, and faith.

I sincerely hope I continue to learn as I continue to age. I don’t want to loose my ability to recognize when I have the wrong idea about things. I don’t ever want to be so stuck in the quicksand of what I think or feel that I can’t move myself to see what’s delusion and what’s real.

Mourning on Mother’s Day

On any given day, someone is rejoicing and someone is grieving. Mother’s Day is no different. There are mothers being pampered and others being mourned and remembered. It is a day, like so many, when we’re reminded of the intersections between the living and the dead. Within one generation there can be women who mourn while they are also being celebrated.

Mother’s Day makes me think about life and death. I grieve with those for whom this is another in a line of Mother’s Days without the child they want but cannot have, or without the child they had but lost. I also rejoice with those of you who are celebrating Mother’s Day as a mother (or an expectant mother) for the first time. Life is always a miracle, but for some that miracle comes after years of yearning, disappointment, and loss. Regardless of whether your road to motherhood was short or long or easy or arduous, your first Mother’s Day as a mother will be full of life and joy. Savor it.

For me, Mother’s Day will always have a component of mourning added to the celebration of life. I feel grateful for the mother who birthed and raised me. I am glad to be alive. I’m so thankful for the mother I had and the memories we shared, but I can’t celebrate Mother’s Day without some sadness or the wish that my mother could still be here.

My mother died more than a decade ago, but on Mother’s Day that loss feels especially fresh. And I know that I am not alone in my bereavement. Every Mother’s Day I think about those for whom it will be the first since their mother died. I remember the year of sad seasonal firsts after my mother passed away. The happier the occasion used to be, the more her absence rendered subsequent celebrations empty. For me, holidays were the hardest. Every milestone became a heavy burden to bear. Those first few years, when the loss was still a fresh cut to my heart, seeing everyone else’s joy felt like filling my wound with salt. For a while, all happiness was a reminder of what I’d lost.

There are a lot of people mourning on Mother’s Day. I know because of my experiences visiting the cemetery. There is always a traffic jam outside the entrance, and finding a parking spot is like discovering a bilingual, three-winged unicorn on the subway. I felt painfully self-conscious one year when I arrived to find a picnic occurring a few tombstones away. The family had lively music playing from an open car, lawn chairs, and a box of pizza. I didn’t begrudge their way of marking the day, but it was a distracting contradiction to my own. Now I try to avoid the cemetery on Mother’s Day. I don’t like to be there with a crowd. I like it to be quiet and private. I want it to feel like it’s just me and my love for her.

There are lots of emotions being experienced on Mother’s Day. Some have mothers; others have memories. For some it’s sad or complicated; for others it’s purely celebratory. Not everyone knew his or her mother—or liked her. Not everyone’s childhood provided healthy love and happy nostalgia.

But whatever you feel, whether good, bad, or mixed, know that someone else out there is in a similar emotional position. You’re not alone in feeling those feelings or thinking those thoughts. Whatever Mother’s Day is like for you, you’re not the only one.