Wednesday April 18 marked the 5 year anniversary of my mom’s death.
I don’t know what to do with that.
Five years for anything feels like an important marker: relationships, jobs, the “cancer free” mark that means you’ll probably be okay.
Being pregnant again, another pregnancy without my mom, is carrying me further into the future. I want to ask her just as many questions as I did last time, different questions. How did she feel being pregnant while taking care of a toddler (me)? What was I like then, and how did I respond to news of the baby? When did they tell people? Did they tell anyone the name they were thinking of? How did they prepare their lives to add another child? How did she deal with the intense exhaustion that is being pregnant while caring for a toddler? Was she scared? What foods made her sick? (My dad tells me salad dressing was one, and that she just used lemon juice while pregnant.)
Other people talk about her less. Or, they only talk about her if I bring her up first.
How is it half a decade that she’s been gone? I am two babies deep in a life she will never see or be part of in an earthly way. In the back of my mind somewhere the possibility of her spending time with Giles exists, and it pops up, surprising me. A thought appears, an image of the two of them together: talking, walking, cooking, laughing. I feel a sharp twinge because this will not happen. The pain feels almost new.
I will give birth again, without her. I will touch that line between death and life, feeling for her.
There is still no map. Still no footprints to guide me, and yet I keep going.
Choose joy over fear. Live it, do it, on purpose.
This past November we took Giles to see Coco at the movie theater. He was eighteen-months-old at the time. This past Saturday Giles went to see it again, at a special screening with his Nana and Granddad. He came home talking all about it, now twenty-two-months-old. He said what sounded like, “mama me,” a bunch of times and at first I didn’t know what it meant. But then I realized he was talking about the song from the movie, “Remember Me.”
This song makes me think of my mom. Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be.
I learned it on ukulele so I could play and sing it for Giles, and for myself. And for my mom.
Next November we have another baby due. Four wheels on the car. I’ll take her/him to the movies too.
this comic was drawn with my left hand (which is my non-dominant hand). i do that sometimes, for specific stories, or to loosen up.
my mom switched to painting left-handed after she developed neuropathy in her right hand. in her own words:
My mind is coming back. Possibly, this has something to do with my recent shift to painting with my left hand (because of the neuropathy). Painting left-handed does not feel awkward to me—just the opposite: It feels like coming home. I feel more like myself , more in-sync with myself, than I ever did in my whole life working right handed.
This has been a powerful discovery, and one I have yet to fully process or understand.
~ Viola Moriarty
7 March 2011
This comic was drawn in my journal, so there’s another comic on the back of the page showing through just a little bit.
I made this in my class tonight (I often participate in the exercises with the students). The assignment was: make a comic as a valentine to yourself in the past, at a time when you might have needed it.
There are several past Valentine’s Days when I would have benefitted from a note from Future Anna. Sadder ones. Lonelier ones. But this one sprang to mind. I really was happy being alone that day, even though a little part of me longed for something romantic to happen. But I used to worry about how things would work out: love, career, family, all that jazz.
What I know now is that everything works out. This doesn’t mean that everything is good and tied up in a neat package with a bow. What I mean is that everything just is. It works out because it exists, I exist, I am here in my life and I am okay. No matter which paths I could have chosen, I would have ended up somewhere. Decisions are not right or wrong, they just ARE. So you pick the thing you really want to do, or be, or have. Like John Carter in E.R. when he choses to drop out of his surgery residency to pursue emergency medicine instead. He struggles with this decision, and really either path would have been fine. Either path leads to good and bad things. It’s just, which thing do you really want to do?
I long very deeply for the ability to call my mom, in a casual way, just walking around. To talk about our days, thoughts, whatever. So if I could tell my younger self to do anything, I guess it would be to call her. Even if I’d just called her five minutes before. Call her again. Hear her laugh. Argue with her. Tell her you love her. Hear her call you that nickname that rings in your head even now, almost five years after the last time she ever said it.
Yesterday was Giles’ 21 month birthday and for the first time in his whole life I forgot to mark this monthly occurrence. Today I realized the date and maybe also realized I don’t need to count by months anymore? When people ask how old he is do I just say, “almost 2”?
But when he turns 22 months I of course want to make an instagram post using lyrics from Taylor Swift’s “22.”
Giles speaks in two and three word sentences now. “Daddy shower.” “Daddy work.” “I see ya!” “Hair up Mommy.” “Thank you Mommy.” “What in there?” “No poops!” This verbal development is my favorite thing so far. I love hearing what’s going on in his head as he plays, or which phrases he chooses to repeat. Seeing his face as he understands how a word fits with a thing– it’s amazing.
He’s also really fun. And throws tantrums. And beams me in the head with a metal Ernie in a bathtub car toy thing from my own 1980s childhood. And now there’s a bump on my head. And I worry about what this aggression means and how to stop it. And about a thousand other things. But he is also sweet and loving and tender– “Hugs, Mommy,” he says. And, “I sorry.” He pats my head, kisses my belly, rests his own little head on my shoulder.
21 months postpartum isn’t how I imagined it would be. I sort of wish I knew what my weight is, but I don’t own a scale and really I’m kind of glad. I keep reminding myself that my body will never be what it was before, and that it’s okay. I feel good and strong, especially since returning from our trip to Chile to visit Phoebe about a month ago. I’m taking Zumba, adult jazz dance, yoga, and I think I’m a vegetarian now? I’m ready to start the journey of making another human person inside my body again. Hormones still go up and down, but less dramatically. My soft belly, which Giles is so interested in lately (“mommy belly!”) is maybe a bit smaller, arms strong from lifting a 30 pound toddler, mind a bit more centered, identity more defined and sure, art time more regular and productive. Viewings of Moana have increased tenfold.
Now that I feel pretty good, pretty much like myself, why would I mess it all up to have another baby?
There are huge moments of fear and doubt and anxiety. Fear of being pregnant while taking care of a toddler. Of giving birth again. Of having a miscarriage. Of losing myself. Of losing my body. My mind. My identity outside of “mom.” How did my mom do this? How did she decide to have another kid? What did she feel as she and my dad made the decision? How did they know what to name her? What was it like taking care of two-year-old me while carrying baby Phoebe in her belly?
I had a moment, though. In yoga class, during shavasanah. Hands resting on my belly, I felt my body make room for the next baby. For my number two. For my “Phoebe,” so to speak.
My mom had a distinct relationship with each of us, my sister and me. Each special in its own way, but very different. Thinking about my mom and Phoebe together, I really look forward to my relationship with my number two, and how it will be just as big, deep, and full as that I have with Giles. But different. My “Phoebe.”
(Calm down, Gramma. I’m not pregnant yet.)
This comic is actually from an assignment in my Comics Studio class. Our first meeting was this past Tuesday, and one of the assignments I gave was to make a comic from first person POV about a moment that changed your life.
Giving birth was a huge life-changing experience for me, in so many ways. This one little moment could be lost in the rest, but I come back to it again and again. I thought I was working as hard as I could. I’d been in labor for so, so, so many hours. I’d already been pushing for an hour and a half at the point the nurse said this to me (and I still had two hours to go).
This feeling of holding back– I have it when faced with jumping into water from a high place, rafting, doing anything that involves physical risk in that way.
Sometimes I think I am brave. Other times not.
I didn’t understand how to push, how could I, having never done it before? No one really tells you what it’s like, and even if they try it’s impossible to understand until you feel it. But I did feel that “pulling back at the last second” thing the nurse chastised me for. I pushed and pushed right up to the edge, and when it felt like the pain would break me I backed off.
How do I learn to push through the unbearable pain, through to the other side? I just do it, I guess.
19 months and 6 days of mothering this human outside of the womb. The top picture is Christmas time last year, and the bottom picture is yesterday. He grows and grows, talks, walks, runs, laughs, makes jokes, dances, throws tantrums, squeals.
My life is so different from a year ago (and my hair is much longer)– mothering is so different now with this toddler than it was with the baby he used to be. My life is almost unrecognizable from what it was pre-motherhood. Though I do recognize something of myself from when I was a kid– long moments of playing, the joy of a car going down a slide, lying on the floor looking up at Christmas tree lights.
I’m still figuring out who I am in this role, though I think I’m pretty good at it. My heart has enough love, so much love, more than enough love– this I know.
I’ve gotten better at cutting his hair. Each time I do it more evenly, more like a real haircut. It’s similar to a 60s shag kind of style: like a Beatle, or Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. My sister says it looks like a bowl cut.
I’ve gotten better at confidence. At letting go.
He’s gotten better at sleeping. Eating. Expressing his needs and wants with some kind of language. He becomes himself more each day as he discovers new ways to be and do. He listens. He puts his hands on each side of my face and says, “Ohhh!”
My body has gotten better at being a body again. It will never be what it was before, and I have to accept that over and over.
One of my favorite conversations so far is this one:
ME: Giles, did you poop?
ME: Is it a big one?
GILES: BIIIIG TWUUUCK!
To be fair, he says “big truck” as a response to lots of things. But I really think in this instance he was using it as a description for the giant turd in his diaper. My kid has a sense of comic timing like no other.
Today I am going to Dana-Farber in Boston for one of my every-six-months checkups. No scans today, but it is always a thing, a vibration under my skin, a whisper of will-they-tell-me-i-have-cancer. This doesn’t make me not want to go. Because if I wasn’t going to these appointments I would be worried every second that I had cancer and wasn’t doing anything about it. Now I get to know definitively twice a year that I do not have cancer, and I get to ask questions and talk out my anxieties with very smart and beautiful doctors. I like the car rides with Greg. I like the tacos. It’s a kind of date, and I will cherish it every time we go.
Giles will stay with Greg’s parents tonight, since we’ll be home late. When I see him in the morning, with his big smiling face (or even possible cranky crying face), I will squeeze him tightly. I will say “I love you I love you I love you.”
He’ll probably say, “Big TWUUUCK!”