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.
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.
Today, September 6, 2017 would be my mom’s 59th birthday if she were still alive.
When I think about being a mom, my own role as Giles’ mom, I think a thousand times a day what my own mama would think about how I am doing. How would she do this or that…and especially the light on her face as she would hold Giles, play with him, talk with him.
Grief doesn’t go away. You don’t move on. Sometimes I know how to hold it and sometimes I don’t.
I put Nina Simone on for Giles’ nap today. Her voice, cool and deep and full– music seems to be Giles favorite thing, the thing that fills his heart. Well, that and food. And books. And balls. And laughing. He loves it all.
Mama was the most alive person I knew. Until Giles. He is so very alive.
She is in his eyes. She is somewhere in him.
Viola Rose Moriarty would be 59 today. She was an artist. Her life was her best art. She was my mom.
From her blog, April 4, 2010:
Today I called my family in Denver to wish them a Happy Easter. We had coffee with the NYTimes and sportsreporters and Ina…the Sunday morning slow start. Ahhhh…….
And then we finally pulled on some work clothes and got started.
We worked on our list of home chores, taking care of the live things first. Toilet scrubbing and floor washing and paying bills and writing thank yous and making donations, both in things to pass on and in the checks we could write now. We prepped for the week and cleaned the fish tank and the litter box and filled bird feeders and cleaned out the gardens, watered and fed the plants, finally making lists for things that can’t be done today and how much we’ll need to fix or do them later—all the little and big maintenance things that keep a home running.
Today we “counted” the chickadees starting their nest in the little house just outside our backdoor as they do every spring, and the forsythia’s first yellow blooms. We counted the garlics and crocuses and bits of herbs and bulbs that all made it through another winter. They survived and so did we. We tested the fish tank water and put out the bird baths.
And then we had a good salad for an early dinner and went to a movie at our arthouse theatre where we are members.
I love this feeling of participating in my life, of doing it together with Jon. Of making a home.
Foundation in lovingkindness. We do the best we can for all who reside here with us and around us.
This “making a home” stuff– this is where I feel most like my mom. More even than making art. I am making a home, participating in my own life. Foundation in lovingkindness.
Happy birthday, Mama. I love you.
May 6 to May 14, it’s been a full week.
First, Giles turned one whole year old. I cannot really believe that it’s been a year since that long 30 hour experience of giving birth. It felt so endless that it seems impossible that I am not still in the hospital room, pushing and pushing and pushing. I can no longer remember the exact feeling of the pain, but I remember my reactions to it. My body has changed many times. Presently: my breasts are empty which is a strange feeling, my tummy is soft with less wrinkles and a bit of strength underneath, my arms are strong from lifting a growing baby, my linea negra is still faintly there and stretch marks too. I am smaller, stronger, more able and better feeling. I do not “have my body back” because that is not a real thing. I have my new mom body, which still changes every couple weeks, but has finally become something I understand (I think).
Giles has changed too. He is standing, crawling, walking while holding onto something. He laughs, chatters in baby talk, says “mama” and “dada” and something that almost sounds like “ball.” He has personality, likes and dislikes, a sense of humor. He loves to dance. He eats almost everything we give him, though he has preferences depending on the day. He has friends. He is more than three times the size he was at birth.
And now, at one week past his birthday, it is Mother’s Day. Last year we spent the holiday in the hospital with 2 day old Giles, still so new, learning how to breastfeed. Now I am done breastfeeding. Now I am a mother on my second Mother’s Day and the fifth Mother’s Day without my own mom.
It’s a complicated day. “Complicated AF” as my friend Ashley says. So true. I am so happy, so full of joy to celebrate being Giles’ mom. And then there is this hole, this cold feeling, tears behind my eyes and knots in my stomach. I miss my mom. I want to make her a card, talk to her, dance with her, help her in the garden or do whatever other chores she wants me to do. I want to have brunch with her and Giles, make waffles in her kitchen, watch her hold him and play with him and talk to him in Spanish.
There’s a lot of things I want but can’t even say.
There’s an envelope in my jewelry box (my mom’s jewelry box which is now mine). It’s a letter from Mama, for me to read when I had a child (or didn’t). I read that letter as soon as I found out I was pregnant, and a few more times since then. I haven’t read it today yet.
Greg and Giles brought me breakfast in bed and the sweetest card. They gave me a truly great Mother’s Day. I also have to make room for the sadness. Joy and grief live together now and always will.