I breathe a sigh of relief today, this hot July Thursday morning, the first child of my child is now 9. She is no longer eight and I feel a weight lifted off of me, and I have one more to go, the second child of my child will be nine before too long, and then the curse of my thoughts and my worries will be lifted…You see, when my mom was a teenager her little brother drowned in the bay off the island where they lived. He was 8. –Getting beyond 8– in my mind, once I became a mother, became a goal that must be achieved, so deep it was in my thoughts, and even more so since I’ve become a Nana. It’s a thought in my head that I can’t shake and never could. My mother’s and my aunt’s loss as teenagers, and my Nana’s as a woman, became part of my history, herstory, without ever experiencing it myself.
When I was 17 I found out I was pregnant. I neither wanted to be or wished to be and made great efforts to get rid of it, only to learn that it had been inside of me longer than I had thought or counted, and inside of me was where it was going to live. It moved and grew, and I grew, and it forced me to give up drinking Tab and eating SuzyQ’s as my lunch choice, but not much changed for me other than my size. When I was 18 and about to give birth, I still had no deep maternal feelings for it, no warmth, no attachment to it really at all. Then after a few minutes of pressure, sweating, and dizziness I heard my sister say “it’s a girl” and all I wanted in the whole world was her. I suddenly and inexplicably wanted to keep her next to me and safe, and love her more than I ever had wanted anything in my life.
And that is when it hit me the first time…that it takes only minutes to fall in love with your child. I understand clearly that for many women, most women probably, that this happens during pregnancy, but that is not my story, that was not my herstory… I did not fall in love until she was here and had taken her first breath of air on this planet and then I was so deeply in love with her I didn’t know what could have possibly happened to me. But that kind of love comes with a very high price…it could be snatched away by circumstance or by nature…through no fault of your own, it could be taken from you…and once I became a mother, I understood so deeply what my Nana had lived with for all of my life. Loss. Devastating, unimaginable, indescribable loss.
I have never heard my mom or my aunt refer to him as anything other than “little Billy” he is forever an 8 year-old boy, truly a boy who won’t grow up. I talked to my Nana about heaven a lot when I was a teenager, she who was so full of faith, and I who had none, talked about heaven and God and things that we really knew nothing about, and I would ask her what she thought, if there was heaven would he be still just an 8-year-old soul? She really wanted to find out, and then after my Pop died, her husband, we talked more about heaven, she was so curious, never fearful. She had no fear really at all about dying and believed as deeply as the day is long that she would be with them again, that being said, I seldom asked her details about how she felt, how she learned, who told her, that day in 1960, that near a bulkhead in Beach Haven Terrace her son went missing and then later his body was found. I never really asked my mom or aunt for many details either…it became a story of a family who suffered a tragic loss.
But it also became a fear deep inside me, once I became a mother. I learned rather rapidly that the love you feel for this child that you didn’t really want in the first place, and now want more than you want any single other thing, is so all-consuming it becomes part of your cells, your being, your soul…and that is when I first really thought deeply about my Nana’s loss of a child, my first weekend home from the hospital, cold dreary January, the realization that ALREADY I love this child THIS much, and she is only hours on this planet, being completely unable to wrap my head around how my Nana felt when little Billy died. During my pregnancy my Nana had embroidered the edges and corners of many cotton diapers for me to use as burp cloths and every time I washed one or touched the decorative threads I felt her sorrow…I wondered how many of little Billy’s things she touched after he died…how she managed to take her next breath, how she managed to wake up that next day, how she ever could go on…she used to have this odd habit of once in a while taking in this deep loud and sharp breath and I used to think it was a reminder, from that day long ago in 1960, her body reminding her that she in fact was alive and that she must breathe…
So I had this little infant girl who grew into this toddler who grew into this preschooler who grew into this really fabulous kid, and I became consumed with fear, a purpose, that I had to get her to age 8, that once I got her to age 8 the universe would take care of her for all of the rest of her days on this earth…I convinced myself that this family history of loss became a burden I had to overcome, not an obstacle so much as a challenge. I never re-read my writing after it’s written, so I won’t go find my journal from January of 1995, but if I wanted to I could find it in the box under my bed, where all of the journals are (I’ve been keeping my journals since I was 14) I am sure that that day’s entry was filled with many emotions and relief, that she was –no longer eight– and I had gotten beyond the curse of loss that had been in my mind all those years.
So today the child I call ‘Sweet-Ti’ is no longer eight and I again feel an ability to take a deeper breath, to worry a tiny bit less, to enjoy a moment of relief. I have one to go…the little blonde tan one I most often call by a nickname ‘Bug,’ due to her love of ladybugs and all those multi-legged and flying creatures, and another year plus of over-thinking, over-worrying, over-protection until it will be her time for me to let the universe take over and wrap her in glorious protective goodness for the rest of her days on earth. When each of these children was born I went to North Carolina to help with all things related to new infant care. I kept these babies in the living room with me and slept on the sofa for their first few weeks of life so that their parents did not have to get up for late hour feedings and diaper changes, but I also did it for myself…to connect with them, to make them part of me, and I whispered to each of them that I would do my very best to care for them and protect them until such time as the universe took over…When they are grown women and perhaps mothers themselves they’ll understand too…but it’ll no longer be history, it’ll be herstory, our story, the way we women in this family feel about the humans we make, and the joy to see them turn from eight to nine…one to go, and then I am free to let the universe take charge…