The day after mother's day

 photo by  Basheer Tome

photo by Basheer Tome

The day after Mother's Day, I feel like a bit of a shit for not having demonstratively and publicly thanked my mom for all the cookies. For her blueberry pie that makes everyone gasp. For her particular industriousness that kicks in when you've stopped brushing your hair. For how she has never had a non-generative phase in her life—how she creates, art-making in her sewing room, always. For the constantly fresh pot of tea, and for how she is my friend.

I didn't join in the Facebook chorus because there were eleven boys here throwing water balloons at the screen windows of the shed; sharpening sticks to roast pieces of cantaloupe on the fire pit; 'accidentally' falling into the creek and pouring out rubber boots, shouting. It was Ben's birthday party. The morning had been a white-noise flurry of cleaning and baking, punch-balloons and goodie bags. Somebody is missing. Don't forget the hot dogs. He's not here. He died. Two packs of buns. DING goes the oven timer. He died. We should light the fire now because we'll need embers for marshmallows. It's his birthday too but he died. Time for presents.

***

Mother's Day always felt like as much baloney as Valentine's Day. The nurses made up a card and gave it to me in the NICU. From Liam and Ben, it said. We love you mommy. I remember staring at it and thinking I know as voices in my head screamed at me.

Somebody group-tagged me in one of those inspirational memes with a picture of a mountain peak or a sunset, and a swirly font on top that said something like We Are Mommies Too, Even If Our Babies Are In Heaven. It makes me scowl in a way that's too complex to unpack. I untag and hide.

***

Oh, baby. Poor love.

He looked awful. He really did. He looked like pain, most of the time. I had wanted to see him. Hoping, maybe, to see something different. I dipped tentatively into the folder of NICU images and I don't get past the first. The voices started shrieking again.

Happy mother's day, jerk
You should have gone to the hospital sooner

Nine years and I can still hear them. Nine years and I still haven't figured out a comeback. Because I should have gone to the hospital sooner. But there's no DeLorean, no flux capacitor. In every moment of every day we can only do the best we can with the information we have.

I want to say I'm sorry, baby love but there's a little hand over my mouth. Shhh, silly.

***

I imagine sitting in Irene's living room in Paris or on Bon's deck on Prince Edward Island. I imagine having Josh and his lovely wife here again by the fire, talking about life after our babies. Or you. That would be a nice Mother's Day. Not a platitude in sight. No mountain peaks, no cherubs. No soft focus around the edge.

We're all so different—from different places, and with different backstories. Different things led to this loss for me than for you. Some of us are ten days out. For others it's been ten years. Post-grief, we've picked up and let go a jumble of subsequent disappointments, joys, achievements, and gauntlets. I might say I knew I should write about Mother's Day but all I felt capable of doing was scrubbing the wheel wells of the car. I don't know why. I wouldn't need to say anything else.

There's a shorthand to shared experience that crosses everything that would otherwise make us strangers. 

It's odd to say it, but when I'm in this space, this thoughtful season—the day of their catastrophic birth, mother's day, and Liam's death six weeks later—is not about celebrating parenthood or even my kids. It's a season of being grateful for the table we share, me and you. You are out there with your own unpackable jumble, trying to get through until you don't need to try.

I've clocked the time necessary to laugh and mean it, to fuss about superficial things. I've started dreaming again, nonsensically, with flashes of Santa Claus and my grade six teacher and ten elephants. The kind of dreaming that's the healthy off-gassing of ordinary days. I am happy. But I'm still so grateful for you, for the shorthand. On Mother's Day, I feel your presence more than I feel my baby's. And maybe that's the way it's supposed to be.

Have you reconciled your parenthood? How do you get through the days that make you feel like an 'other'?