- Bereaved Mom
- Great Aunt
- Breast Cancer Survivor
- The travel-size section at Walgreens (I’m taking all the cute minis on my trip)
- The exercise aisle at Five Below (I’d exercise if I had a new yoga mat…and block…and pedometer…and)
- The produce section at Costco (I’m only eating salad from now on)
- The Container Store (Gonna organize everything)
- Barnes & Noble (I’ll make time to read a whole book)
- REI (Sleeping outside looks fun)
- Any hotel gym (I’m totally gonna treadmill on vaycay)
- The Great Escape (We need a pool, right?)
- Any craft store (I’ll make this…and this…and)
- Home Depot (Let’s play in all the fake kitchens)
- The boat show (I could get used to this)
- An open house (Ooh, nice trafalet)
- A buffet (I can try whatever I want)
- The Kwik-Mart (My Powerball ticket is the winner)
- Parking garages (I always get a good spot)
I’m tired. It’s a tiredness born from from stress.
A week ago I had reconstruction surgery on my breasts after having a mastectomy last March to rid me of breast cancer. Everything went well, there were no surprises, and I consider myself lucky. I had my follow up appointment with the plastic surgeon, who seemed pleased with his work. I’m still sore, swollen and bruised, so it’s hard for me to agree at this point, but we’ll see.
I brought my little girl along for the two hour trek into the city. She was perfect at the plastic surgeon’s office, wonderful at The Museum of Contemporary Art, adorable at the playground. But…The Disney Store was one outing too much and her meltdown ensued right there on Michigan Avenue. I pleaded, “I can’t carry you because of my boo – boo.”
And that’s when you appeared.
You were older, maybe 70, and very nicely dressed. You told my daughter you loved her sparkly Hello Kitty boots and pink baret. You said they were nicer than any shoes you had. My daughter hid behind me and didn’t talk. You smiled at us. Then your expression turned serious and you said. “You’re doing a good job.”
And then you were gone.
You have no idea what that meant to me at that moment. Your affirmation made my day, and this was no normal day — It was a day I cleared a major medical hurdle. But at that moment you spoke directly to the heart of who I am. You somehow knew what I needed to hear.
And I thank you.
- Clean sheets.
- When Pandora “gets” me.
- When sesame crunchies are on the salad bar.
- When my dog keeps my feet warm.
- The smell of a brand new book.
- Hazelnut cookies.
- G-2 pens.
- The travel size section at Walgreens.
- Having a show to binge watch.
I call you “baby” because that’s who you are to me. My sweet baby boy with the enormous eyes like Oreo cookies.
Happy Birthday, Baby. You’re changing fast. Two weeks ago you weren’t taller than me. Now you’re taller than me. You have an adorable faint mustache, and your voice is in its Peter Brady phase. You used to have baby fat, but now you’re lean like a library ladder. It’s almost like you’ve become a different person overnight.
But you will always be my baby.
You were born into this family as the little brother. Your big brother loved you like crazy. You followed him everywhere. You climbed on his lap and the two of you stared at the little DS screen together while he played his games, and you cheered him on. He protected you from icky bugs, made sure you learned “parking lot rules” and taught you about Pokemon. You shared sushi, toys, a room and a deep love for each other. Many nights I’d find you asleep holding hands across the empty space between your beds.
The role of little brother fit you perfectly. You were a silly goofball, carefree and happy.
Then your brother got sick with brain cancer. You were left frequently with your Aunt. You were confused. Things changed. Your brother changed. He looked different. He was in a wheelchair and spent months in the hospital, but all you wanted was to be near him, hug him, talk about Pokemon and make up scenarios for your “guys” with the hundred stuffed animals you both owned. He put his arm around you when you climbed into his hospital bed to watch Nick Jr. You fell asleep holding onto him.
You were an only child for a few years, and this role didn’t suit you. You were anxious and lonely. You never wanted to leave my side (and I didn’t want you to, anyway).
Then you became a big brother to a little sister who thinks you hung the moon. You thrive in this role. You are an amazing big brother, and you say it’s because you learned from the best. You are protective and fun and funny. You teach her about Pokemon and sushi and “parking lot rules.” Now she’s the silly one and you’re the protector.
I am so amazed by you. Every day I am inspired by your resilience. I aspire to the level of kindness, compassion and curiosity you demonstrate naturally. You are my living example of how to be a good and strong person.
Did you know you saved my life? You were the reason I woke up and got out of bed the day after your brother died. Without you, well, I can’t imagine… You have transformative superpowers in your smile. I am helpless against your cuteness. You give me courage to face any challenge. Last year I wrote an entire screenplay about everything I learned from you.
You own my heart.
When you grow up you want to be a doctor/actor/comedian/research scientist/theoretical physicist — and I think you can make it. I believe in you.
You have a great friend group who accepts you with all your aspirations and antics, especially your bestie who is sunshine in boy form. You look out for each other like brothers — what more can you ask from a friend in Jr. High? What more can you ask from a friend in life?
But don’t be in a hurry to grow up. Stay immature and goofy a while longer. Stay silly. Stay innocent. And I know you will…
Recently, you said, “I know how babies are made. The man puts his ding-dong into the woman’s slipperslap, and then a baby comes out.” First of all, I don’t think I ever heard a better slang term. I’m the proud mom of a word inventor. Second of all, not quite. You really don’t know much at all, and that’s awesome. With all your excelling in academics, I’m relieved you lag behind the kids who ride the bus, go to sleep away camp or hang out behind the 7-11 when it comes to maturity.
I love that you’re a bit of a nerd. I love your dance moves and dry sense of humor. I even love our arguments (you’re so good at it!). You make me laugh every day. You make me happy. And you make me proud.
You make me look better at this job of being a mom than I actually am.
My birthday wish for you is to find your place in this big world. Do not to be overwhelmed by choices. Stay close to the people who love you. Keep a calm heart. Seek happiness, whatever that means to you — you deserve it. Your past doesn’t dictate your future.
Thank you for being mine. Promise me you’ll never be too old to snuggle and watch Saturday Night Live on the couch. And thank you in advance for letting me live in a tiny house in your backyard when I’m an old lady.
Stay cool, Baby. Have an amazing birthday!
I love you more,
Back in the day, my father liked to introduce my sister and me as the smart one and the pretty one. He never said who was which. My sister and I argued about it for decades. Neither of us wants to be the smart one.
My father was a natural comedian whose favorite form of humor was anything that mortified his children. He’d play with words, or toss ethnic (Jewish) jokes and cringe humor into conversations for the sole purpose of embarrassing me. Dark comedy and gallows humor was his particular favorite. A few hours before he passed away from cancer in the hospital he still made wisecracks and told my sister to “go to the nurse’s station and find out what time people die around here.” I’m certain my insurance salesman father missed his calling.
Comedy is important in our family. Our personal currency increases when we make each other laugh. My brother is great at physical humor, my three nieces are sarcastic and ironic to perfection. My nephews make clever observational humor, and my kids crack me up on a daily basis without even trying. We don’t make jokes that are mean spirited or insulting. Nobody gets their feelings hurt or is put on the defensive. We are mostly self-deprecating or point out daily absurdities. I think it takes a certain amount of intelligence and self-esteem to be funny, and the ability to slip into the third person. Plus we are excellent laughers. I absolutely love being around my siblings and their families.
My mother wasn’t funny, though. At least I don’t remember her that way. She rarely cracked jokes or found things ironic. She was beautiful, so her personal currency was her looks and assertiveness. But, boy oh boy, could my father make her laugh. She burst out a belly laugh if my father tripped, she smiled and rolled her eyes at his corny puns, but the best part was he could make her laugh when she didn’t want to. One time, my mother was arrested (for disrespecting an officer and then resisting arrest, which she totally did) and my father went to the station to get her. He approached the cell, and with the protection of her behind bars said, “Again, Elaine?” (He would never have said this if she was within swinging range.) Only my dad could come up with a punchline this brilliant at a moment like this. My mother couldn’t help but laugh.
My father was lean and fit from years of doing his own yard work. His eyes reflected his mischievousness. He seemed like he was up to something. He exuded cool. But he wasn’t classically handsome. He looked like Larry Fine when The Stooge wasn’t in character, or maybe a version of Bob Uecker. He’d say about himself, “If you’re going to have a nose, it should be a big one.” When I was a teenager I didn’t understand why my mother, who looked like Natalie Wood and could have married anyone, chose my dad.
She said my father was the nicest and funniest man she ever met. Nice and funny — two qualities that are very underrated. People look for wealthy, handsome or successful. Nice and funny usually lands someone in the friend zone, and oddly it was my mom who wound up spending time there. Growing up, my dad was best friends with her older brother and my mom was the annoying younger sister who hung around them. He didn’t pay her much attention until he returned from WW2 and realized she had grown up. He continued to hang around the house, but with the purpose of making my mother laugh. It didn’t take long for them to fall in love.
I love this story because it reminds me that my parents had no pretense about one another when they got married. They knew each other well, and loved one another for their heart and not their surface. Their marriage lasted ’till death did them part — not that my parents didn’t fight — they did, but they fought with the passion and security of two people who knew they would never separate.
Which is the same way I fight with my husband.
Had my parents ever met my husband, a comedy writer who worked in film and television and now teaches at a large university, I’m pretty sure my dad would have liked him. My mom, on the other hand, would have been slow to warm up since he’s from a different ethnic background (not Jewish, but she’d eventually realize he’s “Jewish on the inside,” as I sometimes describe him).
But here’s the important thing — every day my husband makes me laugh, even on days I don’t want to, or when I’m so angry that I can’t stand him. Also, he laughs at my jokes, and when he does I feel appreciated and understood. In these moments, I remember I married a man who truly “gets” me.
I wound up marrying the nicest and funniest man I ever met, but (thankfully) looks nothing like Larry Fine.
I guess that makes me the smart one.
I’ve written previously in “Like Space Mother, Like Daughter” about how my little girl surprised me with her claim she had a “diffwent mom” before me. I have since learned more details.
Her name is Butterfly, she has purple hair and wears skirts. She is married to Brian and they live somewhere cold (I asked her to show me on a map and she pointed to Alaska). Her siblings are baby twin sisters named Bella and Rosy, and a baby brother named Junior. Brian likes to fish and they eat what he brings home. My daughter says she was seven years old when she lived with them. She doesn’t know why she had to leave and live with me. She claims to love me and Butterfly the same.
I find it fascinating that Diffwent Mom’s name is Butterfly. The spiritual and symbolic significance impresses me, as many people believe butterflies represent the soul, and are a powerful symbol of endurance, change, transformation and resilience. The journey from caterpillar to butterfly is one of confusion and struggle before the creature emerges from the isolation of its chrysalis a more beautiful, enlightened, and less fearful version of itself.
The butterfly is a good allegory for recovery of any kind — from loss, grief or illness — all of which I know too well. You probably do too. A lot of people know what it’s like to go through a process of self-isolation and emerge braver and stronger.
I feel badly for Butterfly, if she truly exists somewhere she’s mourning her loss. She doesn’t know how much our little girl is loved and adored. She can’t see that she’s happy and glowing. I relate to her struggle, because I wonder about my deceased son every day. I wonder if his soul was returned somewhere in the world, being loved while he talks about his Diffwent Mom with brown hair who likes to wear flannels, whom he slightly remembers and hopefully misses. If this scenario is possible, I’d wish he’d still love me the same as his present mom.
I want Butterfly to know that I understand, and she doesn’t have to worry because I’m loving our girl enough for both of us. If I could write Butterfly a letter, I’d tell her she did a good job fostering our girl’s exuberant and silly soul which arrived intact, along with her big personality and feelings. She came with an overflowing capacity to charm and spread love, which fills my heart with joy every day.
My daughter talks about Diffwent Mom and “baby bwaddah and sistahs” several times a day. I think she was a protective and doting big sister because now she frequently wants to give them her leftover food, outgrown clothes and baby toys. She talks about their favorite foods, activities and colors. I’m fascinated by her stories, especially the details, like Junior won’t eat macaroni and cheese but her sisters love it. Her sisters have brown hair but Junior has no hair (“but him still cute”).
I’m oddly comforted when she talks about life with Butterfly. It gives me hope that maybe our souls, no matter where they travel in the world, never forget love. If that’s true, then my son will never forget me. My daughter’s fantastic tale about a possible past life makes me believe my deceased son could still remember me. His Butterfly.