(this should be a cute picture of my son and I in our costumes,
but that's another longer story for another day)
It’s rainy and cold and we’re all keyed up and worn out from being trapped indoors for two days by Hurricane Sandy. I wake up, too late, and squeeze in a shower while the twins, still in dirty diapers from the night before, wander around the living room. Their whining amplifies to full pitch as my shower cues them in to the possibility that I’ll be (gasp!) leaving for the morning. The preemptive separation anxiety continues through breakfast and packing everyone into the van to take my oldest to school.
After drop off I cart the remaining three kids back into the house. We mull around, waiting anxiously for the babysitter who'll be staying with the twins while the four year old and I head to his Halloween party at a local nursing home, an event I’ve been dreading since the October calendar came home. The twins settle for a few minutes, their anxiety lulled by the fact that I haven’t left at my usual time and almost simultaneously my son's anxiety about the party begins to rise. He peppers me with questions,
“Will there be people from the nursing home in the party?”“Um, I’m not sure, honey.”
“Will they see me in my costume?”“Yes.”
“Are you going to dress up?”
“No”“I don’t want to wear a costume.”
I've been “against” this party from day one and I know that my son, so robust and cheerful at home, will be shy and clingy in a new place. So I've consented to hire a babysitter for the twins and am committed to accompanying him, despite my own teeth-clenching, foot-dragging antagonism toward it all.“Solomon,” I say, “what if I wear a costume too?” I emerge from the back room wearing the fuzzy black antennae from my daughter’s ladybug costume.
“Ok,” he says, brightening, “you can be a black beetle.”Then, I can feel myself giving in, letting go a little more as the idea strikes and I say, “What if I’m a ladybug? I can steal Sophia’s costume.”
He approves and I have just enough time to gather the red and black-dotted wings and my camera as the babysitter arrives and the oldest twin dissolves into a raging stream of tears, protesting my impending departure. I run in circles grabbing things, carrying the littlest one and nearly run out the door with him, before the sitter stops me and grabs him saying, “This one’s staying.”Then we’re off to a party I don’t want to go to, but also don’t want my son to miss. We drive through the rain and find his friends in a large room coloring at a table while elderly people in wheelchairs are set in a wide circle around them. The residents watch, their eyes hungrily absorbing the beauty and innocence, the luxury of so much youth in one small space.
My son is clingy, shy and tired, overwhelmed, it seems by the noise, the crafts, the games and I do my best to get into the spirit of things. I help with glue and tear bits of tissue paper, I assure another child that it doesn’t matter where he puts the eyes on his pumpkin. I laugh with the other Moms over the resident who rides in on a wheelchair, pretending to scare the kids with a mask, all the while giving a growing peep show as his robe slides further and further open. I take a smiling picture with my son, a little Iron Man snuggled up on a ladybug's lap.By the time we get home, though, I’m over-stimulated and frustrated at my inability to love Halloween, to love loud parties and candy. The twins are exhausted and hungry when we walk in and they’re drawn to me like magnets, pressing their tiny bodies onto me in desperation. It’s all I can do to untangle myself, causing more tears and desperation, as I head to the kitchen to make lunch. Solomon is sorting and dumping candy, dancing and singing and blowing the whistle from his party bag and the twins are screaming in their highchairs, desperate to make it clear how deeply my absence has wronged them.
Then I’m yelling, “Stop it” and throwing an apple-peel all the way across the kitchen til it bounces off of one twin and they both sit staring, shocked into silence and my son, that sweet four year old boy, offers to play his whistle to settle them down.
* * * * *There are days when being a mother feels like dying a hundred tiny deaths. A hundred letting-gos, a thousand surrenders to more noise, more movement, more demands than I feel capable of handling. I’m not complaining, I simply want to be honest about the stretch of motherhood and how quickly, how fiercely, I shrink back from it.
I died a hundred little deaths this morning and will surely die a hundred more before nightfall on this, the day of the dead. But I know, thank God, that this dying, this surrender makes me new again. I may die a hundred times a day, but I'm just as often made new, reborn in the face of a chubby, gap-toothed grin, a gentle hand seeking mine for reassurance. Just today I was resurrected by the voice of my son calling cheerfully from the back of the van as we made our way home, “I can’t wait to be old so I can go to the nursing home to live.”
* * * * *
Later in the day as I'm making chili for friends who're coming to trick-or-treat with us, as the twins again stand whining at the gate that divides them from me, my Dad calls with the news that my maternal grandmother has died in the nursing home where she's lived for years now in North Carolina. As I stand over the stove, stirring the chili, I find myself surprisingly grateful. Grateful that, though I couldn't be there with her, I was here, at a nursing home with my son, the very same morning. I think of my Grandmother's life and the many little and big deaths she endured. I think of the ways I get so focused on what I'm giving up, that I nearly miss what I have right here, right now in front of me. It occurs to me that I live such a grace-filled life, full of opportunities for surrender, continually pressing me toward the edge.
Dinner is finished, the kids and husband are home and the poor older twin, who just can't pull himself together, sits crying on the floor. So I scoop him up and settle in the rocker and watch as he drifts into a heavy sleep. I love the moment, the rocking, the sleeping child, so rare, then he lifts his head and looks around disorientedly before throwing up all over both of us. Then he leans forward, laying his head back on my chest with that pile of warm, smelly goo laying like a layer of glue between us. I died again in that moment and rose again to hug him tight until my husband came to help us both get cleaned up.
Every day of the dead, every Halloween, gives way to all saints day and I wonder if we too, dying in our little and big ways, aren't also being moved, continually, from death to new life. This dying is a surrender, a stripping bare by letting-go until all that remains is love.