Motherless Children

The kids and their Mom . . . not long before she passed away

Motherless Children by Eric Clapton from the LP 461 Ocean Boulevard

It’s a heartless kind of title, I suppose, but it’s succinct, I’ll give it that, and it fits the song I’ve attached.

It’s also the thought that’s weighed, a bit artificially, on my mind in the last couple days.  After the insanity of the weekend, where we watched my oldest daughter grow up before my eyes and become one of the most beautiful young women I’ve known, having gone to the prom.  After I’d gotten through the events of the concert and the prom that ate up our Friday and Saturday nights I noticed her Facebook post saying: “Black Keys, prom and the Avengers movie – best weekend of my life!”  It made me breathe a little bit and I thought the opportunity to take a breath and re-assess my week might be prudent.

I was wrong.

Taking a breath actually just put me a few more steps behind.

Sunday night I had finally gotten to the point of emptying out the boys’ backpacks and going through the homework and the pieces of artwork.  Inside every week is a note telling us what’s coming for the week.  There, in the family newsletter, was the notice that they’d set the date of May 8th . . . tomorrow . . . for the Mother’s Day Tea.  Now, don’t get me started on the mere fact that the Moms get a full Mass with a High Tea to follow and the Dads get “doughnuts with Dad” where I eat stale doughnuts during the Scholastic book fair and get pummeled with requests for books and pencils and crap and end up leaving the event having spent more money than doughnuts I’ve eaten and gastrically paid for later in the day.

Then my kids inform me that if they don’t have someone to take them to the Mother’s Day Tea they have to stay in the classroom.

I’m not trying to be one of those politically-correct, change the world, “make it Earl Grey with your Parents Day!” kind of guy.  But to exclude my kids because they didn’t have a Mom seemed a bit harsh to me.  To add insult to injury, when I said I’d go in Andrea’s stead, they all told me, unequivocally, “NO!”  I see why, of course.  I’d be the only Dad there.  Last year, we were so wounded and bleeding that I couldn’t remember that their Aunt and Grandmother (Andrea’s Mom) had gone with them.  But this year, their Grandma is just too sick and their Aunt has her own children she needs to mother.  I wasn’t going to ask.  I was going to buck up, embarrass my kids, and completely ridicule myself and go have tea with a bunch of kids.  Just because.  My sons in particular didn’t need to be reminded, yet again, that they’re different or excluded because they don’t have a Mom or a healthy Grandma who lives close by.

My consternation ended when the phone rang just before bed.  Hannah, my middle daughter, has a best friend – a boy, but not a boyfriend – whose Mom thinks the world of her.  Hannah’s friend came home and asked his Mom if, since she was coming to the Tea with him, she would “adopt” Hannah for the day.  He wanted Hannah to sit with them and to be part of their family.  The boy’s Mom called me tonight and asked if I’d be OK with it.  She’d recently lost her Mom, and hard as it was to face the first Mother’s Day without her, she was going to do this for her son and really wanted to do it for Hannah.  She offered to help for the boys as well.

I said yes, by the way.

This woman seems to get it, like so many others don’t.  Sure, if your Mom works and just can’t come it’s no big deal if you’re left behind in the classroom to read.  If you’ve lost your Mom suddenly to pneumonia in the hospital and she’s never coming to one of these events again, it’s another bitter reminder that you’re a Motherless Child.  She has had a hard time, being so close to her Mom for so long.  She describes it as I’ve often described it here: a wave.  Not grief, but memories, sights, smells, and firing synapses hit at such a rapid fire succession that it overwhelms you.  It’s like standing in the ocean minding your own business when an undertow grabs you suddenly and pulls you under.  You can fight and get back to the surface, or you can give yourself to the wave.  Which is better?  Fighting makes you angry, bitter, and exhausted.  Giving in brings you sadness, grief, and despair, but eventually the wave dissipates and lets you go so you end up at the surface again.  The days and weeks after I lost Andrea I fought, miserably, and ended up worse off than when I started.  Now I let the wave wash over me and let me go when it’s finished.  It leads to happiness with the memories and tears with the loss, but there’s little I could do otherwise.

So I told her I’d be honored to have her be my kids’ surrogate.  I couldn’t stand, even though my son, Noah, wanted to skip the tea, to have them sitting there to be bitterly reminded again and again what they’ve lost.  It just wasn’t fair.  I knew that they didn’t know this Mom as well as they could, but it was better than being left without everyone else in a room to be reminded.

It’s in the middle of that exhaustion that I realized we had an amazing family friend – someone who’s picked up my son and taken them to her house, played with them all, had us over on Christmas Eve, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before.  My sons are friends with their sons.  They are from the Midwest as well and they are, quite frankly, some of the nicest people I’ve ever known.

I realize now that I am living the statements I’ve made here before: I’m surviving because I have others to help me survive.  It’s not a “village”, I hate that phrase.  It’s necessary survival.  I’m lucky that I have people I admire and love and care for that also care for me and my kids.  Without them we’d all still be alone in a room – me sleepless on the couch (well, more than I am) and my kids alone at a classroom desk.

Nobody treats you like a mother will . . . but this weekend has taught me that it’s not the treatment, it’s the feeling.  If Andrea was here, she might never have done this, she would have been sad, broken down, even a bit mortified that this was happening and what we did.

But she’s not here.

It’s the desire to make sure that they succeed, where I may not or have not, that’s important.

We have the foundation and the ideas.  We have friends and surrogate Moms that can bridge the gap, not fill it, in our souls.  But it’s the ideas and decisions that are important, and it reinforces what I’ve said a thousand times before: we’re stronger together than we are apart.

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