Little Boy Lost

She just let him be a kid.

That’s what the good mothers do, especially those with little boys who need to run and get dirty and build things.

He needed to ride his bike or his skateboard, needed to build with his dad in their garage, and just needed to be a boy.

So she let him.

We buckle them into seat belts and strap on helmets, wrap sharp coffee table corners in bubble wrap, and use safety gates to prevent little guys from being hurt on too-steep staircases. We puree homemade baby food, vigilantly prevent choking hazards, and sneak into the silent darkness of the nursery at night to watch them simply breathe. We hold little hands as we carefully cross the street, practice calling 911, and use safety scissors.

That’s what the good mothers do, after all. We do everything in our power to keep them safe.

She just let him be a kid.

As I sat in my family room that night the news began to spread through our small town the way modern-day news travels…over Facebook. A comment about a horrible accident, a young boy injured, speculation about who the young boy was, exchanges between young and old trying to figure it all out, and finally the sad news that he did not survive the accident.

And then I saw the message that made my heart sink.

I knew who this boy was, knew his mother. We work together at the school and she is wonderful.

She always talked about her boys.

Now one was gone.

She just did what others mothers do every day: she just let him be a kid.

How do we do this every day, when there is no guarantee? No promise of a future, or of grandchildren on our laps, no cure for cancer, no special bubble wrap that can protect our children? We let them go each day, like small pieces of our hearts with goals and ambitions and a will all their own.

We pray and we wish and we cross our fingers that they will be OK. Throw a bit of faith or fairy dust into the wind as we shout, “Have a nice day!”

How do we do this?

I have wondered this many times over since that night in May…and since the warm evening in June when we all stood and cheered as his mother walked down the aisle amongst the 8th graders to accept her son’s diploma…and since the late afternoon in August on what would have been his 14th birthday, as I hugged his mom in the memorial garden the volunteers have created for her.

How do we do this?

I have become a bit more tolerant of the eye rolls, a bit more relaxed about the have-to-do things. A few more minutes to stay up, an extra hour to browse at the mall, another cookie, maybe a pat on the head as I walk by.

Because life reminded me that we truly don’t have unlimited time with our kids.

So I just continue to do what the good mothers do.

I just let them be kids.


 This post originally ran on Moonfrye

Mourning Lessons

I did the best I could to prepare him.

Black pants ironed and hung carefully in the closet next to black heavy-metal band t-shirts and jeans.

Crisp white dress shirt ready to be buttoned up and adorned with a tie.

The lucky tie he always wore for Mock Trial competitions.

He’s ready.

As ready as a seventeen year-old can be to say goodbye.

When he was little, a small bird crashed into our playroom window and fell silent on the sidewalk. Teaching him about death and the circle of life was easier when it related to nature.

Flies are caught in webs for spiders to eat; dinosaurs no longer exist because they all died off; the raccoon ran into the street without looking and was hit by a car.

Then death hit closer to our hearts.

The family cat; the huge chocolate lab we bought for him on his third birthday.

The loss of a grandparent when he was 8; the tragic death of one of his heroes in Afghanistan when he was almost 10.

Losses not as easily explained as the fly in the web.

Watching my child process the feelings and reality of death is a heart-wrenching experience unlike anything else I’ve experienced as a parent.

But these losses we processed as a family. We came together with common grief and memories, pulling each other close and weathering the ebb and flow of emotion together.

This death is different.

One of his favorite teachers died suddenly last week at the age of 61.

He was witty and sarcastic; incredibly intelligent and thought-provoking. He was a mentor, a teacher, an advisor for my son’s Mock Trial team. The students flocked to him for his quotes and comments, and for his ability to push them all just a bit beyond what they felt capable of thinking or learning.

And although we met this man briefly several years ago, I have no memories or amusing stories to share about him. I have no place in attending the memorial service.

He occupied a space of my son’s life that I do not share.

He needs to grieve this on his own, with his friends.

How do you really know if you have prepared your children with the proper tools they need to grieve? To let go? To know that everyone they meet and feel close to at one point will die, possibly leaving them behind?

I feel an empty space in my heart as I watch him straighten his tie and put on his blazer.

Empty because carrying this grief is something I cannot do for him.

Like teaching him to tie his shoes or do his own laundry, I have taught him to grieve as best I can.

Now it’s up to him.

As he stands before me I see a young man, not the small boy mourning a fallen bird in the backyard. A young man who can handle the emotions and sadness at the memorial service without curling up next to his mother and asking why.

And I did the best I could to prepare him.


What Mothers Remember

Her mother died late in the summer before her second-grade year. The cancer had spread quickly; four months was about all she had to say goodbye.

Goodbye to her small daughter and devastated husband.

And in that time of finishing photo albums and tying up loose ends as only a mom can, she forgot to remind her husband of the little things that matter to a girl.

The right hair bow to accent her ponytail. The same charm bracelet that the other girls were wearing.

Donuts on her birthday.

To the casual observer, one who doesn’t spend a lot of time at an elementary school, it may appear to be just a donut. An occasional treat, possibly covered in frosting or sprinkles.

Maybe a cruller to dip in a steaming hot cup of coffee on a wet spring morning.

But to a young child celebrating a birthday?

That cumbersome white box with the window on top is a trophy.

A banner that shouts to the others on the playground, “It’s my birthday! My parents let me bring donuts for the entire class! I’m a hero!”.

They love me.

So the excitement surrounding the acquisition and handing out of the donuts often begins the week before the actual birthday.

By the time the actual day arrives and the birthday child appears at the classroom door with two dozen donuts and a stack of napkins, it’s official.

She’s a rock star.

Several months had passed since her mother died, when her birthday came in January.

A birthday to be celebrated without her mother; with her father still picking up the pieces and trying to move forward when all he really wanted was to have her back.

When her father dropped her off at my house that morning it was still dark outside. The cold January mornings felt too much like night but teased us with the possibility of daybreak at any moment.

We said our quick goodbyes, all three anxious to leave the cold behind. She looked small and tired; she didn’t make eye contact with me when I wished her a Happy Birthday.

I led her to the playroom where she could distract herself while my daughter got ready for school.

And I stood in the kitchen and wept for the missing donuts.

That little girl needed her rock star day. She needed to be able to feel that someone cared enough to remember a little thing that was actually quite big.

I wasn’t about to let her go without them.

This post is for The Red Dress Club weekly writing prompt. This week’s assignment was to write a piece, fiction or non-fiction, inspired by this picture of a donut.

Sympathy with a Side of Ignorance

July 4th hit with a bang around our house this year, but not in the way we were expecting.  First thing Sunday morning we got the news that a friend’s husband was killed in a car crash.  A friend my age; a mom with three young daughters.  A young woman who loved her husband dearly.  A mom just like me.

It hit me like a cannonball, right in the heart.

I just couldn’t comprehend HOW this could be true.  These things happen every day, all around the world.  But aren’t they suppose to happen to people you don’t know?  To nameless faces and families, in towns we haven’t even heard of?

We have known this gal for over 25 years.  Her brother is one of our dearest friends, and we all attended the same college at one point in time.  Even though I am only one year older, I feel like we’ve watched her grow up.

I will always remember watching her try on my bridal veil at our apartment after our wedding ceremony.  She wasn’t in a serious relationship at the time, but there was a wistful look in her eyes as she tried it on for a few moments and spun around in front of the mirror.  For some reason, that image has stayed with me.  Not too long after our wedding, she met her husband-to-be.  We watched them marry several years later, on a gorgeous September day almost 20 years ago.  Over the years we haven’t seen that much of them, as they moved away to build their new family.

Losing anyone at any time in your life is horrible, regardless of the circumstances.  I watched this same family lose their father to a long battle with cancer, just two short years ago.  I have watched my mother lose her second husband to a terminal disease.  I have seen first-hand the grief and despair of a husband when his wife died and left him to raise their 7 year old daughter alone.  I have seen the anguish of a young soldier’s wife in our extended family that lost her soul mate not too long after they were married.

But this particular tragic loss hits very close to home, and I keep trying to put myself in her shoes.  What would help me?  What would I want to hear?

I headed out to the store Sunday afternoon to buy several sympathy cards, mainly because I couldn’t think of any other way to help.  I stood so long in front of the sympathy section, I was afraid they might call security and have me removed.  Especially if they saw the tears.  I was stunned by how inane and ridiculous most of the cards sounded to me…..what is intended as comforting words come across as useless drivel.  After staring for such a long time, even the word sympathy sounds inappropriate. 

How would these words strewn together in a lilting, sing-songy way sound if I were the recipient of the card?

He’s in a better place now.  Even if you believe in heaven, I would still think he’s better off with his family.

You will be together again one day.  Maybe, but I want to be together at the dinner table.  Tonight.

Our loved ones become like bright stars that light the night.  No, I’m not buying that one.  Nice try.

I understand the pain you are feeling right now.  No you don’t.  Don’t even pretend to understand, and I think it’s a ridiculous thing to say if you haven’t experienced the EXACT SAME THING in your own life.

After a long time spent sniffling in front of the cards, I finally found a few that weren’t condescending or stupid.  But then, what do you write for the personal note inside?  I just wish there were magic words, the perfect thing to say to someone in this horrible situation.

I know what I WANT to say, but it’s not written in any card. 

This sucks.