About a week ago I was talking to a friend about a problem I was having. The problem likely seemed trivial, but to me it was serious enough to warrant the conversation. After going over and over the situation, looking at it from multiple points of view, he said these words to me, “You should be happy. You have a good life.”
First of all, I agree completely. I do have a good life. No, I have a great life. As he reminded me, I am married to a wonderful man, I have two amazing children, we live in a larger-than-four-people-need home, we are healthy, we are blessed, and yes, we are happy.
But does that mean that my problem is not a problem?
I became indignant and felt judged, so the conversation ended. Then a few days later I did what I have done regularly for the last three years since I began blogging and participating in social media. I had an emotion, and I shared it on Twitter. The tweet was something like this, “I just realized that the last time I took my son to Build-A-Bear, he still called me Momma.”
In three weeks my son will be going to kindergarten. He is my baby – will always be my baby – and although I know that he will love every second of school just as I will enjoy professional time that is not broken down into twenty minute intervals, there is still a terrible sadness that the little baby who once needed me every second of the day will be in the care of others from 8:45 in the morning until the bus returns him to me at 4:00 every afternoon. I remember the emptiness I felt when my daughter went to kindergarten two years ago, the moments when I felt like taking a deep breath would lead me to cry. It passed quickly as I realized how much she loved school, but the sadness was real.
I thought nothing of the tweet, but then I received a reply from a mother whose last trip to Build-A-Bear was not three weeks before her child began school, but rather fourteen days before she lost her life at the age of fourteen. She tweeted that to me thinking it would give me perspective and comfort. Perspective yes, but comfort? Of course not.
When I was thirteen, a close friend was diagnosed with abdominal cancer. Naively, I believed that doctors would be able to heal her, and eventually she would return to school with me, dance with me at my 14th birthday party, just as she had at my 13th, giggle with me in home room while we wrote notes to boys. I remember the pain I felt when she lost that battle, but I remember more the look in her mother’s eyes. When I saw her mom ten years later at a friend’s wedding, that look was still there. She hugged me, looked at the somehow grown-up version of me. She seemed surprised that I was twenty-three and married, while her daughter remained forever fourteen years old. When the woman on Twitter shared her own experience, all I could think about was my friend’s mom and the haunting look in her eyes that I’m sure is still there twenty years later.
And yet I think it is unfair to say that just because a moment of sadness, a genuine feeling of emotion, isn’t a tragedy that it is somehow not valid.
As I write this I am in the middle of a five hour flight from the east to the west coast, and I am reading Nick Hornby’s novel, How to Be Good. He writes, “It seems to me now that the plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don’t need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity. You just have to love someone.”
So tonight as I sleep in a hotel room in San Diego, I will thank God as I do every night for the things with which God has blessed me: a wonderful family, health, and a sound mind. I do not take any of these things for granted. It is not lost on me that my children are also blessed. I thank God every day for that as well.
But I am still a mother and my heart will still ache when my son climbs up the steps of that bus. And no amount of it-could-be-worse can take that away.