It Could Be Worse

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.

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  • This is a beautiful post. So well written. 🙂 You are completely right. While it very well could be worse, that really isn’t an appropriate way to comfort someone who is going through the very normal emotions of letting pieces of their heart leave them for the day. Each and every day. So, I say let the tears come Mama! You’re obviously just a very loving Mother.

  • I guess I’m a different sort of mom. I’m better at compartmentalizing. I share in my children’s excitement of going back to school and revel in the “me time” in those precious hours. Yes, our babies growing up is sad, but I also rejoice that they are growing, and learning, and will hopefully become amazing adults. I wouldn’t want to doom them to early childhood forever.

    You are blessed in that you get to work from home, are there for them in the morning and there for them in the afternoon. Tomorrow I go back to work and trying to juggle everything and not enough for everyone.

    By the way, my 9yr-old is addicted to Build-a-Bear! We usually get her one to mark special occasions.

    I hope you get to the point where you see the bright side of the first day of school. I’m not your emotion isn’t valid, but it seems like you are dwelling on it.

    • I’m actually thrilled that he is starting school and have a little get-together planned for later that morning as well as a work meeting. But having that excitement and happiness doesn’t negate the sadness of knowing we’ll never be where we are right now ever again. No more babies in this house!

      It is actually very possible to see the bright side of the first day of school, rejoice in your child’s achievement, and yet shed a tear that they’re leaving the nest. Perhaps my next post needs to be about the ability to feel more than one emotion at a time?

      • I have to agree with you, Amy. They didn’t invent the word “bittersweet” for nothing!

        I was over the moon when my son was born, but I also cried knowing I’ll never be pregnant again, never smell the sweet smell of my newborn child on my chest again. The same thing happened when I found out I was pregnant with him after a miscarriage. Everyone told me “well at least you’re pregnant again!”. It didn’t mean I couldn’t be joyful at the thought of a healthy pregnancy, but still mourn the loss of the baby I’ll never know.

        I think people tend to forget emotions are so personal and relative. What means something to you, may not mean the same to someone else. And, there is *always* going to be someone who has it worse than you. It doesn’t mean you’re not allowed your grief or sadness. And you can most certainly feel joy and sadness at the same time!

        I see this all of the time among military wives who compare their lives “Oh well MY hsuband deployed for 6 months, so I’m much worse off than you”. It’s senseless.

        No one should ever try to belittle or negate the feelings of another. I wish there were more empathy in this world instead of comparisons and projection.

  • I like to say that the worst thing that has ever happened to you is the WORST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED TO YOU. In other words, it doesn’t matter if someone has, in the greater scheme of things, suffered more. We’re all entitled to our emotions and it’s unfair to somehow belittle what someone else is going through because you feel like you’ve gone through something worse. A fellow blogger recently wrote about how much she missed her daughter who was away for 2 weeks with her biological dad. She was torn down because other parents have worse custody agreements. I don’t think that sadness, worry, or grief need to be a competition. My son starts Kindergarten this fall as well, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to cry when I see him get on that bus. (8:30-4, though? that’s very, very long day for such a little kid!) I commiserate with you.

    • I love that sentiment – the worst thing that has ever happened to you – because it’s just so, so true. Thank you for that!

  • I’m so sick of “it could be worse.” When my husband lost his job, so many people said that to me. No, it’s not cancer, but him still not having his job is bad. Can’t we ever just be sad.

    • Apparently not. 🙁 I’ll be sad with you, Jodi.

  • I love what you wrote. It’s so true. Things can always be worse. But — they can be better too, can’t they? My FIL likes to remind everyone, “Well, in five years, you won’t remember this at all.” Hmmm….

    • Your FIL sounds like a man that I might hit.

    • I promise I will remember the summer my husband was laid off in 5 years. And I might remember that it dragged into fall too.

  • Beautifully expressed. I’m on a phone so must be brief. Who was it who said, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” My girl is just 3, but I’m already anticipating the impact even a small absence will have. Well done, Amy.

  • Darci

    Some people are just not able to put themselves in someones else shoes, unless they have already been there. Of course things can ALWAYS be worse, and thank God it usually isn’t. However, everyone has many feelings and that also includes the right to feel sad. Even if it is only one small part of their otherwise happy life.

    I know this persons insensitive comment has bothered you, but try hard not to let it. Realize it is he who doesn’t get it. I have a cousin like that. If I dare mention frustration or worry about my son (with behavior problems-asperger’s) she will always say down play my feeling and situation also.

    You are a good mom with typical feelings. Like the other person said, it is bittersweet. I too looked forward to having some time with out someone attached to me 24/7, but was very sad when both my little ones started school. Even though they love it and it is soo good for them, and mom needs a break sometimes too. That doesn’t make me less sad about them growing up and never being 2 again. It makes me sad about somethings and joyful about others.

  • Janet

    We’re all human. We’re all entitled to have a pity party from time to time. My daughter is starting her 2nd year of high school next week. You’re darn tootin’ that I’ll be a little sad on her first day back at school. Amy, please pass me a tissue. I’m going to need it. 😉

  • Very heartfelt and beautiful post. Sure, we all have problems and issues, but I do not think your problem is any less important than someone else’s (as that person suggested). Every “problem” or parenting issue is something we grapple with everyday. It bothers me when people compare and judge that way. Thanks for your words and inspiration.