Years ago, while reading a Jodi Picoult novel (one of my all-time favorite storytellers), I stumbled across a piece of information I've carried with me ever since. She told of a Native American belief that loved ones sent rain as a signal they'd crossed into the afterlife. I told my grandmother about this, because she and I had an affinity for Native American culture and beliefs. We had an affinity for each other, really. I'd speak of her in my classroom and call her my best friend and kindred spirit and meant it. We had one of those relationships that comes along rarely and only with luck and loyalty.
When she passed away on June 14, 2017, I lost part of myself. I think of everyone who suffers the loss of a great love and am unsure how anyone loses a husband, sibling, child, because I cannot look anywhere without pangs in my ribs because everywhere is her but her laugh, her tea, her soft arms hugging me and holding me tight are no longer. I won't sit and watch Maya Angelou specials with her and commiserate with her over politics. I can't vent to her about life or cry to her about students I've grown to love as my own children. I can't philosophize with her on the nature of existence or the meaning of life.
But the day of her funeral, as friends and family huddled under the graveside canopy and umbrellas, it rained. Torrentially, unapologetically, loudly. She soaked us. And when the prayer was done and we laid our roses upon her casket and walked back to our cars, the rain cleared, the sky opened, the sun beckoned us home.
I'd also heard once that angels send feathers as a means of communication. This was another item of spiritual mystique I discussed with Grandma. I'd walk in our local cemetery and ask the spirits to send me certain color feathers, and within a week or two I would normally receive them. My grandmother loved these tales, and I loved experiencing them, even if the whole time a small part of me remained skeptical and logically clung to the fact that where there are birds there will be feathers so perhaps it was all wishful thinking.
The day after Grandma died, I walked her house alone. I laid on her bed, on the living room floor, sat at her kitchen table, and I sobbed. I spoke aloud to her. I thanked her for being such a huge part of my life, for loving and supporting me, for making me who I am. I told her life seemed surreal without her a part of it. And I asked her to send me feathers, a large amount of them all at once, so I would know it was her. So there could be no doubt it was true, what they say of feathers, what I hope about the energy that is our spirits.
This morning, I awoke to feathers scattered across my porch, dozens of them. As if a bird had plucked every feather from its body and still somehow flown away, since no bird laid in sight. No feathers trailed through the yard or driveway to reveal a path of flight. Just feathers strewn in front of my door.
We do not lose people. Just the bodies they resided in for awhile. If you look, if you listen, if you believe, they are speaking. Love is a language needing no words. Just wings.
I believe you. I really do. I can already picture myself sobbing on the way home from dropping Maya off at her college dorm, sputtering about how just yesterday she still wanted me to lay beside her just a few extra minutes each night because she was scared of the dark. I know that when Layla walks out of our house carrying her last box of items to move to her own apartment I will have a void open the likes of which I can't fathom. So when you look at me in the grocery store with that wistful expression and say, "Oh, you're going to miss this one day, so you just soak this up while you can," I know that on some level you are right.
But, please. Let's stop pretending. Because I'm not going to miss ALL of this, and quite frankly, I'd love to be missing it for just one day right now. Because what you're conveniently forgetting in your selective romanticized memory of early motherhood is what mornings are like, or entire days of summer break. From the minute we are all awake (which is way too early), chances are I've yelled, screamed, threatened, cried, sighed, pointed, grunted, cussed, stomped, slung, pitched, ultimatumed, and declared "That's it! I've HAD IT!" all before you've had your morning cup of coffee. I have no personal space. Someone is literally touching me all day, whether it's this baby constantly wanting attached to my boob or my hip or the six-year-old flinging herself around and into me or the dog that won't stop following me and creepily staring at me. I spend every day feeling overwhelmed, behind in housework, friend conversations, developmental playtime, organizing, relationship building, school work, housework, bill paying, housework...and don't even get me started on people who tell me to just play with the kids because the dust will be there tomorrow. Someone's gotta clean eventually. And trust me, it ain't the six year old. Not without twenty minutes of reminding and patience-shredding selective hearing between every. Single. Item.
I spend enough time doubting myself and how I handle temper tantrums and pouting and cluster feeding and naptime. I already feel guilty every night for getting frustrated with a teething baby or losing my patience with a cooped-up hyper elementary-aged kid. I really don't need you presenting me with a reminder that I'm not appreciating what I have. Because I do appreciate it. So, so, so much. I curl into being a mother because it has so much intrinsic meaning and benefit.
But I also appreciate my sanity. So instead of platitudes about these being the golden days of motherhood, offer me something reassuring and real. Like, "It's completely normal to say you need to use the bathroom just so you can lock the door and have five minutes to yourself." (Even though the second I hit the toilet I hear "MOM! MOM! Where are you?!" And the dog is busting in to stare at me some more.) Or "My car smelled like milk vomit for seven years straight." Because we all know that when they're grown we will miss the sweet moments. But we all need to know we aren't terrible for fantasizing about driving off to lay in a chocolate bath and bask in complete glorious silence for just one full day.
So, please. Instead of telling me what I'll miss, tell me what I have to look forward to, hand me a chocolate bar, and let me be on my merry mother way.
Hey, new moms. I've got something to tell you. I know, you've had a lot of information thrown at you during one of the most miraculous and simultaneously traumatic experiences of your life. Because let's face it, whether you just pushed an entire human out of an area of your body best designed for peeing, or you found yourself strapped on an operating table with your intestines outside of you and in a silver bowl, your body has been through more physically than a Spartan warrior faced in training. And it's not over, because if you're one of the many women who choose breastfeeding, you're probably in your hospital bed next to tears, clutching pamphlets and sniffling after lactation consultant visits because it's overwhelming and nothing seems to be going like it's supposed to be. So I am compelled to tell you something:
It's not you. It's them. And here are nine reasons why:
*(carefully consumed immediately following one full feeding so as not to affect our milk, of course)
This morning, I brought a windchime from my grandmother's house to mine. After scrubbing it clean and re-tying the bottom piece on, I hung it on my porch. If I close my eyes when the wind blows, I almost feel like I'm swaying on her porch swing, our feet moving in tandem to keep our rocking steady.
This afternoon, I sat in the living room to nurse Layla, positioned in the rocking chair where I could look out the window and see the chime. And as I watched, a brilliant red cardinal landed on the railing beneath and looked up at it, turning its head and studying it before looking in my direction and flying away.
Perhaps I called her home. At least I like to think so.
Lynne Reeder is a mother, teacher, and lifelong reader. She's been penning poems and stories since she first learned to spell words. Her works appear in many online journals and other publications, and she received the title of Poet Laureate for hometown in 2016. She spends her time squeezing in writing drafts of her works around wrangling her two daughters and impulsive pitbull. She's been lucky enough to find love early, marrying her high school sweetheart Brandon, with whom she has been for over half of her life. She loves all kinds of tea, witnessing the moment a student discovers a new talent, and recognizing the infinite in the everyday. She hopes you enjoy her words as much as she thrives on creating them.