Just Another Parent on the Playground
This Monday I’m joining some blogger friends in launching a weekly synchroblog we’re calling “The Parent ‘Hood.” I hope that you’ll join us. Visit Fried Okra for all the details.
My son barreled through the garage door, wailing. “Mom, isn’t there anything we can do today?”
I put my book down. “Sure! We can go to the park!”
He looked at me, disappointed. “Is there anything else?”
I couldn’t stop the amused smile from creeping across my lips. “What do you want to do?”
His sobs disappeared. “I want to play with neighbors. Will you walk me across the street to see if they’re home?”
They weren’t. As we walked back across the street to our house, he turned his impish blue eyes up to mine and asked, “Can you and me go the park, just us? Like a mommy-son date?”
Of course. (Funny how it has to be his idea.)
A few minutes later, I sat on a bench at the edge of the playground, watching him careen around, his blond hair dripping sweat and his cheeks flushed.
We look like a typical mom and son, me pushing him on the swings one minute, smiling indulgently the next as he hollers “I’m king of the castle!” from the top of the slide.
No one knows that next to the swings, among a grove of adolescent shade trees that aren’t quite mature enough to provide shade, lies a sign with my daughter’s name on it. I don’t visit it every time we play at that park, but this day, I did.
He bopped over as I fiddled with my wide-angle camera lens. “Mom, what does this say?” he asked.
I read it to him. “In ‘glory-ous’ memory of Elli, 2000-2008.” [“Glory” by Selah with Nichole Nordeman was Elli’s favorite song the year she died.]
“That’s my sister!” For a half a second, he paused, then grabbed a stick and began digging in the dirt next to the sign. Another second and he was off, calling back to me, “I want to do everything here, Mom!”
I wandered back towards my bench, watching him and wondering how life keeps going.
I’m that parent. The one who has lost a child. But you can’t tell by looking. The hole in our family is invisible, the gaping wound in our soul hidden from the other playground parents around me.
I don’t know how we keep going. I only know that we did and we do. Our kids keep growing and learning and needing. I don’t have the luxury of going off the deep end or disappearing underneath my bedding, attractive as that is so many days. I don’t even get a break from visiting the children’s hospital where Elli spent so much of her short eight years of life.
Next month, she will be gone 4 years. Four years. In two weeks, my oldest son turns 10. None of it seems possible.
The wrenching tearing of death has changed how I parent. I don’t hover. I let my kids (sometimes make them) work things out on their own. I squash my over-protective fearful self down under the bone-deep knowing that if death is coming, I can’t stop it. Our daughter died in her own bed, in her own bedroom, just a few feet from where we slept. If I can’t keep death from finding her there, in the safest place I know, it’s a waste of time and energy to try to keep it from my other kids.
It isn’t that I’m unafraid or unaware of danger. It isn’t that I’m careless or negligent. I am all too aware. I’m terrified that something tragic will happen to another person I love. I know all too well that it can indeed happen to me. It’s that I know my kids’ lives, and my own, are completely outside my control. There’s little I can do to keep death at bay. I don’t want to waste these precious moments or miss the joy in them by worrying. They will be gone in another breath. I want to treasure these minutes, hold them close, and remember them later, when my house is quiet and my arms are empty.
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