A few months ago, a Magpie reader wrote to tell me that her six-year-old son had passed away unexpectedly, and that, after his death, she had discovered hundreds of photos he had taken on his iPad, many of (in her words) “everyday things he found beautiful — light/shadow, flowers, a bumblebee, our dog.” She went on to write: “Looking closely is what our children do best. It doesn’t require patience or practice for them; they innately know how to do it. To see things through their wondrous eyes and love things with their entire hearts.”
I have been holding this mother, and the memory of her son, in my heart for weeks now. I think of her boy often when I catch my daughter taking selfies on my phone, or with her plastic-y Tonka truck style camera, its viewfinder the size of a thumbnail, or when I rifle through the mountain of drawings my children routinely leave on our countertops and shove beneath our bedroom door in the morning. Their dawn contributions map out a constellation of insular references: the pool where they spend their days, the Lisa-Frank-style cheetahs drafted from a new coloring book, a stick figure with a pink dress on “because pink is your favorite color.” I think of her boy, too, when my four-year-old son is desperately trying to communicate a string of details that have no discernible interconnectedness, as he did yesterday, when he was telling me about feathers, and trees, and “those yellow ones?” I still can’t quite make out the object from his verbal penumbra, but I listen to him and I strain to honor the narrow web that makes up his tiny world without dismissal.
It can be, let me be honest, a challenge to maintain adequate wonder as a parent. I remain continuously at war with the everyday monotony of child-rearing, the way it can obscure or dullen the sweetness and magic of early childhood. Because bedtime, for me, often shape-shifts into a hurdle. Bathtime can feel like an aching back. Dinnertime can sound like a repeating volley of “bottom in your seat” and “try at least one bite” and “if you’re not hungry enough for dinner, you’re not hungry enough for dessert.” I know I do not need to apologize or qualify these truths to this community. I know I can look honestly at my experience of motherhood in your company.
And yet. I also know that there are mothers reading this who miss the bathtimes, the marinara-stained cheeks, the “Mama!” cried out in the middle of the night. And so I want to sit for a minute in the discomfort of knowing that all of the parts of motherhood — even the deeply fatiguing ones we must muscle through with grit — are a privilege.
I am writing this for you, A., because you have been to hell and back, and I see you in your grief. I remember your son, the legacy of his photos, when I am running on empty as a mother. Sending love, and always —
Onward we go.
+If you’re looking for shopping, I shared a roundup of the top links and looks on my mind last night.