Amelia was driving me crazy last night. She is in that developmental stage in which she forgets any instruction if she doesn’t carry out immediately, and her room is in perpetual disarray. Beginning at 8:30 I asked her to bathe and ready for bed. I have neither the energy nor the ability to nip at the kids’ heels these days. At 7 and 9 years old they should be able to get ready for bed without repeated step-by-step instructions. After all, they have to do the same thing (give or take a bath/shower) every night. How hard can this be? Apparently, it is very, very hard.
At 9 pm, Amelia was finally out of the bath and putting Benadryl on her many bug bites. When I followed her to her room to sing her songs I discovered the usual assortment of dirty clothes all over the floor and other items strewn about. I was so tired myself and ready for bed and I lost my temper, “Sorry, Amelia, you lost your lullabies for tonight. Clean up your room and go to sleep.” Then I turned and left the room with her in tears behind me.
Motherhood is not all Hallmark moments. My kids drive me crazy hourly. Hell, they drive me crazy a lot more frequently than that. I often think of my mother with her five kids and wonder, “What in God’s name was she thinking?” Every mother dislikes her kids sometimes and anyone who says that they always enjoy their children is a liar.
Of course, for me, this is a little tricky these days because I am like every other mother: sometimes I want to squeeze the stuffing out of them with a great big hug, and other times I want to drive them to a remote location and leave them there. But then I remember that I will have to leave them someday and I won’t be able to drive back and pick them up. It will be an abandonment of the most permanent kind.
I felt badly for depriving Amelia of her songs. It is the highest form of punishment in our household. And, in my current situation, I cannot afford too many angry moments that deprive my children and me of opportunities to make happy memories. I went back to her room and she was still awake, listening to the CD that I had burned for her (see post “Nesting”). Helen Reddy’s, “You and Me Against the World” was playing and I asked if I could lie with her. She was lying on her back in the green and white striped pajamas that I bought her for Christmas. Every year they get new Christmas Eve Pajamas; the latest ones make them look like members of Santa’s chain gang. I laid my head across her chest and rested it on the panda that she was holding so that she wouldn’t feel my inevitable tears through her shirt.
When I was a girl in the mid-seventies, Reddy’s song always made me feel sad. I couldn’t have been very old – perhaps 5 or 6 – at the time and I would listen to the words and imagine life without my mother. Perhaps it made every little girl within listening distance feel that way, but it wasn’t the only song that made me think about the inescapable cycle of life.
On Sundays my parents would listen to “Sundays with Sinatra” and often dance across the floor of our small living room. I used to love to watch them, the way they flowed so effortlessly, my mother’s ease on her feet, and the funny way my dad would hold his head. Sometimes my dad would let me dance with him and I would try to follow his feet with mine on the carpeted floor. I loved those nights, but whenever “It Was a Very Good Year” played I felt very sad and wanted to leave the room. Even as a small child that song made me feel melancholy and rue the passage of time. Looking back I don’t know why I understood the words. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe it was just Sinatra’s amazing ability to convey the meaning of the lyrics. Maybe it was just the minor key, and the words didn’t matter at all.
Or maybe I was primed to appreciate grief at an early age. When I was born, my maternal grandmother was in the final stages of pulmonary sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disease. My mother and her sister had each given birth in January. My mother finally had a daughter after three sons and my aunt had her second but only surviving son after two girls. My aunt lived across the street and they took turns caring for their mother while they cared for their newborns.
Apparently I never slept as a baby, a problem that appears to have remained with me. “Claire,” my grandmother would call in Italian, “Bring the baby to me.” I spent those first weeks of my life with her while she spent the last weeks of hers. She died in March when I was 10 weeks old.
I often wonder about her now as I sit here with my sick lungs just as she did some 40 years ago. What did she say to me? And what did I understand in my little newborn mind? Did I gain some understanding that death is a part of life from the get-go?
Don’t get me wrong. I was always a happy kid, a glass is half-full kinda gal. But songs would get me now and then and make my heart ache with the realization that everyone has to die.
I burned the CDs for the children while my mother was staying with us. When I played Reddy’s song my mother’s eyes filled with tears, “That song always makes me think of my mother.” She left the room unable to listen to it, but I listened and cried. As a child the song made be mourn the loss of my mother and, instead, I am the one leaving her and my daughter.
As I lay with Amelia last night I only cried a little bit. She was falling off to sleep in the easy way she does every night. I felt her breathing slow as her mind and body let go of the day. I thought about how the song had passed from my mother, to me, and now to Amelia, like an heirloom that none of us really wants to share. But in the words I found comfort that “memories will have to do” and that here I was making one more happy memory for her, just as I should.