“If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.”
I heard this a lot as a child. I was an angry kid. Atleast, this is what I’ve learned about myself over years of introspection and deep personal work through therapy. I didn’t know I was angry, anger has never been a comfortable or acceptable emotion for me. But there was a lot of it. The why or how of it is not important to this conversation, but I will just say that it probably started when my baby sister was born and I was ejected from my role as baby of the family and thrust suddenly into a new role that I didn’t understand or know how to play. As an adult I can have compassion for that 5 yr old self and tenderly giggle at the perceived injustice. I can see how, not clearly understanding how to get attention I became one who sought it by any means necessary and that I found it through misbehaving, getting what I most wanted, my moms undivided attention. “Trouble”. I was always in a lot of it.
I’ve compared and contrasted the outcome of my childhood to Isaac’s, many times over his lifetime as well as his death, the way one does when they try to put a puzzle together. Since around the age of 8 Isaac had a…leaning towards melancholy, that was nearly imperceptible to others, that, as his mama I observed from a cautious distance, never wanting to project my thoughts or ideas about how he should handle it. There was, at the core, this idea that I wanted to allow him to be himself, whoever that was. I was learning as I went, as I suspect most young parents do, but I had it in my head that I wanted him to grow up unscathed by me or anyone else. (Ha!) I had a deeply perfectionistic idea about my role as a mother because I so desperately wanted to avoid a re-enactment of the relationship I had, as a young person, with my own. And I say this with so much caution because my mother is an amazing woman whom I love and respect so deeply and would never want to cast a shadow upon her parenting. From this distance, of my child self, I understand things differently. We likely struggled for various reasons that make sense on this side of it, and there’s no blame or shame or anger anymore. But it informed my own parenting more than most any other thing– the only thing that “beat it”, was my love for and commitment to, Isaac, and his wholeness.
This all occurred to me today as I was watering flowers! I considered flowers and how much I love them and how, because of my mother, I have cared for flowers as long as I’ve had my own home. My first home, ripe with child, was a funny little “shack” beside a creek. My mom came right over to help me make it a home and we planted annual flowers and mulched gardens and made it pretty. That was so important to my mom, that she could make it a home for me in this way. We only lived there a month as it proved less than ideal for health and safety. And then we moved into the home I still live in today. And as soon as the inside was ready, from my grandma and mom helping me get it so, my mom and I got to work on planting flowers and mulching again.
Each summer after, from the age of 21, I would buy and plant flowers. Sometimes with very little money, but it was a priority for me. While my friends, still in college, we’re paying bar tabs and buying cute clothes with their “extra money”, I would spend my last dollars on flowers. Annuals and then eventually, hearty perennials. Building beds and potting pots and learning about how to care for them. Turning to herbs. Learning to love and appreciate “weeds” and letting some of them grow, as helpers, as salad, as medicine, as beautiful additions to bouquets. Letting my back lawn grow high with dandelions and wild daisies and black eyes Susan’s. Gifting bouquets and filling my home with the sweet nectar.
I was just watering flowers… But like most things I do, I find myself overflowing a hanging basket because I’ve lost myself in a contemplation, “coming to” from the cascade of water and the sudden lightness of my watering can.
I was thinking about my mom. I was thinking of all my mom taught me and gave me. I was thinking about the freedom that comes from being an adult who can choose to love someone exactly as they are and the inimitable, unfathomable love my mom has for me, exactly as I am. I was thinking about Isaac. I was thinking about how much I loved him and nurtured him and gave him the best that I had and that it didn’t protect him, in the end. Which got me thinking about anger and shame and confusion. His and my own. I was thinking about time and healing and perfectionism and not knowing how to play our roles. I was thinking about loss. About what someone perceives as pain, unbearable pain. How I could be informed all my life by pain that might not have even blipped on the radar of another, but that challenged me in so many ways. How we can never know what another is enduring. How I could search myself forever for the right puzzle piece that would complete Isaacs picture of how the fuck this could happen.
But I can only, truly, put my own puzzle together, and generally only in retrospect, and perhaps only with very conscious intention, and likely much simpler than that, gathering each day like a bouquet from my garden, and not discriminating between flowers and weeds.