I don’t know why some people experience the pain and loss of transitions and milestones more than others. Perhaps it’s an inborn personality trait; perhaps it’s connected to childbirth or postnatal trauma where babies were separated from their mothers for too long; perhaps it’s associated with early separation experiences with school or friends (being dropped off at kindergarten before a child is ready to leave his mother); or perhaps it’s a mysterious amalgamation of all or none of the above. And in the end it doesn’t really matter. What matters is what happens when we deny our natural need to express and process the pain and loss of any of life’s transitions. Which is what I did this week.
Last Saturday, I sat in the glider that I received as a gift before Asher was born. I rocking and staring out at our land in spring: the apple trees in impossibly magnificent bloom; the grass as green as green can be; the tender young leaves of the Aspen trees fluttering in the slight breeze; the flowing creek in the near distance. I thought about what was happening three years ago this time of year with my belly like a full moon, waiting in anxious anticipation for my water to break and the next adventure to begin. As I remembered, I could feel the tears pushing up against the back of my throat, and then the next moment happened – the kids barreling into the room, the rush of getting ready to leave for dinner – and the tears squashed back down. I didn’t really want to feel them anyway. For some reason, I wanted to ignore the grief this year and just move on to the joy.
But what happens when I ignore my authentic experience is that I turn into an unpleasant version of myself. I turn cold to my husband, become short with my kids, and flat with myself. I plod on through my week, somehow able to show up fully with my clients, but as soon as my work day is over I flatten out and turn into alter-Sheryl. Understandably, my husband starts wondering what’s wrong. My kids look at me with confusion and concern. I keep telling myself that I’m fine, I’m just busy, life is full, not enough space, too much to do, etc etc etc… but it’s just the story I’m telling myself as a way to avoid the rush of feeling that’s stirring underneath.
So today I sat with my friend and talked about our week. I told her that I had shut down last week and she asked why. I said, “I don’t know. I really don’t know,” and then rattled off a few possibilities: April can be challenging because it’s the month that both my grandparents passed away, the holidays, Asher’s birthday… and then the tears. Asher’s birthday.
“My baby’s turning three tomorrow,” I said through tears.
“I’m not a baby,” Asher replied.
And there you have it: he’s not a baby. I think I wrote the same thing in last year’s pre-birthday post, so it’s obviously taking a while for that reality to sink in. Of course I know that he’s not a little baby, and at the same time he’ll always be my baby, but it’s this passage of time thing that just gets to me. It just keeps moving forward. And as much as I love each new stage and the unfolding of each new day, I’m viscerally aware that my boys will only be this little for a brief window of time. As a result, there’s a part of me that wants to package them up and preserve them just as they are right now… and then right now…. and then right now… But I can’t. So the only sane response, for me at least, is to grieve. And in the grieving I arrive back at my core self: my joy, my acceptance, and my gratitude.
As my boys stepped out of the bath tonight, glistening like the angels that they are, and prepared for their nightly ritual of Asher being as silly as possible in an attempt to make his big brother laugh as hard as possible (which he does), I said to Everest, “Can you imagine life without Asher?” To which he responded, “No.” And then ran off to laugh his head off at Asher’s latest antics.
I can’t imagine it, either. Before he arrived, I couldn’t imagine life with Asher. Everything worked so seamlessly with the three of us that it seemed impossible to imagine how a fourth would work into the mix. But of course the subsequent siblings always mesh into the family matrix; it could be no other way. And now when we look at family photos before Asher arrived, we often say, “Where’s Asher?” And someone will answer, “He’s there. We just can’t see him.”
And now he’s here in human form: beautiful, strong, confident, funny, silly, sweet, sensitive, passionate about music, acting, dinosaurs, books, and his big brother. He’s profoundly connected to me but will also take it upon himself to walk down to the creek to fill up his watering can without help. He flows with the current of life until he doesn’t, and then he screams loud enough for my mother to hear him at the other end of the state.
I write so that I can make sense of the feelings and allow them to wash through me, clearing the way to see my angel with clear eyes. I let in the grief so that I can let out the joy tomorrow. I cry because that’s what my soul needs to do as a way to right and align myself with what’s happening in the current of my life. It doesn’t matter that other people may only feel joy around their kids’ birthdays. What matters is that I make time and space to be present for my experience, no matter what it is, without judgement or shame. It’s what I try to teach my kids and, as is so often the case, it’s the lesson I learn again and again and again.
I grieve today so that tomorrow, when I whisper my annual birthday wish into his ear, I can say it with a smile: “Happy Birthday, my little angel. May you walk through life guided by your Daddy, protected by your big brother, taught by your grandmother, and nourished by your Mommy. May you allow the warm waters of life to support you as you pass through the transitions that will grow you into the man you are meant to be. And thank you. Thank you for coming. Thank you for sharing the gift of your life with us.”