I am so sad today. But not for the reason you would assume. Or not just for that reason. Today is the one year anniversary of the death of my host mother. My sorrow over the 50 people dead in Orlando, members of my beautiful queer community, mingles with my grief over the death of my incandescent host mother, Susanne, grief so intense that I can only look at sideways. Every time I have thought of her in the past year, I have cried. Sobbing in the shower for days after I found out she had died. Walking down the street, something will remind me of her, and suddenly my eyes are full of tears and I’m trying to pull myself back together.

To call this grief feels melodramatic, like I am coopting someone else’s tragedy, but it is the only way I can describe this feeling. This desolate sadness that a 50 year old woman, a veterinarian, a Scrabble player, a lover of perfume and John Irving novels, a wife, a mother, an only daughter, a friend, a beautiful amazing wonderful human being is dead of cancer. She was the best and I cannot fathom that she is gone. I cannot make sense of it. There is no sense to cells, growing out of control. There is no sense to dead at 50.

It feels tragic. And unfair. And scary as hell. Your mind, selfish as ever, calculates. I am closer to 50 now than I am to 16, the age I was when I lived with her in Germany. If I were to die at 50, Frances would be 16. Not even out of high school yet.

Suse has amazing children, my host brother and sister, both in their 20s now. Early to mid. Not late. Not old enough to lose a mother. Are you ever old enough to lose a mother?

She has a husband. Had. I can’t, even on my most morbid melancholy days, imagine the death of my wife. How do you go on? My mind rejects it.

There is no sense to this.

At least a mass shooting makes some sort of sick sense. People call it senseless, but it follows a pattern: Man (and it is almost always a man) gets mad, has access to guns, takes that anger out on people he hates or resents (women, gay people, classmates, coworkers).

And here I go, back on the safer ground of national tragedy. How sad that a mass shooting is so common place to be “safer ground”. How privileged that I am so unfamiliar with this unrelenting personal grief.

With national tragedies, you can take strength in community, your anger has a place to go: public policy changes to support, money to donate. I have felt so alone in this grief. Unwilling to dump in to the circle of her family: husband, son and daughter whose grief eclipses my own, but with no one really to dump out to who knew her. Not really.

Is this how it always feels? That no one knew this person that you loved? Not really?

How scared I am that this is a preview. That this is my life now. As years go by, those that I love will keep dying. I will keep grieving. It will only get harder to shove that grief in a corner and look at it sideways. The seal has been broken.

How scary to love so much and hurt so much. How death can blindside you. You think it’s an ordinary day and then your wife says: “I got a Facebook message? From someone named Rabea?” “That’s my host cousin,” I say. “She says your host mom is dead.”

There is no solving this. No way but through.

She lived. She was loved. Not most by me, but most definitely not least either. She died. It makes no sense.


A Time of Mothering Transition

It seems pretty appropriate that this time of transition for Frances, this BIG move from the land of daycare to the land of public school (her home for the next FIFTEEN years), coincides with what feels like a big shift in my experience of motherhood.

Up to this point, my main goal as a mother has been to keep my kid alive and safe. The things I’ve had to offer her, the things I’ve been focused on have been practical things: is she eating enough, is she getting the right amount of sleep? I’ve been focused on the things she needed to master in these early years: first rolling over and then crawling and then walking. Sleeping through the night. Potty training. Learning to feed herself, dress herself, put on her own shoes. Really basic, but vitally important things.

But in the last few months, I’ve felt my gaze start to shift from the practicalities of the here and now to the open landscape of the future. How do we teach her to be a good person? How do we strengthen her core, so that when the harsh winds of the world blow, as they will, she will remain strong and confident and whole? How do we help her become a good person, concerned about justice and the world beyond herself? As we enter a time where her own memories of her life will begin, how do we want her childhood to look? How can we make it a good one – one where she learns what she needs, feels protected and loved, has the space to explore and have fun and make mistakes?

It’s daunting. But exciting too.

A Time of Mothering Transition

An Ode to Daycare

This morning I wrote out our Very Last Check for daycare. There will be plenty more kid expenses in our future, but for the past three years, we have been paying the equivalent of a second mortgage payment every month and it’s pretty exciting to be stopping that. I have loved Frances’ daycare so much. They have been such a big and important part of our lives for the past 3 years, and this seems a good time to celebrate them!

Oh, daycare, I love you so. Let me count the ways:

1. You kept me sane. My first months home with Frances were filled with anxiety. Is my baby broken? Am I breaking my baby? Is this NORMAL? I cannot even explain the weight that lifted off of me when I dropped Frances off for the first time and realized that for the next 10 hours multiple people with years and years of experience with babies would be taking care of my child. If something was wrong with her, they would notice. If she needed something new, they would notice. BECAUSE THEY HAD DONE THIS BEFORE. Amazing. So helpful.

2. You taught me super useful stuff. Like how to get rid of cradle cap (olive oil on the head, comb it out). You told me, gently, that it was time for Frances to have shoes. (Babies need shoes before they start walking? Who knew?! Daycare!).

3. You taught Frances super useful stuff. Blowing her nose? I never taught her that!

4. You did crafts. Every day. I hate crafts. Thank you for handling that for me!

5. You fed her. After she started eating “regular” food, you made her breakfast, lunch and snack every day. From scratch. One less thing on my plate, for which I am so grateful.

6. You gave me friends. Other parents with kids the same age who I like spending time with. It’s so amazing to have folks like that who you can just hang out with at each other’s houses while the kids play. I do not take that for granted.

7. You loved my daughter, more than I thought it would be possible for someone not related to her to do. I feel so lucky, that every teacher Frances has had at daycare has been loving and nurturing and has thought my kid was the bee’s knees. (She’s totally the bees knees). What a gift to a child to know that there are adults other than their parents who care about them deeply. Thank you for being a part of our village.