So Sophie visited the dentist for the first time today. Apparently her teeth are perfect and I was complemented on my commitment to the kids’ dental hygiene. Awesome.
I picked up Sophie a little before 10 this morning, when her appointment was scheduled for. I walked into the school and found her class to be playing outside. You gotta get in days like this: it’s perfect today, balmy with a tiny bite to the wind, a gorgeous early fall day. Not a cloud in the sky. I wouldn’t keep children inside on day like this either. She was in the playground with her friends. I’d told her we were going to the dentist today, but she has no frame of reference to what a dentist is so she appeared surprised to see me. She also seemed… different. She’s usually very boisterous. She was more subdued today. She smiled when she saw me, but that was it; no running across the playground yelling “daddy, daddy, daddy!!” as she normally does. She smiled and I told her it was time to go to the dentist.
We got in the car, I buckled her in and told her again what the dentist would be like. We were driving out of the parking lot when she said “Daddy?”
I was kind of stunned. She’d never said it before, although she’d tried. She would say “mommy’s dad” quite often, and Seanie and I would correct her: “no, Sophie, mommy’s dead. She is dead and that means she’s not alive like you and me. She doesn’t breathe or walk around or talk to anyone any more.”
And more often than not, she’d say something like “mommy’s got green eyes and green toes.” I think I’ve mentioned that on here before.
But today, she said it right for the first time.
Yes, monkey, mommy’s dead.
That’s right sweetheart, mommy’s dead. We won’t see her anymore.
Mommy’s like that lady.
She was looking at one of those obnoxious political posters that are everywhere right now, some lady running for office. On her enormous poster there’s a picture of her with a bunch of young people around her. The lady is smiling.
That’s right monkey. Like her, we can only see mommy in pictures.
Mommy’s in pictures.
That’s right monkey.
And we drove the rest of the way to the dentist’s office in silence. I carried her inside once we were there.
In the waiting room, I read her Sesame street books. Here’s Elmo talking about things he loves. He loves his mommy and daddy. Sophie just sort of looked at the picture, this goofy drawing of Elmo’s mommy and daddy made with crayon. I wondered what was running through her little mind.
In the dentist’s room, the dental hygienist cajoled Sophie into allowing her to count her teeth.
You have beautiful teeth Sophie! Your mommy and daddy are doing a great job keeping them clean!
And for a second I thought, should I tell her? But Sophie beat me to it.
I think we ruined her day. It wasn’t intentional. She fumbled an apology and I tried to make light of the whole thing. Poor lady. What the hell are you supposed to say to a thing like that?
But this is on Sophie’s mind today. And this is why she was subdued. And this is why that, upon return to her school, she wouldn’t let go of my leg. She is never like that. She loves school, loves her little friends, loves her teacher. And she just clutched my leg and buried her face in my thigh and asked to go home. In the end, I felt it best that she carry on with her day. Life doesn’t stop because of a thing like this. Even when you’re three.
Which is why there’s a lump of pain in my throat and tears in my eyes, but life carries on. My little girl shouldn’t be without her mommy. My son shouldn’t either. But mommy’s dead, and we just have to keep going. One day we’ll be able to talk about all of this more objectively.
But not today.
It’s so beautiful today. Too beautiful to lose. Too beautiful to let the sadness swallow up. I hate these ambushes. I hate this sneaky hurt that jumps up and swallows me whole.
It’s been a year now, and I sometimes wonder when it will stop hurting. A year is still too early to be contemplating that question with any sense of impatience. This is still all fairly new. But I am running out of patience with these ambushes. I can’t fall apart every time one of my kids needs to talk about mommy.
Because they will be talking about her for the rest of their lives. They’ll be processing the loss of their mommy for so very long. One day they’ll accept the loss as a part of their stories, but they do not have the ability to accept anything now. There are only questions, questions without answers.
Why don’t I have a mommy? Where did she go?
Mommy’s dead. What the hell does that even mean to a three year old?
I was noticing the other day how big Sophie’s getting, and the thought entered my mind about how Janie wouldn’t get the chance to watch her grow. I treasure the different phases of hers and Sean’s development in my heart, much as a mommy would do.
Maybe in a sense, when Sophie was saying “mommy’s dad,” it’s because dad is kind of the only version of mommy she has. Dad has to nurture and care and be the mom. I didn’t ask for this gig, but it’s mine so that’s okay. Nothing I can do to change it, and I’m not bitter about the role.
But I do feel the bitterness sometimes for my kids. And I don’t want them to catch on. So I kissed Sophie bye bye at the school and sprinted for the car and wept all the short drive home. I think about the injustice of this whole thing here while I pound on this old computer. This is where I take out the frustration, and this is the place to do it. I don’t mind if the kids see me sad or missing mommy, but I don’t want them to see me being mad about it.
It just doesn’t do anyone any good. I can model acceptance of the fact, and it’s okay to model sorrow. One day, Seanie and Sophie will express anger at the fact that they lost their mommy, I’m sure of it. I hope to be able to speak constructively about the topic to them when that happens.
So today is about processing the loss yet again. And about ruing the fact that my three year had to learn to say “dead.” Today is also about feeling the wrongness of this all. And it’s about letting it pass through me and getting to the other side of it again.
Just for today.
Then tomorrow we do it again. And I’ll pray their won’t be any ambushes waiting for me then.