I was lying down half asleep on my parents' velvet green couch. I could hear my dad mumbling indistinctly on the phone in the background. It was summer of 1997, and I was almost five years old. This is one of my earliest memories.
Minutes later, he was tapping my shoulder with one hand, waking me, and holding the giant dinosaur landline in his other.
"Mom and Michael got into a car accident."
I rolled over and went back to sleep, giving no thought to what my dad had just told me.
What my dad meant by, "your mom and brother were in an accident" was: your mom's mini van slid on the wet highway, did three 360s on the concrete and rolled three times down a hill, landing on its tires. The van was now a compact ball of crushed metal - but they're okay. And they were okay. Thankfully.
This was the third of three wild events that happened in our family in a four year period. The first involving my brother, a lawn mower, and multiple surgeries, and the second involving that same brother and a fall off of a cliff. (The fact that that boy is alive, let alone able to walk, is miraculous.)
In addition to conquering burden after burden my mother was busy being superhuman on the home front. Working two full time jobs, going to school, and mothering four biological children, and three foster children. Her dad and my grandfather had a heart attack, and underwent quadruple bypass surgery prior to these accidents, and she was falsely accused of child abuse a month after the car accident (which took 18 months to clear her name). The cherry on top? A teacher serving my mother for a 7 digit sum for "defamation of character" after getting him fired for child molestation. She was kind of a BA.
It is almost humorous in hindsight.
Then it was 1999, and after several years and miscarriages, my mom and dad finally were able to become pregnant. He would be their fourth son, and fifth child. His name would be Nicholas.
He was the silver lining in the storm.
However, at a routine ultrasound, 25 weeks into the pregnancy, the doctors found that Nicholas' heart had stopped beating.
And just like that, Nicholas had died. The silver lining faded into the gray that hovered over us all.
Then I was eight years old.
I remember my mom delivering him at home a month after finding out about his death while we stayed with our nanny. I remember holding him hours after his birth; his tiny silent eight ounce, 5 inch body, and marveling over his perfect hands and feet. And the dimple in his chin that matches mine.
I vaguely remember the darkness that followed Nicholas' death. I mean, of course I could recognize the sorrow on my mom's face when we buried him, and for the months following.
This was no doubt a time of terrible things. I know that it was. My parents' plates were overflowing, unbalanced. I think it was the first time, after beating her to a pulp, that I saw life break my mom a little bit.
But what I cannot remember is the agony that most surely surrounded these years.
I remember something different.
Like, the thrill in raising our pet geese and dogs and rabbits. I remember running around barefoot and picking blackberries and apricots and cherries off the trees in the backyard. I remember overfeeding my Tamagotchis, and requesting songs on the radio. I remember Saturday Morning Cartoons. I remember swimming all summer, playing MASH, and writing in my diaries with glitter gel pens. I remember happy Christmas mornings, The Land Before Time, book fairs, and Microsoft paint. I remember stealing my mom's Mary Kay make up and episodes of Full House. I remember the 90's for what they were.
I remember feeling free and I remember being happy. I remember a mother who was ever present and chock full of love. And I know, I know I owe every last bit of that to her strength.
And so I will be strong.
Of course, I hope to be able to channel this strength when I am amid the inevitable turmoil and tragedy of parenthood, but strength doesn't always look like a brave face amidst a scary diagnosis. It isn't only in rising above the loss of a child, or leaving a broken marriage, or willing a baby into the world unmedicated, or in the blood and the sweat and the tears.
Sometimes, it looks like the willingness of being up in the night with your babies. It can feel like physically defying the laws of sleep. It courses through the gentle love of a mom buried in postpartum depression, rocking her colicky newborn. It sits in the selflessness of giving up your last bite of ice cream, or wiping down the table your elbows are sticking to for the tenth time before noon. It swims in the bowl of cereal you poured for dinner when you just don't have it in you to cook another meal that will end up on the floor. Strength is tethered to the couch with you and your nausea when your toddler is on their fourth episode of Sesame Street.
It is in the energy of wrapping your arms around your struggling, selfish adolescent, or having to hold your kid down for immunizations. It is in the power struggles; the internal ones and the ones you have over the color fork your daughter will eat with this morning.
It is in the necessary greed in finding space for the alone time that edifies you, and not being resentful when that alone time cannot be found. It falls with the tears of frustration, and it is what inflates your chest with pride. It is in the insecurities and the confidence. It is carried through the stillness and the noise. It flies over the mountains of the pretty days and creeps through the valleys of the despairing days.
Being strong means sucking it up, but sometimes it means asking for help when you are knee deep in pride, too.
Some days, strength is just getting out of bed in the morning.
This matters. I know it matters; because every bit of what my mother gave to me has been filed away in my character. I know what I give to my daughter daily is being internalized even if I never get applauded for it. I know there will be a time when Anabel will need the love that I have given her to buoy her above darkness, just as I have needed, and will need.
Like the wise T.B. LaBerge says,
"Perseverance [or rather motherhood] is placing one foot in front of the other, even if it drags."
So be strong, mamas. Just hold on. Believe that what you are doing today is making a difference. One day the bravery in the optimism you show your babies will come from the corners they are stored, and rise up.
Though the days will feel long and the years will feel short to you,
they will remember something different.