Today, I said goodbye to Jay. I hugged him tight against me and gave him kisses, all across his face and along the smooth, soft drape of his dainty neck. A sudden swell of emotion rose up and tightened around my chest. I turned my face away…I didn’t want him to see the tears welling up. After a moment, he pulled out of my arms and bounded out the backdoor, stomping with excess energy. “Goodbye Mommy!” he shouted over his shoulder. He hadn’t noticed a thing.
Mason shrieked and kicked my sides. I had almost forgotten he was still strapped to my back. It was past his bedtime. I headed upstairs to put him to bed but as I passed the front door, my hand automatically reached out to turn the doorknob. I needed to get one more glimpse of Jay. The Land Cruiser was just pulling out of the driveway. I never noticed how tiny he looked in that big car. I waved frantically. “Bye, Jay! I love you!” I shouted. Neighbors stopped to watch. Jay threw his arm out the window and waved back. “I love you Mommy!”
He’ll only be gone for a week. His Daddy is taking him on vacation to Virginia Beach. A part of me has been waiting for this moment for a long time. Being three, he is more than a handful. I end up yelling more than I care too…I’m in utter need of a break. After Mason was born, and Jay entered what I called the “devil stage,” I wondered who he was…he was not the same beloved baby I had rocked and nursed to sleep into the wee hours of the night, and for the first two years, whose slightest whimper would have me running to his side. I found myself having a hard time remembering how much I loved him. After talking with other second-time moms, it turns out that this is pretty normal.
Every morning, Jay would open my bedroom door to find Mason in my bed. In the spot that once was his. Mason and I would fall asleep while nursing, the same way Jay and I used to. For a while, I was too exhausted to make the connection. I only noticed the aftermath, the defiance, the anger. I missed the disappointment, loss, and confusion. It probably took me too long to realize.
But we got through it. Together. He’s forgiven me my mistakes and the string of angry mommy days. And I’ve forgiven him for growing up, being his own person, feeling those big feelings, and not knowing what to do with them. I make a special effort to greet him with a beaming smile even when I’m tired. And we don’t play the “Where’s Mommy” game anymore. Which is good because while we laughed at the silliness, there was an element of truth in those words. Truth can sting. And I know Jay felt it too.
Last time we went to Virgina Beach, Jay almost drowned. Mason too. It was the worst day of my adult life. Perhaps of my childhood too. Equal to the day that my father left me. This was back in Korea, in the days when things like this was fairly common practice. I thought we were just visiting. The lady gave us iced tea to drink. It was sweet. I got a fancy straw, my first ever. When it was time to leave, my sister and I both walked to the front door. My father told me that I was staying, that I was not going back home with them. When that heavy wooden door locked shut behind them, I screamed. I screamed until I passed out. I was three years old.
I didn’t scream when I saw Jay struggling to get his head above water. I knew his dad would get to him in a matter of seconds. But I did scream when I saw Mason floating in the water, arms flaying and legs kicking helplessly. Gulping water. Eyes wide with fear. Time can stand still. I don’t think I will ever forget that moment. Both my babies almost drowned. On the same day. I still jolt awake some nights as I drift off to sleep.
It’s hard to describe what that experience is like. It was almost as if I was suddenly trapped in a giant airless bubble, with a crushing weight on my chest. When I was three and my father left me, screaming for him to come back, I beat at that giant door with my fists. But I didn’t feel my hands. I screamed, but I never hear my own screams. All I felt was a crushing sense of loss. A loss so great that passing out was the only way I could survive.
Jay didn’t drown. And neither did Mason. But in those seconds that dragged on for a lifetime, I experienced that same crushing unbearable loss. For all that I’ve experienced in this lifetime, these two moments were the hardest I’ve ever lived.
Jay, if someday you should happen to read this, I hope you realize how deeply I love you. You are my first-born. I dreamt of you even before you were conceived. I cherish everything about you, even the parts that make me mad. You gave me the gift of true love. Thank you. I love you and Mason more than anything in the world. I would be lost without you.
Come back to me safe and sound.