- See North’s light
- Recognize that North’s light is his alone
- Tend North’s light
- Teach North to tend his own light
- Celebrate North’s light
You were born right on time, full term, healthy, fat, and sweet. Even so, I wasn’t ready for you. They say, “having a baby changes everything.” I anticipated change. But what did that mean? I couldn’t foresee the specific changes that your life started in mine. Through all of the changes that followed your birth, you shone and continue to shine brightly.
My earliest years as a mother were super challenging for me. And, I have many bright memories of you from those years. You were a bold little character. Always observing. Always in motion. Every aspect of you was like that. Leading the way around the neighborhood. Demonstrating how you felt, in behavior before you had words. Once you started talking you just kept talking. You reached every milestone, succeeded through every challenge, on your own time, in your own way, with perpetual momentum, shining in the middle of it all, without a flicker or pause. The more time I had with you, the brighter you appeared to me. That’s how I saw you and how I continue to see you.
Today, I think good mothering is super challenging to all the moms who are practicing it. In my 13, almost 14, years as your mother, I’ve learned a few vitally important lessons for my mothering practice. In no particular order and with constant repetition:
Watching you growing up and exploring the world made being alive appear so interesting, surprising, new, active, ever expanding, and attractive to me. In that way, your light provided me with a beacon. The combination of witnessing your development and interacting with you as your mother led me back to an honest, engaged, fully-feeling life and back to myself, my essential Jenni-ness.
You already know that I live with chronic depression. (When you’re older, we might talk about what that has meant in my life.) Like many women, I became very depressed after I gave birth. Treating my postpartum depression started me on a path to finally receiving appropriate medication and therapy for the depression I’d experienced since I was teenager. In a long series of small improvements, I regained control of my life. Control in the sense of making more thoughtful, healthy, and often challenging choices about how I would live each day. I took that path so that I would be a good mother to you. I was surprised when it also led to being good to me.
Today, I think that practicing good mothering of you taught me the same vitally important lessons for caring for, or mothering, myself. I have my own light. I must tend to it, using tools I’ve learned in therapy and from other guides and experiences. I must celebrate my light, and while I’m still learning what that means I think it’s something about shining it on purpose by sharing my perspective, insights, ideas, and creativity.
I love you, North. I see your light. I honor that it is yours. I respect who you are today and the adult that you are growing into. I am grateful to you and to our relationship for the ways that mothering you changed me. You are a bright light.
"The family is the harbor. It's where you come in from the storms." - Dad
I’m well, like, very well, like the best that I’ve felt in my entire life. I share a home with my son and my husband. I’m generally comfortable with my emotions and my health. I enjoy a few close friendships. I’m coming into my own, in ways and with people that I couldn’t foresee. I trust that, in some way, you know this already, you knew it would happen for me, and you celebrate the learning and accomplishments that it took for me to get here.
I miss you. I wish for your easy company, insights, and compassion. I wish my son could know you and experience your influence in his life. His father is… difficult… for me. I feel like you would know how to counterbalance his shadow on North’s life with your light. I wish my husband could know you and that you could see how he supports, respects, and enjoys me.
I am an adult, mother, wife, friend…. I am a harbor, as you were a harbor. I am a harbor because you were a harbor.
When you died, I lost my harbor. I drifted, listed, and almost sank on more than one occasion.
Mom was the hurricane that tore through all my safe places, within and without. Was she always that way? After you died, she said that she could finally be her old self again. I didn’t recognize her. When you were dying, she told you that us kids would be orphans if you died because she wasn’t a mother anymore. Did you hear her say that? Did you know what she meant? I hope not.
I tried to step into your role and serve as the buffer, the barrier, between her and the rest of the family. I couldn’t do it. She was too powerful. I was too tender to withstand her gales and torrents. Her selfishness, vanity, judgment, and grudges. I tried to hold us together as a family, but the bonds were all broken. For a long time, I felt broken, too.
I like to believe that in death you can see deeper, further, than I can see in life. That even as you knew Mom would destroy everything that you’d built, you knew that I would find, create, and tend new life. That even as I wrestled with my big emotions, bad reactions, and poor choices, something better was before me and inside me. Something good, whole, creative, and made from me was making its way, my way, to be my life.
I thought it was the grief of losing you that caused me so much pain and disoriented me for so many years. I thought those years were lost years. I regret a lot of how and who I was then, but I claim the years as part of me. The years of separating from the family that no longer existed. The years of stepping out, and then stepping further out again, from Mom’s shadow and into my own light. I like to believe that you saw my light when I was young and knew that it would sustain me until I could shine it more brightly, with purpose, on my own.
I live on the opposite side of the country from our family, now. I’ve built a new harbor with my chosen family: my son and husband, my friends near and far, my very self. I practice harboring so that I am safe from storms, and I can provide safety from storms. I received that aspiration from you.
I grieve the collapse of our family. I celebrate the model you set for what and how a harbor operates. Thank you for that gift. It is my brightest memory of you and the lens through which I understand the latter part of your life. It’s the compass that led me home to who and how I choose to be me, for myself and for my loved ones.