By Jessica Fox
When I got pregnant with my first baby, I was consumed with taking care of myself. I tracked my weight on a chart, made sure I got enough calcium and exercise, and wrote my birth plan. I picked names, my husband remodeled the baby room, and we had a fantastic co-ed baby shower. We were so busy being pregnant, that I barely considered what it would be like to actually be a parent.
When June finally came and my wonderful son was born, I relied on my intuition to lead my parenting. Having not read any parenting guides, I could only do what felt right. I could not stand to hear Jaiden cry from being alone, so I held him in a sling during the day and slept with him at night. I wanted to make sure he stayed well hydrated, so I nursed him on demand. I wanted to help his growing muscles, so I massaged him gently after his baths. It wasn't until much later that I realized how my mom's choices as a young mother were silently guiding me.
My childhood was far from perfect and included many uncertainties. My mom toted my brother and I along through her adventures and imprudent decisions. She drank too much, couldn't seem to hold a job, and had several boyfriends who carried the warning, "don't get attached." But there were a few things I could count on. I always knew that the Easter bunny would fill my basket with goodies and quietly hop away. I knew that if I put my teeth inside the pink, silk pillow with the yellow button, the tooth fairy would secretly trade them for a prize. I knew that Santa would eat his cheese and crackers and then fill my stocking to the brim with walnuts, oranges, and candy. And I knew that I could climb onto my mom's lap in the middle of any dinner party, press my ear against her chest, and fall asleep to the muffled vibrations of her voice.
With all of my mom's faults, which are too easy to catalogue, she was compassionate, sincere, and loved me in a special way that nobody else could. She carried me in her arms, tucked me in at night, and provided a wonderful warm security no matter where we lived. Through these finite expressions of love, she surreptitiously deposited a well of affection in me that utterly swelled over when my own son was born.
When Jaiden approached his 12-month mark, I became engrossed in the details of planning his birthday. Everyone was coming and I was beginning to realize that the 1st birthday, in many ways, is a bigger marker for the parents than the child. I was making cakes, my husband was grocery shopping, and my mom was assigned to bring a bouquet of balloons.
Finally June came and it was time for the big bash. At the party, I gave a speech about how grateful I was for my parenting choices during the first difficult year with an active baby and reflected on our choices to co-sleep, avoid separation, and work at home. At that time I was just beginning to realize the unseen role that my mom was playing in raising my son. But I never got to tell her about my new understanding and she didn't hear my speech. She was late to the party; I figured she had trouble getting the balloons. But in the middle of cutting the cake, my brother found her in her apartment, only one mile away, slumped over her desk. While I was teaching Jaiden to blow out candles, Eric was watching the police pounding down my mom's front door. She was already cold, the energy moved out of her, and her soul released to the next adventure. Her young spirit was freed from a body that had aged to fast. While chronologically she was only 59, physically she was closer to 75.
In the days following her passing, I found great comfort in taking care of Jaiden. Nursing him and offering him security helped me through the early grieving. During those days I begged for my mom to come back, just briefly. Just for a moment, just a second. I begged to the air around me and to the full moon above. I hoped that she would come back as an angel so I could talk to her again, smell her, touch her, and make my world right again.
Two months after she died, I looked at Jaiden as he paused in his busy toddler day to flip his head back in my direction. And through his eyes I saw her. In the brief flash that Jaiden and I stared at each other, maybe just three seconds, I felt that she was with me again. His eyes were her eyes, looking at me with the same energy, spirit, and acceptance as they had when I was 5 years old. In that moment I realized that she lives on through the love that she passed to Jaiden, through the love that she gave to me, and through the tenderness she provided to all those around her. And it was undoubtedly her mother who passed this affection to her, and her mother before that, and of course, her mother before that.
Finally I understood that while I thought I was raising Jaiden with my own independent intuition, in fact my mom, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother were softly guiding me. Now as I continue to fill my son with tenderness, I know that he will spill it onto his friends and then, eventually his children, my grandchildren. And the cycle of loving will go on, just as my mom loved me.
I'm a working mother living in Newark, California. Professionally, I'm a conservation biologist working with businesses throughout the United States to managing natural resources more sustainably. I'm dedicated to my family, friends, and the vision of sustainable living in the U.S.