Every now and again, my dad will text or email me pictures of old family artifacts that he finds tucked away in shoe boxes, boxes sloppily stacked in the dusty shadows of his attic. Sometimes his messages to me contain a picture of a picture, or sometimes they'll contain a picture of a handwritten letter. For a brief second, I become nostalgic. At times, the artifact might even make me momentarily teary, as with a picture of a birthday card from my late grandmother to her "baby," my dad.
However, I was not prepared for the wave of emotions that began with this particular email:
"I wrote this on 'your behalf' when you were a VERY gassy baby and your mother was in tears staying up with you all night."
The email contained a picture of a yellowed note in my dad's familiar scrawl, albeit a little sloppier than usual.
The note reads:
Please don't be mad at me. I'm just a crybaby. I love you very much. Do you love me?
Love you always,
PS. Dada loves u too. Tell us both if you love us.
No doubt about it, the letter is adorable. In it, my dad emulates a baby's handwriting -- my handwriting. The letter represents my dad's light-hearted attempt to unscramble a screaming baby's code; an attempt to reveal a message from a helpless, colicky infant who, through her wails, might also be pleading with her mom: "I know I'm screaming my head off, but please, please don't stop loving me or Daddy. I promise to stop screaming one day... Maybe."
All in all, the letter is a symbol of just one of the myriad ways by which I imagine my dad trying, with humor, to help his wife weather the kind of storm that only a perpetually gassy infant is capable of inflicting upon a household.
Rumor has it that I screamed non-stop for my first eight months of life.
I'm sure many new moms (and dads) can relate to this desperate attempt to ease the darkness of sleep deprivation and terror that so many colicky babies mercilessly impose upon their parents, and mothers in particular.
But unlike other texts and emails featuring artifacts from my dad's attic and our family's past, this one hit home in unanticipated ways. With this particular email, I became teary as a wave of new-found appreciation and admiration overwhelmed my chronically stoic, child-free sensibilities.
My mom was in her first semester as a senior in high school when she learned that she and my dad became pregnant with me. And she decided to keep me, a decision that was not made easily.
She graduated high school with a protruding belly and a shiny new wedding ring; one month later -- and three months shy of turning 18 -- I was born.
Becoming a mom and wife at such a young age must have been hard enough, but for my mom there was a bit more to weather. Armed with me and my 20-year-old dad, she escaped her first family, a group akin to the real-life version of J.K. Rowling's "dementors." My mom and dad were on their own in Brooklyn, New York. On their own, that is, with the exception of my doting grandmother, my dad's mother, who immediately nicknamed me "Sweetheart" and would lovingly refer to me as such for the next 25 years, two months and 19 days.
I imagine my Grandma Vicky* laughing knowingly at memories of her son, new daughter-in-law, and new grandchild navigating my first tumultuous year of existence, mere blocks from where she slept peacefully, in relative silence.
My mom, with a high school diploma and a tremendous dose of courage in tow, gave up most of her dreams to watch me pursue mine. I will never, ever know the strength that such a choice requires, nor will I ever know the sheer terror this choice must have inspired when she and my dad came to terms with their decision.
Since that letter, I've stopped screaming my head off (for the most part), and my parents have long since parted ways. But that letter reminded me of the abundant love, resolve and commitment that gave my mom the courage to make, as a child herself, several extremely difficult adult decisions in the face of an extremely limited support system.
And so, in the spirit of Mothers' Day, I wish to update my initial letter to my mom:
You sacrificed everything. I probably should have at least stopped screaming my head off a bit sooner.
And I probably should not have painted the bathroom wall with your red nail polish a few years later.
And yes, giving my baby sister raw eggs to keep her distracted while I caused mischief was ill-advised.
And please trust, I may have eventually gotten over colic and stopped screaming, but I know now that this did not ensure your peaceful, uninterrupted sleep. It may have taken a couple of years, but I now understand that climbing out of my crib to make jellybean soup for breakfast in the wee hours before you woke up was really not cool. (By the way, did I attempt to eat that "soup"? It sounds so gross.)
Sorry about those toddler (and not-much-better, subsequent teenage) years, Mom.
I hope you have a very happy 35th mothers' day. Thank you for a lifetime of your warm, loving commitment.
Sleep well tonight.
Love you always,
*In the spirit of Mothers' Day, this post is also dedicated to my grandmother, my dad's mother, a woman dedicated--alongside my parents--to making sure my sister and I were loved.
Hey! Come hang with me!