My kids and I have a nightly dinnertime routine. As I am doing one of the twenty-five tasks at hand, one of my little darlings will inevitably ask me for a twenty-sixth.
By rote I reply, "Mommy is not a...
"... Fairy or a genie, she is a mommy," one or more of my angels reply, sounding as if they were programmed by some mad woman.
My reminding them of my lack of super powers does little to change their idea that in fact mommy can do everything and anything.
Truth be told, I'm 45 and I still think my mother has her super cape ready to grab whenever one of my sisters or me need her. It's hard for me to admit it, but to my children I am a supermom.
I am able to cure most ills with a kiss and a hug. Unlike daddy, I know you can't mix chocolate Turkey Hill ice cream with chocolate Haagen-Dazs. I know you have to pretend to give my youngest food on his plate, even if it is full, because if his sister or brother gets more to eat, he feels left out.
I know that if you sing, "I'm going to wash that man (or girl, if it's my son)" when you take a shower, it's not as scary. And, I know that when my special-needs daughter says, "I can't get out of the tunnel," it's her way of saying she needs help getting dressed.
No parenting book teaches that stuff.
My skill set is filled with the tricks of the trade I have picked up being a mother of three precious children. They may get mad, or wish they could trade me in, but I am mom. I am the center of their universe.
Pretty heady stuff. Pretty scary too. Sometimes I can't help but wonder what would happen if I was not around.
I don't like to dwell on this thought, but this month marked the fortieth anniversary of the death of my husband's mother. My husband was 12, the age of our oldest son. My mother-in-law was 44, a year younger than I am now.
I have always looked at my mother-in-law's death through the eyes of my husband. Her loss was devastating, something I've wished I could erase with our own happy family memories.
But recently I have been seeing her death through my own eyes, that of a mother of three children of her own. I wonder what in the world my mother-in-law must have went through once she learned her cancer was terminal. She knew the pain her children and husband would suffer once she died, and she had the pain of knowing they would go on without her.
My husband's sisters were on the cusp of starting their own lives. One was a junior in college, the other a senior in high school. My mother-in-law had finished her own degree a few years before and had a career as a school nurse. My husband, her youngest, was going to start high school soon. She was coming into a wonderful phase of life where she would see graduations, careers launched, marriages, and grandchildren.
She must have had plans with my father-in-law about their future once their job of raising children was done.
My husband was so young when all this upheaval happened, he really didn't know what his mother was thinking. Through the years, and my penchant for asking questions, we have learned a few things.
My sister-in-law shared that her mother had her daughters pick out their china patterns even though marriage was not in either's immediate plans. Knowing that she was not going to be around, she wanted to insert herself, even a little, into their futures.
We now know that the reason his mom was so hard on him toward the end of her life is that she was making a conscious effort to make him more independent.
The pain of the cancer must have been nothing to the pain of knowing she was not going to be around to help him grow into adulthood. Or, that she was going to miss all the wonderful things her own future could bring.
I honestly feel that my family would fall apart if I was not around. Especially when I think of my daughter and all of her needs. And, in the beginning, I'm sure it would feel that way to them.
But, like my husband's family did, I have faith that my own family would eventually survive, even thrive, without me. I'm not planning on that ever happening though.
My father-in-law often visits his wife's grave. I always found this both beautiful and sad and assumed that the visits meant he was still grieving and missing her.
Some time ago, I started wondering if there was another reason.
Visiting the grave may be the one way he feels he can share all the good things that have happened without my mother-in-law. Seven wonderful grandchildren ranging from 31 to 5. The success that their own children have had in their marriages and careers.
He had to do it all without her, but at least he experienced it. The pain and the pleasure. He got to see the graduations, the weddings, the births. Life went on without her. Just like she must have known it would.
Next time I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders and bemoan all the chores on my to-do list, I am going to take a deep breath, and then say, "Thank you for another day."