Thursday, May 26, 2016

Mom's Third-Year Review by Milo Juniper*

May 20, 2016

Dear Mom,

I can sense you needing some feedback on your work thus far as a mother and on your progress toward healing after my death. I thought you might appreciate a third-year review, much like you had after your third year at your job as a way of assessing your progress toward tenure as a professor. I know you get anxious when you don’t get enough gold stars, and I know that you seldom give them out to yourself out of fear of appearing too boastful and proud and mostly because of your fear of never being enough. I know how hard you are on yourself and so my hope is that I will say some things here that you would easily gift to others, but likely never would utter in your own ears.

So let’s begin. First, I want to congratulate you on being such a good mom. I know that you hesitate to complain publically about how difficult it is to be a parent, especially after how long it took for you to get a living child and because so many around you are still struggling to have babies. But let’s face it, Matilda and Fyo are not the easy, laid back kind like me. While Matilda’s independence is amazing, she is a royal pain with her insistence on doing everything herself and refusing to do things any way but her own. And Fyo. Yes he is so sweet and cute, blah, blah, blah. But do you think that kid will ever stop being so needy or will he be attached to you until he’s five? I’m kidding of course, but seriously, they are so much more work than you ever expected. It’s hard for you balance the overwhelming love you have for them with the fact that they are often annoying. I know you struggle too with work-life balance, sacrificing success in your career in order to spend so much time at home with Matilda and Fyo with their near 40 days at home from school per year with holidays, teacher improvements, sick days, and snow days. I know it is so hard to feel guilty that these beautiful babies are keeping you from realizing all your hopes and dreams at work. I know this makes you and dad fight, which then makes you feel like an even bigger failure. But mom, you are doing just fine. You are a room parent in Fyo’s classroom; you cook them kale; you take them to the library despite the stress of books flying off shelves in their wake; you do your best to give dad some attention at the end of the day even when the kids and work have sucked the energy out of you. I love the way you pray with Matilda each night, encouraging her to talk to God about what makes her heart happy and sad and about who in the world needs extra prayers and babies. I love too how you do “Matilda is” with her every night, your list of about 50 words that describe her that she has memorized like “kind, caring, courageous, and beautiful.” This ritual will help her grow into someone who always knows what an incredible person she is. What a special gift. I love too how you diligently answer to Fyo’s 5:30 a.m. wake up calls for snuggles while the house is still quiet so that he too knows he is your special boy. I am probably most proud of the way you make sure that Matilda and Fyo know who I am and that despite my distance, I am forever their brother and a member of our family. Thank you mommy, for all of this. Despite your efforts to be perfect, you are not, and that is what makes you our perfect mama.

Now I would like to talk to you about your research and teaching. Congratulations on your teaching award you got last night and for the other honors you have earned in the last year. I am so proud of us for earning those accolades. When I died I could never have imagined all we would do with your research and teaching in my and O.B.’s and B.W.’s name. I know this work does not come easy for you. I know that sharing your pain with students and colleagues and others at work is a very vulnerable position to be in. While most are supportive, it is scary to talk about a topic so openly that most prefer to sweep under the rug. You make some people uncomfortable and that makes you uncomfortable. This work is also challenging because it happens in a space where you are evaluated as a researcher and a teacher. To have this work judged as anything less than perfect is really hard for you. As a result, you often run yourself ragged out of fear of disappointing others and yourself, but most importantly out of fear of disappointing me. Mommy, please know that if you never did another thing to celebrate me, I would continue to feel your love and honor for all the rest of the years of your life. Finally, I want to recognize that your greatest accomplishment to date has been The Scraps of the Heart Project Spring Creative HeARTs Workshop. The activities that you designed facilitated grief in such extraordinary ways. You used your passions not just to bring a bit of healing to the incredible moms and dads in the group, but to yourself. I sense a new kind of peace in your heart that you have not felt since I died. You are on to something profound with The Scraps of the Heart Project. For the possibilities that lie ahead for others and for you, keep up the good work.

In sum, three years after I died I can say that you are making extremely good progress as a mother and in your grieving. Keep in mind though, that motherhood and healing are similar in many ways to earning tenure at work. Just because you earn tenure as a professor, does not mean that your career has come to an end. It really means that your career is just beginning. In this sense, even as you get more experience as a mother and move closer toward healing, you are only just getting your wings.

I love you mommy. You are special. You are beautiful. You are mine. You are enough.
You are the beat of my heart. (<----click to hear Milo's heartbeat, 20 weeks gestation, recorded and looped by Mark Willer)

All my love,

*I wrote this piece for performance at the final session of The Scraps of the Heart Project, Spring Creative HeARTs workshop. A special thanks to the moms and dads who participated in the workshop for the inspiration and for allowing me to share in your journeys. Thank you too to Mark Willer for recording our performances so that we might always cherish this moment in time.

Preparing to Perform and Record