A few days ago, my almost 4-year-old daughter came home from preschool buzzing with excitement about the paper bag in her backpack. It was tied off with a yellow ribbon and it had a pretty pink note glued to the front that said, "For Mom on Mother's Day."
"Open it now, Mom!" she commanded me. "It's a card!"
But it was only Thursday, so I told her I'd better wait. She found a balloon to play with just then, and got distracted, and left the bag on the floor of the kitchen. A few minutes later, after that captivating yellow balloon ended up in time-out, because my daughter wouldn't stop hitting her brother in the head with it, her attitude changed completely.
"I hate Mother's Day," she said through her tears of anger, and it was clear she chose those words because she thought they would be the most upsetting to me. "I'm not giving you any cards. EVER."
Sigh. We've had a lot of conversations lately that even if she "hates Mother's Day," I still love her. And even if she thinks I'm "not a good mommy" because I turned off the TV, I still love her. When she's in time-out, I tell her I still love her.
Because I do. Unconditionally.
But you know, sometimes it can be tiring. And trying — to the point that it occasionally affects my views on family planning. "Should we really have any more kids?" my husband and I alternately ask each other, depending on the day. And, of course, there are plentiful times when I feel that the more children we have, the merrier.
The point is, to this point in my life, I've felt like whether we have more children is a decision we can make.
But it wasn't that way for my grandmother, Fleeta, who died before I was born. Her two children, my father and uncle, adore her. They speak of her as though she was the queen of their childhood, worthy of their respect and admiration, and the progenitor of love and laughter. They genuinely loved her.
And she loved them.
But she wanted more children — some daughters maybe — and my grandmother struggled with miscarriages. The details of those challenges in my grandmother's life, as told to me by my father and uncle, are hazy. They were little boys at the time, and probably not keenly aware of what a miscarriage was. She had at least two, but probably many more, because my grandmother eventually took some medicine to try and keep her pregnancies.
She speculated before she died that perhaps that medicine was what gave her cancer.
It started in her womb.
One of my father's early memories is of playing on the floor of the kitchen, as a little boy, listening to his mom talk to a friend on the phone. He remembers that she was excited, saying she thought she might be pregnant. She must have been gleeful at the thought, after so many years of trying. She was 35 by the time my father was born, so I imagine she might have felt like she was running out of time.
But a few weeks later, they found a mass in her uterus. Shortly after that, she had a total hysterectomy to stop the cancer. I can only imagine how she might have felt, having those feelings of joy, and elation, and the prospect of new life suddenly, and surgically, removed. The pain she must have felt makes my own heart ache. I yearn to somehow offer her comfort in those moments.
My uncle remembers blurting to his mom, after waiting seven years for a sibling, hoping for a baby sister and getting a brother, "You are a boy Mama." I imagine Fleeta brushed his words aside, as mothers of young children often do, knowing he couldn't possibly understand what they meant.
Perhaps I can't reach out and hug my grandmother or cry with her as she healed, but I can honor her memory. I can love my daughter. And I can appreciate my family without taking our future for granted.
Someday, I hope we'll get to meet her. Then she'll see how big her family has grown.
Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.