Cole’s braces went on this week. Joe had a big gap between his front teeth that he was very proud of, and could never understand why someone would want to wear braces. Joe was Odd.
Braces hurt for a day or two after they are put on, and Cole experienced the usual pain. I offered lots of hugs, Tylenol, a little wine, and attempted to make him the mango soup he requested. There is a certain relief in taking care of pain that will lessen overnight.
When Joe died, the prevailing advice was, “Put your oxygen mask on first.” Can I just share that the moment I greeted Cole at the door, took off his shin guards, looked into his eyes and told him his dad had died, I took a deep breath and put his oxygen mask on first. My only thought was my son.
Growing up, our moms said to us, “You really won’t understand until you have children of your own.” They knew what we know now: unless our children are happy, and have their oxygen masks firmly in place, we can’t breathe.
Whenever I watch the Olympics, I can’t help but think about the mom watching as their whole life flies in front of them on ice skates, or races down a mountain slope. We know our children will quickly get over their disappointments, but we wonder if we will.
I tried to fix Joe’s dying for Cole. I admit it. I bought him too much and gave in too often. I did not do this for Cole. I did this so I could feel better. It was the illusion of a fix. While the new X-Box was more expensive than ice cream, at least it did not make him fat. Later, I learned that one of the best fixes of all was a hearty hug or “allowing” myself to be held tightly in a headlock. Hugging – such a little thing, but it makes such a big difference.
The day Joe died, I kept Cole at school, and after school he went to the second round of soccer tryouts for a club he was eager to join. Joe and Cole had talked of little else. In the moments after Joe died and tryouts began, I was certain in my decision that he should be told about Joe after the tryouts. I was certain Joe would have wanted Cole to be at soccer. Later, I second-guessed this decision. As I worked through this guilt, it was easier to forgive myself when I realized those tryouts were less about Cole and Joe than they were about my desire to keep tragic and life-changing news from my child for as long as I possibly could. When Cole and I talked about this later, I told him I wanted to keep the news of his dad’s death from him for as long as I possibly could. This truth allowed us both to take a deep breath.
We try to convince our children that our concerns about their well-being are all about them, but I suspect they know the truth: If they are not safe, healthy and happy, we can’t breathe.
And yet … if we don’t breathe, our children are stuck holding the reins of our well-being, missing out on the feeling every child is entitled to feel: the feeling of being taken care of. Cole described me once as being “not delicate.” When I asked him to elaborate a bit, he said, “Mom, you can handle things.”
Cole has taken a tremendous fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot bring Joe back into our life again, but I can offer a hug, take a deep breath, and notice all the ways we are supported and loved, and then continue to put our lives back together again.
Glad you were in my Odd neighborhood. Feel free to hang around with us any time. Odd Loves Company and odd loves you and you and you!! I would love to hear from you in the comment section of this blog, or on Facebook or Twitter!