“Mom,” AJ called from his bed tonight, “you forgot to put on my band-aid!” The previous Spiderman bandage had floated off in the bath, leaving a chagrined little boy’s elbow, skinned several days ago, woefully exposed. Indeed, I had neglected to replace it in our bedtime routine and so I went in and applied a new one–Buzz Lightyear this time, we keep several boxes on hand–and he fell happily to sleep.
These are the routines of motherhood. The soothing of wounds, the protecting of skin and bone and life.
This morning, I came out of a meeting to a text message from a friend. “‘Restrepo’ Director Tim Heatherington Killed in Libya I’m so sorry…”
As I said to another friend later, this is news that is shocking but not surprising. Like many people who posted blogs and articles today, I first met Tim in Liberia, West Africa where he had stayed on with one other journalist behind rebel lines while the rest of the world pulled out. He was committed to covering the experiences of those affected by war and that very often took him right into the thick of it. Within hours of his death, Tim had been eulogized many times over by bloggers and the big guns–the New York Times, Human Rights Watch, CNN. A quick Google search will get you all the background you want on the guy. I particularly appreciated Parting Glance: Tim Hetherington and a number of posts by people who knew him well, all of whom echoed my experience of Tim as a singularly sincere, compassionate, and intelligent person who put his life on the line to bring the rest of the world stories that would otherwise go untold. His recent film Diary (2010) was, frankly, a bit hard to watch as many of the images of Liberia were familiar as was the dissonance of living with one foot in that world while carrying on a life at ‘home.’
But this is a blog about being a mom. It’s about the hopes and realities and schemes and dilemmas of this journey.
Today, I found myself thinking about Tim’s mother. I have never met her, don’t even know her name. If his character is any representation she is almost certainly a truly decent and lovely person. Tim was British, so I imagine she will be outwardly stoic and private about her grief. I am 99% sure she will never see this. I am not entirely sure that, if she did read it, she wouldn’t find it overly presumptuous and American in tone.
Recently, Tina Fey’s “A Prayer for a Daughter” made the rounds and, in my head, I have been composing my own “Prayer for a Son” since. With her trademark frankness and wit, Fey asks “First, Lord: No tattoos…” and goes on a few lines later to say, “When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.”
That line in particular struck me. When I was pregnant, someone repeated a quote that goes something like “to be a mother is to have your heart walking outside your body in the world.” It seemed schmaltzy and a bit over-dramatic. Certainly, I would have better “boundaries” with my child.
Of course, all mothers understand that I just didn’t know yet the sensation of having your whole being driven to protect and nurture, even at your own expense, while at the same time having to release your baby into the world by inches. Attaching and letting go, all the time, in ways big and small is the impossibly unfair mandate of motherhood. Selfish as it is, it kills me to think that my little one, for whom I willingly cut hot dogs lengthwise and apply way too many band-aids will one day be faced with such decisions. And I don’t get to be there. I don’t get to say.
Recently, AJ has expressed a fair bit of ambivalence about growing up. He goes back and forth between wanting to be a “big boy” and wanting to be “the baby.” In his more vulnerable moments, he refers to himself that way–”the baby is scared and needs his mama.” I reassure him frequently, saying, “even when you are a big man, you’ll still be my baby.” I know that the day is coming, all too soon, when hearing that will make him roll his eyes and say “Mother.” I also know that it will still be true…always…until the day I die.
If I were honest, my prayer might include something like:
“..and please, for the love of all that is holy, help him to want to be a computer programmer or teacher or something else safe but definitely not a humanitarian worker or war correspondent or soldier or fireman.”
Already, I pray in vain. Little AJ’s commitment to the firefighting profession was voiced as soon as he could verbalize and hasn’t wavered since.
When it is time, I will try. I will try to have faith and be supportive and encourage my little bird to spread his wings and fly. I will try not to harangue and plead and be petulant. AJ’s father is currently running around doing extremely dangerous work in a country I have promised not to name, soldier to the core. I have also traveled to more than one place on the US State Department’s list of places a girl should not be traveling to and also worked in an unstable post-conflict zone. Our mothers have had to live with those decisions, the worry and letting go that they require. Tim’s mother had to make some peace with his choices and now has to live with the loss of her baby.
As I said before, I am almost certain that Tim’s mother won’t read this. But other mothers will. Perhaps, if you do, you can take a moment to think of this woman, bound to us all by the fact that she is a mother and she is living what we all quietly dread. I hope that, somehow, in this darkest of nights, Tim’s mother perhaps can feel in some small way a bit of comfort in the presence of the other mothers around the world who, just by being mothers, can begin to touch the edges of her loss and are sending her in whatever unknowable way possible whatever unknowable thing it is that she needs to get through to morning.
Update: I was able to attend a memorial for Tim on May 24 in New York City. At the reception afterwards, I spoke with Tim’s mum and dad at some length. They were gracious and, at the same time, open about the depth of their loss. Please continue to keep them in your thoughts and prayers.