Bud Vase

Packing is interrupted by the discovery — once again — of things from my life, or my kids’ lives. We’ve only lived in this location five years, and our belongings are dotted with pieces of history.

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This vase was given to me when one of my children was born. The doctor who delivered my babies always had a single rose delivered to his new moms, so I had two of these vases. One broke over the years. It was a sweet gesture by that doctor, simple and elegant, a nod of welcome to a new phase in the mother’s life. I wonder if he gave two roses to mothers of twins.

This bud vase has stayed intact in my life for 27 years, assuming it came with the delivery of my oldest child. It’s a piece of delicate glass that’s traveled through several moves, too many to count, and has been used every summer for lily-of-the-valley bouquets and single daisies on shortened stems. It’s useful, yes, but it also serves as a meditation object for me on my life as a mother. This slender vase reminds me of the tentative beginning of my motherhood, fragile and vulnerable and scared. That moment of my own birth into my new self, the glass occluded then but clear now.

Were I to design a vase now to represent my life as a mother from this vantage point, it would look different. There would be room for more than one bloom, its base would be rounder and more stable, and the glass might well be rose-colored. Perhaps the side would be stamped with an emblem reflecting our family, a five-headed bouquet of vastly different flowers, a tiger lily for Matt and sweetheart roses for Sophia and a sunflower for Thomas, some yucca for Tim and my own peony, surrounded by a thick circle. It would be a wild, ill-matched bouquet, like us. Perhaps there would be a band running along the bottom with the names of my children, and must include the child to whom I didn’t give birth and so I did not receive a flower. But being a mother to Thomas — that motherhood came hard-fought and joyfully won.

And at the bottom of the vase, in the sturdiest, most stable part would be my Tim, whose unflagging dependability and support made that motherhood flourish. We have a good family, the five of us, and I’d want everyone together if only in spirit, in symbol.

There will be more added to the family, I’m sure. Spouses and partners, children and grandchildren. Friends and in-laws. And we’ll make room. These lives will expand and embrace more love. And should that love lead to new babies, maybe I’ll offer each new parent their own bud vase, a way to remember their brief moment of perfect joy.

 

For my Children

Hey kids.

Dad’s sleeping. He needs the rest, and he’s not feeling good. So if you’re going to call him, do it tonight, okay?

While he’s sleeping, let me tell you some things about him you probably don’t know. Or maybe you do, I don’t know. But today’s definitely the day for it.

A long time ago, when you kids were very young, he made a decision. A conscious choice. It started when Thomas was born, and expanded when Matt and Sophia came into his life. His choice was to be as involved as possible in day-to-day, hands-on parenting. He wanted his kids to *know* him, and he wanted to know his kids, and not just be a figure who sailed in and out of their lives between business trips. His dad, like mine, traveled for work, and while he loves his dad, he was aware of his father’s absence, and he didn’t want to miss his kids growing up.

So even before we were married, he came over to my place after work and had family dinner with us. Sometimes he cooked, but more often (because we like food), I cooked while he helped with homework or read books or played games with the kids. He spent one night a week visiting Thomas, because he pushed hard in court for as much time as he could get.

I know you all know how hard he fought for custody. It was a major part of our lives for so long, I can’t imagine that fact slipped past you. Three years of battling in court for custody, and then revisiting the issue later when Thomas’ world became a hellscape. Those were hard years for your dad, when he was fighting as hard as he could but couldn’t convince the court that Thomas’ life was turning to shit. He didn’t sleep much.

Thomas wasn’t the only one he fought for. While the battles were different, he showed up for every single one of Matt and Sophia’s tilts as well. Every surgery, every Cub Scout and Boy Scout event, every teacher conference, every IEP. He showed up unless I asked him not to, which was rare. Single moms are treated very differently from moms who show up with a dad. I still did the talking, but he backed me up.

Do you remember those months when he was your primary caregiver so I could work? We’d exhausted every possible childcare option, a limited list when you have a child with a disability, and I was going to have to quit my job. He made arrangements to work from home so he could pick you up every day. I think Sophia was in half-day kindergarten at the time. He was on duty at my place pretty much all day. Sometimes, he even had dinner ready.

But most of the time, not, because we like food.

Every weekend, when Thomas was only with us for two days, we had family time. Not the “Dad’s got to make up for this divorce by showering the kid with expensive outings” kind of weekend, but the “hey, let’s go do something cool together and make memories!” weekend. Sure, we had our share of Navy Pier trips, but we also went to nature centers and local bike races and kids’ science centers and concerts. We really liked to do big Sunday dinners, but that became complicated with the time we had to return Thomas to his mom’s house, so we started going Sunday big breakfasts; feasts of his favorite foods, including biscuits and gravy, homemade Cinnabon rolls, omlettes, fruit salads, the works. And we’d sit around and talk and laugh and pig out.

He was not perfect. He still isn’t. I hate whitewashed reminiscence, where the ugly stuff disappears because you just want to bask in happy memories. There was ugly stuff, to be sure. We were a blended family dealing with two divorces, one unpleasant custody battle, nine surgeries, meddling in-laws, financial troubles, and (truly, the least of our problems) raising kids. There was a lot of stress, and neither of us handled it perfectly. And both of us carried a whole lotta baggage from our own histories into this little family unit, so we made some big mistakes. Not going to air that dirty laundry here, but…it’s important to admit that this was not all family bliss.

But damn, he tried. He worked his ass off to be there. For all his flaws (we’ll talk about mine later), he never stopped putting in the effort. He still does. He is not the person who just walks away when things get difficult or complicated. That’s when he digs his claws in and hangs on like his life — or yours — depends on it. Yes, his tenacity is one of his flaws; but it’s also one of his great gifts. He sets his eyes on a goal or a task or an ideal and he just will not quit.

Did you know he turned down several lucrative job offers because he refused to travel for work? He could have made a buttload of money, but he would not sacrifice the time with his kids to do it. This was not a popular choice with his family, but it aligned with his principles. This is what family means to him: time, experiences, interaction.

We both decided early on that it was important to give all of you — but especially Sophia — opportunities for experiences you might not get in the natural course of your life. That’s why the crazy stuff we did was so wide-ranging, and it’s why we hardly ever said “no” when an opportunity arose. Matt’s opportunities came largely through Scout events, which we encouraged enthusiastically. But because Soap wouldn’t have the chance to explore independently until she was older, we pushed the envelope purposely every way we could. There would be no lounging at home because it was difficult to do something with the wheelchair: we did it. Sometimes Tim had to bite down hard to keep his objections in check, but he realized the risk of her missing out was greater than the risk of injury. By and large, she came through unscathed. I don’t remember a fracture happening while we were on an adventure. Maybe I blocked it.

Dad made a choice to have a life *with* you kids. Not just to be the person who funded the adventures, but to be on the adventures with you. Not just hearing about your day from my dutiful reporting as he ate leftovers in the recliner, but to hear about it from you, to learn what was important to you, to understand your voice and your viewpoint and watch you learn. He did it all, kids. All of it. And I am really glad you got to have him as your dad. He’s pretty special not just because of his inherent skills and personality, but because of the choices he’s made.

He made almost every one of those choices for you.

So. In the inimitable words of Mike Meyers, give your father a kiss or I’ll kick your teeth in.