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History Repeating Itself

My kids, like everyone else in New York, are doing distance learning. The big one is stressing out over four AP tests. She’s in uncharted waters. The little one is working on personal narratives. Her first narrative essay was about how she and her sister pickpocketed my phone in Italy. It’s a long story, but the little one loves anything she can laugh at and, apparently, she’s still laughing about that experience. The second one was much more serious. The second one was about my mom.

At first, she didn’t know what to write about. After talking it over, she decided to write about her grandma. After starting and stopping, writing and erasing all weekend, Little Girl asked if I would read her essay. I told her I would, but I wouldn’t change anything. Turns out I didn’t have to worry. There was nothing to change. She wrote a beautiful essay about when my mother, her beloved grandmother, died, and she blew me away.

It’s really interesting to see an event through someone else’s eyes — especially a child’s eyes. Two points stuck out at me as I read through her story. First, that she feels bad for me because I cry a lot and I have no parents left. Second, that I lied to her. Here’s the paragraph where she explains: “At 2 a.m. she got a call from the hospital saying if she wanted to say goodbye she should come right away. She went alone and didn’t wake anyone up so I didn’t know she was gone until after school that day. My mom didn’t tell us because my sister had an AP exam and she didn’t want to upset us. She told all her friends, though so all my friends knew. They saw that I didn’t know and wasn’t upset so they didn’t tell me either.” 

I had to stop and read it again. If she was writing about it, it must bother her. My mother had died at 2 a.m. It was heart-wrenching, difficult, and profoundly sad for me for many, many reasons. I didn’t know what to do. I was instantly lost, and ended up texting a good friend so I could tell someone and make it real. However, I knew I didn’t want to tell my kids right away. Yes, my big girl was due at school by 8 a.m. because she was scheduled to take an AP test, but there was another reason, too. I was so raw and sad I needed to absorb the terrible news myself. I knew, at that moment, I couldn’t physically handle telling my girls that their grandma was gone. I wasn’t ready to feel that pain. I needed to wait.

The parallels between what I did and what my own mother did to me are very similar. My father died on a Wednesday in November, the day before Thanksgiving. He was gone in an instant from some unknown event while sitting on a Long Island Railroad train. And yet all the adults around me kept this news from me. They said he was in the hospital. They all lied. For years that’s bothered me. It caused so many trust issues. Then my mom died and I got it. All of a sudden I got to see an event from her point of view. I assume my mother just didn’t know how to tell three children, ages 2 1/2, nearly 6, and 15 1/2, that their daddy was gone. She was probably in shock and didn’t want to feel the pain of such an admission. She wasn’t lying to me. She was bidding time for herself. I get that now, and I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been for her.

It’s been a few days since I read my girl’s essay. Since then I’ve posted the entire story on Facebook and even sent it to one of my editors. I am so proud of my girl. I’m also thankful. She gave me such a beautiful gift without even knowing it. She finally helped me to see things in a different light. It also gave us a chance to talk about my lie of omission and let her know the real reason I didn’t tell them my mom was gone. It wasn’t them, it was me.

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