I started tweeting about this a little bit ago, but I now realize it might be enough thinking to be its own post. On Monday I was invited to give a talk, hosted by some old friends and new collaborators. On the way there, I was thinking about what I would talk about and looking through my slides. So many of them contain pictures of my family and my lab. I had a crazy realization. I thought, “I can’t believe I am in the Library of Congress just for writing about what it was like to be a scientist and a mom.” That wasn’t that long ago, but it was still clearly meaningful. I had no idea what I was doing. I had never had a mentor who was also a mother.
The following paragraph, my feelings about sexual harassment at conferences written a decade ago, is permanently archived as a permanent morsel of American history:
I get it. You’re worried that you’ll be at a conference, not looking for love. Not even knowing that something is missing in your life. But, for the first time in forever you see a woman at the bar of the conference hotel and decide that she is the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen. Your eyes meet. She moves closer to you and you ask if you can buy her next Midori sour. Next thing you know, you’re back in her room, professing your eternal love and devotion to her while she licks room service ice cream off your naked body, and discovering that you both yell “p<0.05? when you orgasm.
But also, so are some of the most beautiful things I felt about being a mother…
This morning I overslept a little and found Little Isis playing on the iPad. He tugged hard at my heart strings and told me that he missed being able to spend the day together. So, since I generally do what I want, I decided to do what I want and spend the day with him. I did take him to one meeting, but otherwise we ate flaming hot Cheetos and watched monster movies and cartoons all day.
He always had a way of tugging at my heartstrings. He could wink and convince me to drop everything and take him for coffee. He didn’t play the card often, but he had the capacity to look at me with his sideways little smile and convince me to drop everything for him. My best job was being his mom.
It makes me happy that our love is part of our country forever. It also makes me sad that these things weren’t talked about enough that they were seen as a novel part of Americana. I wonder to myself, so often, why did I write about this stuff? Why did people find it interesting?
And why do I now write about the enormity of his loss? Who else will? Losing a child is Americana too.
He’s been gone for three months and it simultaneously feels like forever ago and yesterday. My morning routine is different. I focus exclusively on his sister. Many people remind me that I have other children. The one thing I haven’t been able to deal with is his bedroom. I tried to revive him there. He died there. There was blood on the floor, from the efforts of the first responders. After he left, I shut the door and forbade anyone else from entering.
After his death, a friend sent me a book called The Grieving Garden. It’s the only book, of the many books people sent, I’ve found to be helpful. It contains stories of people who lost their children and the story of one family who lost their son in an accident. The mother recounts how she struggled to not remember her son as he was the day of his accident. How she had to train her mind to focus on the happy memories she shared with her son before his accident. Not how he looked that day.
I have been trying to do that, while also realizing that people were entering Little I’s bedroom. Selfishly, I thought that in my grief, if I wasn’t ready to face that place it would be respected. It doesn’t matter. I realize now that my whole life and career have been about being ready to face things even when I wasn’t ready. The people around me need to grieve him and I am not giving them permission.
So, today I opened his bedroom door. His bedroom gets the best light and the second floor has felt like a prison with the door closed. I threw away that trash I had been harping on him about and dusted his furniture. I threw away his socks and underwear and folded the rest of the laundry that was clean. I filled a basket with his dirty laundry. I scrubbed the blood from the carpet and vacuumed.
Tomorrow at 2pm, the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts group, the Young Footliters, will be planting a tree in Northridge Park in honor of Little I, overlooking the spot where he performed one of his last plays. In trying to understand him, I discovered his death was mentioned in a special city council member meeting I didn’t know about.
I am realizing that he reached so far beyond me, both in his life and his death. Maybe my job has always been to be his steward. I had the joy of loving him and sharing him with the world when he was mine, but this has always been so much greater than me.
It’s just Americana.