So on Sunday, Selam overheard me talking with a friend about another child whose mother died unexpectedly in her sleep. She had a lot of questions about that and seemed quite horrified that this was possible. “Mommies can’t die before kids are big,” she blurted out. The silence settled into the car. “Oh yes, I guess they can.”
I told her that mommies die before their kids are big only very, very rarely. I told her that I have no intention of dying before she’s grown. I told her that if, BIG IF I were to die before she was grown that there was a plan in place to make sure she was cared for–and I told her who it was that I have chosen. I reiterated that I really, really don’t think I’ll die before she’s grown but just in case, there is a plan for her, and she will always be cared for and she will never be alone.
“But what about” she asked, “if you die and I go live with this other person, who will be my Girl Scout leader? will I still get to see W? and P? would I still see my friends at the JCC? would Theo still be my kitty? Where will my art go?”
I couldn’t figure out why she was wondering about the JCC and her towering pile of art projects.
Oh, yes, indeed I do know why she was wondering about the JCC and the cat and the Girl Scout troop. When her biological mother died, Selam lost everything. Every. little. thing. The dress she wore on that last day is gone. There is no oral history on her first teeth or first words or first anything. No photographs. No outgrown toys. Nothing. Everything is gone.
Every time I pray, I seriously include this petition: please let me live until Selam is grown. I began that prayer when I first got her photo in my inbox. Sometimes I pray it four times a day. It is the only petition for myself that I’ve prayed consistently for more than a month or two. If you ask me what’s the hardest thing about single parenting, I usually say laundry. But if you get me to stop joking, I would say the only thing that I think is substantially different from duo parenting is this worry about dying before she’s grown.
Because as annoying as the towering pile of art projects is, I don’t want it to tower in anyone else’s kitchen.
She woke up last night. Her allergies are really interrupting sleep lately. She crawled out to the living room and I turned off the TV. We sat there in the dark. I felt her forehead a hundred times to be sure it was allergies and not illness. I ran my hands over her braids. Outside the street lights made shadows of the passing cars. An ambulance roared past. We sat in the sticky air on the sofa, blue and green.
“I don’t want you to die, Mommy.”
“I have no intention of…”
“I know. But even when I’m big, I don’t want you to die, okay?”
“You are my best person.”
“And you are mine. I love you more than ice cream.”
“And I love you more than Diet Coke.”
The sirens wailed again. Somebody’s heart was getting broken out there. But not either of ours tonight.