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Back to School for the Childless Mom

As a child, years were not marked or measured by the sequin dresses and party hats of January celebrations but by the excitement and nervousness of entering a new grade in school each fall. The first day of school brought a new beginning, a chance at rediscovering ones place in the world—new friends, new interests, new teachers, knowledge. One year closer to graduation and collage and growing up. Each year the first day of school represented endless potential and progress.

Identity in youth is transient, continuously blossoming with a beautiful angst and energy that is hard to recount now. Somewhere along the way, time begins to shift and patterns begin to stick and commitments and calendar dates trump spontaneous adventures.  One year inconspicuously turns into the next, passing in the cold January night.  I chased my identity, as most young people do,  as it bounced for years between the ideas of who I might someday be- a student, a photographer, a roommate, a caregiver, a wife.  All ultimately fleeting.

In the early Fall of 2010, as the cyclical trend was shifting from beach bags to backpacks, my identity was shifting from who I was to who I will forever be: a mother. Becoming a mom was grounding in a way I had never admired before. I became instinctively fixated on the immediate needs, impending joys and continuous hardships of any given moment. Surrendering to a place of new motherhood that temporarily transcends all concept of time. Glowing with the blissful insanity only a mother can sustain.

In the early days of parenthood, the outside world ceases to exist. Bus stops and party hats are traded for sleepless nights and days spent meticulously watching as his tiny feet grow right through his clothes: newborn, 3 months, 6 months. New parents mark time in months and milestones, analyzing each smirk and burp, trying to enjoy what’s in front of us while anxiously awaiting what’s ahead – progress and endless potential.

This week, as the nights are growing cooler and the renewal of a new school year is upon us yet again, I will be celebrating my son’s birthday alone for the second time. He would have been 4 this year. I have all to quickly arrived at the dreaded moment in time where he has been gone as long as he was here. He would be a little person now going off to school, no longer the 2-year-old baby he was when I last held him in my arms.

Last week, as I sheepishly shuffled passed the family filled back-to-school aisles at the store, I couldn’t help but wonder what it feels like to parent a child going back to school. I watched with envy and also a quiet enlightenment that no one can see or possibly understand. I smiled awkwardly as I watched the frantic families gathering supplies for the winter ahead. I wanted desperately to tell them to step back for a moment, to slow down and take it all in. I wanted them to know just how precious these mundane and sometimes infuriating tasks of typical life really are.  Because once they are gone it is all you long for.

I miss my little boy. I miss the mother I was and the mother  I should be now. I miss the potential for what our life together would have been.

It is unlikely I would have ever had the need to take my son back to school shopping for notebooks and pencil cases, yet I imagine that I too would still struggle frantically to prepare. I can imagine him dressed in his back to school outfit, sitting in his little wheelchair waiting, with mom, for the bus. I can imagine his long bus rides to a specialized school that could accommodate his needs- his backpack full of communication devices and therapy toys, his lunchbox housing a feeding pump and medication lists. I imagine I would feel conflicted between the relief of having a moment to myself while he was away for the day and the terror of not having him by my side. I imagine that as different as our back-to-school would have been this year, in many ways I would feel just like every other mother standing in the back to school isle. An identity that with each passing season, each new beginning, each calendar year, is slipping further and further away.DSC_1313_2

14 thoughts on “Back to School for the Childless Mom

  1. Kerri, I really hope you’re compiling all of your writing for a book. You’re a beautiful writer, and your story is one worth sharing. -Donna

  2. I think of you and your little Angel quite often.I can not even imagine how your days are. My heart and thoughts are with you.

  3. So beautiful, so sad & so true:( thank you for posting. I love your words & seeing a pic of your son again:) I wish you beautiful days.

  4. My dear friend Kerri…thank you for sharing the depths of your soul and feelings with me and all those that are reading this blog. I too am living out my own identity crisis, missing Miss Caitlin so much…yet for some reason that is beyond my understanding, I shared many more “back to schools” with her than you did with Kai. One truth that keeps coming back to me nearly every day is that it is not “how long” but “how well” we lived our lives with our children that we loved so deeply that matters the most. And I know that you “did well”…”very well” living out life with Kai. Sending my love and a huge hug.

  5. Happy Birthday Kai. I know the celebration in heaven is enormous. Thoughts of you get me through some of the hardest things I have to face. Kerri, I think of you often. Your heart is so full of love. I believe God has shown you how to share your gift through your writings. Thank you Peace

  6. Happy Birthday Kerri and Kai! Thank you for your words. Your reflections truly help me slow down and feel, soak up every moment. Kai’s spirit lives on in your words, and all of our hearts.

  7. The in-the-moment identity may feel like it’s slipping away, but you are always always always going to be a mother. When you’re marking his birthday, I hope that in the middle of all of the grief and longing, it’s possible to remember that despite his short time in life, Kai continues to change and better the lives of people he’ll–and you’ll–never meet. Whether it’s through Kai’s Village or simply through a parent reading your blog and taking it to heart, and remembering to appreciate and savor what will ultimately be fleeting moments in the development of a person. I hope someday you do get that first day of school experience, Kerri. The nerves, the pride, the tears, the camera, the final hug–watching the bus until you can’t see it anymore. You deserve that. I am so sorry it won’t be with Kai. I am so sorry each season brings a fresh brand of hell.

  8. Kerri,

    I think of you and Kai quite often. I admire your strength and courage. I hope you find peace in knowing that Kai is no longer suffering and thousands of people care and pray for you.

  9. Dear Kerri, you will always be a mother, and Kai will always be your son. He feels your love, as much as you can feel his. Your writing is beautiful and insightful; your words are important reminders to appreciate what has been given to me, to take a step back when all is too much in the rush of everyday things, and to become aware that it could end so quickly. You and Kai make me a better mom. I think of you often, although we never met and live half a world apart. I send you my love, my strength and my heartfelt congratulations to Kai’s fourth birthday and to you as his mother – the best he has. Hugs, Anja.

  10. Kerri you are an amazing writer, mother, daughter, and sister. Your written words never cease to take my breath away with your bittersweet details. Happy birthday Kai…you are so loved.

  11. I was excited to see your post. I started to follow your blog a few months prior to your sons passing and was so deeply touched by your story. Happy birthday Kai.

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