By Jean Macpherson
You know what Mommy? I want to keep my toys forever.
Bedtime words, but he is still awake talking to his babies — ladybug, black bear, elephant. Collectively he calls them babies, but in the singular or a clause they are named because they are so.
Fall asleep, pretty one, warm on my shoulder:
I must tramp on through the winter night dreary,
While the snow falls on me colder and colder.
I do not know why I am trying to write anything at this moment. My instinct suggests there is nothing I can say that has not been said amongst friends, colleagues, family; heard on the news; the President’s address, the Connecticut Governor. I cry often, happy or sad. Walking into the office to collect my mail, for once, I had to say, “I can’t. I just can’t.” Later, I hear, “Sometimes these things happen for a reason.” Frankly, I don’t want to hear it because I cannot believe that statement carries truth. Tonight is colder, winter darker. I wish for a blanket of snow, and by morning the earth is a soft crunch that ends and begins with each step across the backyard. I imagine holding his hand, and his hand holding a baby. How sad he would be to leave his baby inside; we keep all our babies close.
My friend saw Two-Face, Voldemort, and Darth Vader all in one day! Darth Vader has a light saber!
What is evil? Something or someone depraved. A disaster. A supernatural force. We consider our superheroes and the evil they overcome to save citizens, save their cities, forecasting a future of peacefulness as fleeting as reaching the sky on the swings because the next villain is trespasser and we witness again. My child does not know today. He is unaware of such evil. We talk about strangers, what to do if a stranger tries to take him: you kick, and you scream, you bite and you scream as hard as you can. As hard as you can. You run as fast as you can. But what if I can’t mommy?
Shh. I listen. He feigns sleep at first, but his eye lids rest, his heavy breath comes with rest.
Sometimes I am mommy. Sometimes my child calls me mommy/daddy, and if he dares, by my first name, which causes me to give him that look, but in my mind I know he can call me any of these because my love for him is stronger than that and what is a battle over naming things? We often define ourselves, play many roles like required reading, but what if I cannot teach him everything? Be there when evil steps over the property line? I do not think I know grief. Not like this. I cannot profess to understand any of this, or suggest the idea of sympathy because I do not know.
You are my one, and I have not another;
Sleep soft, my darling, my trouble and treasure;
Sleep warm and soft in the arms of your mother,
Dreaming of pretty things, dreaming of pleasure.
I do not know what my son dreams, but he wakes in the night not often. I am grateful for that. His sleep is restful, but we have nights when he awakens with fear and I worry about what he knows. Children are intuitive little receptors and they always know more than we think. On our ride home from school I tried not to cry until he was asleep. He sleeps now, warm with babies in his arms. I imagine his dreams are pretty, try to reassure myself that my darling is innocent of the worlds evils. Heartbreak remains unmeasured.
Jean Macpherson writes from New England. This essay incorporates the 1893 poem “Crying, my little one, footsore and weary,” by Christina Rossetti.