It happened at a party I attended with my friend. Her friend was having the kind of party where suburban stay-at-home moms hock the latest candle/houseware/jewelry/stationary/essential oil/weight loss product that we all don’t really need but have to have.
I agreed to go because I hadn’t seen my friend in a long time – like, a long time – and there was the promise of wine and a night away from cooking dinner and arguing over fourth grade math.
I had never met any of the other women – my friend’s other friends. They were the kind of women whose lives were infinitely happy, full of Scentsy parties and trips to Aruba and complaints over having a dance recital and a baseball tournament in the same weekend.
They were lovely people, really. So welcoming and friendly (and generous with wine), but I couldn’t help being jealous that they had not a care in the world. After the presenter gave her spiel and half the ladies went oohing and ahhing over her wares, my friend and I settled on the couch to talk. Soon, her other friends joined us, tipsy on wine and happy to have their own night away from dinner dishes and homework struggles.
Talk about our families turned into talk about vacations which turned into the daredevil things that some of them had done in honor of their fortieth birthdays: skydiving, marathons, hiking mountains. Exciting and really hard stuff.
Even though I was enthralled with their stories, I sunk deeper into the couch hoping no one would ask anything about me.
“So Kathy, what’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?”
I hate this question. I swallowed hard. “Well,” I began, thinking Do I tell them? Or do I just gloss over it? Do I make something up? I mean, it’s not likely I will see these women ever again.
But before I knew it, it was all spilling out of my mouth (maybe it was the wine), “The hardest thing I ever did was hold my six-year-old son as he died.” I heard myself talking about the brain tumor, the word terminal, how I was so scared he would die on my fortieth birthday, how he died two weeks later and how he was buried on my wedding anniversary, how his “crapiversary” is coming up, and how I had another unexpected baby at age 41.
It was like a train wreck. I couldn’t stop my locomotor mouth and they couldn’t stop staring, hands over their mouths with tears forming in their wine-addled eyes.
When someone asks me a question – like how many children I have – I always have a choice to make. Do I tell them about the son I lost to cancer or do I leave that part out? Inevitably, I tell the story because it’s my way of remembering him, my way of healing, my way of assuaging any guilt I feel over his death.
After many “I’m so sorrys” and “That’s so awfuls” I just wanted to slink home. I hadn’t meant to make anyone feel bad. “I’m so stupid going on and on about how a marathon is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” one woman blurted, “I could never do what you did for your child.”
“I’ve never run a marathon,” I said, with my hand on her arm. “I really don’t think I could ever do that.”
“Yes you could,” she replied, wiping tears from her eyes.
“And you could care for your child if he were terminally ill,” I said.
I’ve said it so many times to other moms: my hardest moment is not your hardest moment. We all face challenges in motherhood and life that are unique to US. Mine doesn’t make yours any less significant or challenging.
After that, one woman started talking about how her son was struggling in school and how he might have a learning disability. “I’ve never told anyone that,” she said.
Another woman talked about caring for her aging father – a widower – and how at times she felt at the end of her rope.
Another talked about her husband, gone every week on business, and how her kids ate McDonalds almost every other night.
Our tears turned into laughter as we tried to one-up each other with our personal struggles. We didn’t even notice that the sales representative had packed up her wares and slipped out.
There’s something oddly comforting in talking about the hard things we face as mothers with other mothers. Not only does it relieve some of our personal anguish, but we see that we are not alone in simply having struggles.
Think about that the next time you think you have to put on a brave or perfect face.
Feature image by Piotr Marcinski | Dreamstime.com