My Mama, a beautiful, 63-year-old woman, suffers from frontal-temporal dementia. She is bed-ridden, mute, and completely dependent. I love going to visit my Mama, but I go alone--as I did this week. It's difficult for my children to understand why Nana can't respond or look at them or recognize them. So I hop on a plane by myself and leave them at home. As the wife of a pilot, this reverses the roles significantly. It it usually Daddy who slips away for a few days for work. And, quite frankly, I don't know how he does it. From the moment I headed toward Baltimore to catch my first flight until I got home tonight, I felt incomplete. As if I'd lost an appendage.
Our children depend on us, and we provide. We give of ourselves and the experience of parenting is the hardest thing we'll ever do. But it is a labor of love. Each morning and night, as I hug my children and tell them I love them, their well-being is at the forefront of my mind. But being away from them, I realized that I needed them--and their father--as much as they needed me. Since becoming a part of this family, since helping create this family, I am no longer my own person. I can't go on a plane or away with my girlfriends and not feel as if a huge piece of me is missing.
Since I was a little girl, I've been independent. When I was seven, we moved to a log cabin in the woods and had no neighbors. It was me and the woods. Of course my brothers were there, but they were too busy with each other and their cars and sports to bother with their sister. So I built homes out of pine straw, pretended I was a cheerleader with an acre of invisible fans to cheer to, and fed the baby goats (yes, we had goats) and pretended they were my own. This was, quite frankly, the genesis of my creativity. The initial opening of my mind that allowed me to create worlds and craft realities. This independence served me well. And most likely explains how I was able to marry a pilot who can be gone for days and I'm okay. I sometimes tease him when he's home for too long that he needs to go somewhere. Even in law school, I lived alone. No roommates. I've always needed my own space to breathe. To reflect. To absorb.
Then I had children. Flying home to Alabama this weekend, I read "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." It's not an easy read because it's told through the (presumptive) perspective of an incredibly intelligent nine-year-old on the autism spectrum. It can ramble at times and be a bit hard to follow, but it is profound. There are nuggets throughout the book that made me stop and re-read and, more importantly, reflect. As a writer, I can think of no greater compliment than for a reader to stop and re-read a line and reflect on it. While reading "Extremely Loud," I came upon the line: "You can't love anything more than something you miss."
How true. I love my family with my entire being. I've sacrificed everything to be everything to them. And as I stole a few days away to go home to Alabama to check on my Mama, my heart ached for them. Of course each morning I love them. And each night when I tuck them in, I love them more. But being away from them. Missing them. Hurt. I understand that sometimes it is being away from someone you love that makes you realize just how much they mean to you. How much you miss them. How much you ache for them. And when you see them again, you hold on and don't let go.
Over the last couple of days, my mind flooded with ideas. Things to write about. Of course they happened while driving down the highway in the rain at 60 miles per hour or while sitting at the nursing home watching my Daddy feed my Mama, so I couldn't capture them all. Like butterflies, they flitter around and are gone. But they pulled at me and reminded me that while I love my family with all my heart, there is more to me. More to express and share with the world. And I've missed the devotion I had to my writing, and I love it more in light of its absence. So in this new year, I will allow myself to wait to fold the laundry if an idea is nagging. I will allow myself to write not as a luxury, but as a necessity.
Because we should never have to realize our love for something in light of its absence.