[Trigger warning: This essay discusses the death of a child.]
My mother was constantly caught off guard by commercials in the '70s and '80s. She would just stop and stare at the television, instantly engrossed in the Band-Aid tearjerker or Folger's coffee warm and fuzzy wake-ups with surprise visits from grown coffee drinking children. Every time the commercial came on, she would stop and watch it like it was the first time.
And then she'd cry.
Not a debilitating, crazy person cry. But she would be teary-eyed for a few minutes as she went back to cooking or reading Good Housekeeping or admiring my brother's latest Lego creation.
I didn't understand the concept of 'happy tears' as a child. I'm not sure most kids do. I can remember asking why she was crying after one of those commercials had done their damage. “Because it was happy," she would say.
I've never been a crier. I've found all it produced was a headache. Instead, I would find myself deep in thought, bordering on meditation, when something very serious or sad happened.
When all my brothers, our spouses, my nieces, and my father gathered around my mother's hospital bed to take her off life support, I remember being very calm. I was more concerned about the comfort of everyone else. I didn't want to break down. I just took in the moment. I removed myself and immersed myself simultaneously.
Three months later, I suffered the worst loss. My 2-year-old son, Noah, died in a swimming pool accident. He was our only child. Of course, shock played a big part in the non-medically sedated state I usually I found myself in. I just went on autopilot from day one. I had no idea I could do that. I just did. My husband needed me. I needed me.
Two-and-a-half years later, I became a mother again. Miriam Phoenix was born, and we were about to emerge from the worst and re-enter the best again. It was a happiness magnified by the most giant magnifying glass ever.
It was also incredibly complicated. This sadness and happiness needed to make friends if we were going to be the parents Miriam deserved.
I found that the tears flowed more easily at the happy stuff. The firsts. The first time my husband spoon-fed her. The first time she mimicked my voice. The first time she kissed me before I could kiss her. The first time we all walked together, Miriam in the middle holding our hands.
To everyone else, we looked like a normal family. But the grief would always be trailing behind us. I would try to outrun it. But I was terrible in gym, and sometimes it caught up to me. I didn't cry though. I just didn't.
Miriam had her nursery school Holiday Show a few weeks ago. As I sat waiting for it to start, I looked around at all the other parents. They were laughing and commiserating and simply being normal. I waved to a few mothers I knew. I went back to being immersed and removed simultaneously. My mother bubble.
The show started with the older kids. They filed out in front of the giant bulletin board decorated with construction paper candy canes and dreidels in one white-shirted line.
And I lost it. I started crying. This wasn't even my child's class! I just felt it all so strongly. I glanced around and noticed many of the other parents seemed comparatively unaffected by the cuteness of this.
How hard these kids worked on this show! Learning their songs and their adorable hand motions. I was overwhelmed. This will never happen again. These kids. These songs. How can you not cry?
Miriam's class was next. My cheeks hurt from smiling at her. She was so proud. She loved the audience. She was totally in the moment. I cried some more. I looked around to see if I could find any fellow criers. Nope. Not a one. Maybe it's me.
I want more criers in my club. Happy criers love company.
I will continue to cry at every Back to School night. Every teacher conference. Every time Miriam pushes me out of the door of her classroom and says, “Mommy, gimme a kiss. And a biiiiiig hug," and then throws in a “see-you-later-have-a-nice-day!"
In fact, the happy tears rolled down my cheeks just this morning. Miriam woke me around 6:30 a.m. to tell me that she was having so much fun in her new big girl bed. Then she went back to sleep. I just let the tears roll and eventually went back to sleep myself.
I cry happy tears every day, and I encourage you all to do the same. Let's all meet up in the tissue aisle one day, okay?