At my lowest point of new motherhood, I didn’t feel like a fit mother for my son. I was convinced that I wasn’t cut out for motherhood and sure that my son hated me. Even now, the wounds scabbed over, I love telling the receptionist at the pediatrician that I’m “William’s mom” when checking in for an appointment. I love the way “mama” sounds coming out of William’s mouth – more like “mo-ma.”
For the past few months though, William has been in a serious Dada phase. The word “mama” has a bite to it when it’s preceded by “no no mama” when I come in to scoop him up after his nap or try to saddle up next to him on the couch. The Dada phase is sweet, but my motherhood insecurities have resurfaced during this Dada stage. Sometimes I can’t help but scratch the itch and lay awake at night wondering if it’s not just a phase and instead a sign that I’m not as good of a parent as my husband. On good days, I smile, pick up my son, and say that Dada is coming but Mama is here now.
People always joke that their pets get neglected pets once their baby arrives, but that didn’t happen for us. While we made a lot of adjustments to our daily life when William was born, we so easily settled into being a family of four.
Tank was my maternity leave side kick, waiting patiently as I strapped William into the baby carrier for our walks and resting his head in my lap while I nursed. He was our constant shadow, and we made sure to include him in all of the routines we established with our son. We put his dog bed next to the high chair and bought a new one for the nursery. We made sure the stroller was well stocked with dog bags. We never passed by him snoozing on the couch without petting his rabbit-soft ears.
We said goodbye to Tank this week. Despite the oncologist visits, the pills, so many pills, the trips downstairs first thing in the morning and last thing before bed, the blood and urine stains on our furniture that mark his illness, it still took us by surprise. I’d go through all of the cancer treatment again just to get one more chance to kiss his velvety nose and feel the weight of his head on my ankles while drifting off to sleep at night.
I can’t fathom us no longer being a family of four. William is too young to know the hole in our family with Tank gone, but I’m going to make sure he never forgets his brother. Since his passing, so many people have reached out saying what a sweet soul he was and how lucky he was to have us. That is where they are wrong. It was us who were the lucky ones to have Tank as our dog.
Each night I recite the same words before gently depositing you into your crib. But one night last week, I forgot. I slipped out of the moment for a minute, thinking about the email I needed to send, the work awaiting me on the other side of the nursery door. Your body remained heavy in my arms, but my mind traveled to one of the open Chrome tabs on my MacBook.
I remembered after you were out of my arms, so I rubbed your back with one hand and put the other hand flat on the crib mattress. “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be,” I said. By the time I got to “…as long as I’m living” you’d put your little palm next to mine so my thumb and your pink were touching.
I’m now over a year in working from home, and a year as a full-time working mom. It does get easier, but then harder in different ways. The first few weeks my son was in daycare, it felt like I was missing a limb. And in truth I was, but more like a Kangaroo pouch, since I wore William hours a day for the first six months of his life. It now aches less to say goodbye each morning and stings less to see how happy he is at daycare.
I have noticed that during my rare breaks during the workday, I find myself wandering into William’s nursery. I spend a few minutes straightening the books on his shelf, laying out his jammies for bedtime, and completing other small tasks. I tell myself that I am making the bedtime and morning routines more manageable by doing this, but that isn’t true. I do it in a small way to prove to myself – that I’m still a mom even when working full-time.
I’m not a religious person, but am familiar with the term penance. It’s defined as “voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong.” These small asks are my form of penance, or act of service, to show my love for my son when we’re apart.
It’s been 523 days since my son was born and I haven’t spent a single night away from him. I read that sentence and marvel. I wonder how many nights I would have spent away from him had we not gone into lockdown. A work trip here and there, a weekend trip for a wedding, maybe a trip with my girlfriends? Putting William to bed and getting him out of his crib bookend my days and it’s hard to imagine a time when they won’t.
I never used to use the iPhone feature that reminds you of what was happening one year ago. But since the birth of my son, I look at it almost daily for a reminder of both how little he was and how much he’s grown – and we’ve grown as parents.
COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020 so I went to look at what William was doing that day. Here he is, just a few weeks shy of six months old. I have a video of him that day, smiling up at me and shrugging his little shoulders.
Today, on March 11, 2021, I feel sadness for lives lost and plans cancelled. I also feel a lot of pride for this sweet boy we are raising when it feels like the world is falling down around us.
I felt like a failure today, not only at work but at being your mom. I was late to and distracted in meetings, and unable to give you my full attention.
You woke up with a runny nose. You were babbling away when we scooped you out of your crib, and didn’t have a fever, but we’re still brand new parents and there’s still a pandemic, so we kept you home from daycare.
After you’d grabbed your third fistful of dirt from our fig leaf fiddle tree and (successfully) drank from the dog’s bowl, while spilling the water all over the kitchen, I almost lost my temper before seeing the expectant expression on your sweet, snot-covered face. You were proud of drinking out of your brothers cup!
What I’ll remember about today, as your mom:
On our afternoon walk, I picked a yellow flower and handed it to you. We both marveled at its vibrant yellow color. You smiled and held it out to me to kiss.
You just learned to jump and so we jumped together until you laughed so hard you gave yourself the hiccups.
What I’ll remember about today, as a woman with a career:
My agency released an important campaign about breastfeeding.
Some of my team knew it was a hard week, and sent me rosé and Tartine croissants.
I hope you remember your brother, Tank: a purebred, brindle boxer. He was eight when you were born and got very sick not long after your first birthday.
One morning when you were around nine months old, your dad and I went downstairs to clean out our garage storage unit while you took your nap. Tank thought we’d forgotten about you and scratched all of the paint from your nursery door in his efforts to rescue you.
Tank never used to bark, let alone growl. But if you’re home and the doorbell rings, his dormant protector instinct kicks in and he rushes the door, a low grumble escaping his jowls.
He lets you pet (read: hit) him and grab his cropped tail. You haven’t yet discovered his velvety nose but are mesmerized by his prehistoric claws. You offer him your sippy cup and bring him his leash every morning before our walk.
Chemotherapy has been tough on Tank. He continues to lose weight and hair and the smallest scratch will bleed and bleed, but he comes with us on our daily walks to daycare and you keep him young at home.
At Rossi Playground down the block, he lets other kids pet him but doesn’t take his eyes off you. Even though he’s not allowed in the playground, I can’t imagine a day when he’s not tied up on the perimeter watching over us. The sweetest dog in the world: your brother.