Mommy picked up the frame and wiped the dust from the edges. My heart began to race. Mommy said a little prayer under my breath. God, please let me have courage... Please don't let me cry. As Mommy walked through the crowd to my chair, Mommy felt excited. Then nervous. Then sad. Then worried. What if this becomes more than what I want it to? What if they have questions? Will I have all the right answers? What if the others get upset that they weren't included? So many worries spun around inside Mommy's head in that moment.
Mommy sat down in the little green chair. I wiped more dust off the glass and turned the frame around.
A few weeks earlier school had come back into session. As always, Mommy was excited and nervous about beginning another year with a new group of students. Back when you first passed away Mommy found solace in work. It was the one thing that was constant amongst all the chaos all around. It was the one thing Mommy could control back when so much of life felt out of control.
Teaching was my identity before Mommy became a mom. Hours were spent planning, preparing, loving, and caring on my kiddos at school. When Mommy was pregnant with you Mommy loved sharing my experiences with my class of second graders. Each week a different student would help measure to see how much bigger around my belly had grown. We kept a belly chart posted on the wall. They made the journey toward motherhood that much more exciting!
The night you decided to start your journey into this world Mommy stayed well past six getting Valentine's Day activities ready for the next day's centers. Excited. Nervous. Sad. It seemed like this was the cycle of emotions Mommy felt throughout the night you came. As Mommy's students entered the classroom the next day they were greeted with a sub and a giant banner that read "Welcome Baby Harris"! Surprised was the main reaction. You weren't suppose to come that soon. Mommy wasn't supposed to be gone that soon either.
The transition from teacher to full-time mom was more difficult than Mommy had anticipated. Mommy missed the daily conversations and hugs I would get from my students. Mommy missed the fast-paced schedule and predictable routine. In the beginning for a short time, Mommy even had bouts of the post-pardum blues. I look back and wonder how much of it had to do with leaving a group of students Mommy loved so much.
As time went on Mommy's students from that year grew to love their substitute teacher. I grew to love you more than Mommy ever knew I could love something. It became clear as the school year came to an end that Mommy would be better off working at a school closer to home. That way, I could be closer to you. That's when Mommy took a job in Kindergarten.
Here is the artwork students from Model Laboratory School created in your memory.
Next to it is a placard with your picture and these words: "Experiencing life, love, and loss with their teacher."
It hangs by the indoor garden near Mommy's old room.
As the weeks in Kindergarten turned into months, Mommy found so many teachable moments that involved you. Stories and songs, books and puppets were all first tried on you at home. My new students at my new school loved hearing about you more than anything else. They asked about you all the time. And having a classroom assistant who was like a grandma to you made Mommy's new school a perfect fit!
It was a little over three weeks after you passed away that Mommy was due to return to work. Many people wondered if Mommy would take some time off. Time off to do what? I wondered. Without you at home Mommy felt lost. Mommy's identity as a mother was suddenly take away. I didn't know who I was. The only thing in life that was familiar at the time was teaching. And teaching is where Mommy would escape.
When school went back into session that year Mommy added two new pictures to the wall behind my desk. Collages of you that your Aunt Keshia had made for your funeral. In the beginning Mommy would just stare at the memories that were captured in that frame. Sometimes I would cry. By the end of the year Mommy was able to smile.
Occasionally there would be a kindergartener notice the frame. They would comment with things like That's a cute baby or She's a pretty little girl. When your sister Layne came along many of Mommy's kindergarteners would look at the pictures and assume the little girl with the bow in her hair was her. Anytime one would ask, Mommy's assistant was quick to intervene just so Mommy didn't have to have the conversation. Whatever she said to them must have been just right. She always had a way with talking to kids.
Mommy would avoid conversations about family with my kindergarten students. If any of them asked, Mommy would focus on Layne and our cats, Frank and Sammy. It wasn't that Mommy didn't want to include you, it was just that Mommy wasn't prepared to answer questions they might have. Mommy worried about making them worried. Not knowing what it was that took you from us, made it even harder. Would four and five year olds understand?
So when Mommy moved back to teaching second graders, keeping your story private seemed much easier than having that conversation. For two years Mommy did just that. Mommy kept your picture on the windowsill behind my desk. When any student would look at it and comment how cute "Layne" was, Mommy would smile and think of you.
All that changed a few weeks ago. As my new second graders spent the week bringing in pictures and telling about their families, Mommy realized it might be time.
So as Mommy sat down in that little green chair and as 26 pairs of eyes were glued on me with my picture of you in one hand and Jack's birth announcement in the other, Mommy got brave.
"Many of you look at this picture.... Many of you look at it and see Mr. Harris and me and this little girl. Many of you see this little girl and say ' Awe, isn't Layne so cute?'"
Mommy smiled and took a breath. The kids in the middle of the rug smiled back and shook their head. The whole class was still and quiet.
"Well, let me tell you about this little girl in this picture." Mommy's voice was calm. The words came to mind much easier than I expected.
"The little girl in this picture," Mommy said slowly, "Her name is Kaden - Kaden Layne. This is my little girl." Mommy said.
This is our last family photo with you.
It was the end of our vacation at the Outer Banks.
We sure had fun making memories that week.
It felt so good to say your name. Like a good secret bottled up, it was a relief to share you with them. I went on.
"She passed away in her sleep when she was 16 months and we aren't really sure why."
Mommy and my students went on to talk about you and about how some families look a little different from others.
"She's a part of my family." I went on to say. "I haven't had the courage to talk about her with a group of students until now."
To Mommy's surprise, this group of students responded with the utmost compassion and concern. Instead of asking questions that Mommy wasn't prepared to answer, many of them responded with sweet comments and expressions of love. Being free to remember you openly felt so good. Being able to talk about you helped Mommy revive your memory. I love that most!
Next year my class of second graders will be the class you would have been part of. I can already foresee Mommy standing back as the girls play at recess and wondering who it is you would have been friends with. For now, Mommy's going to use this year and this group of students to help me prepare.
Love you Sweet Girl...
This was you at 8 months. It's neat to see how much Jack looks like you.
He loves to smile a wide-open smile like you did.
Here's a little flashback. Jack looks just like you at 8 months. :)
Here's another with your Harris Hopper's class t-shirt. :)