Open Letter to Patti Smith, Day 17 (on motherhood…)
I will never know if I am fertile. I will never know what kind of mother I am. I will never know how long it took me to get pregnant and if I was able to successfully breastfeed. I will never know how many miscarriages I had and what my mother told me after the first one. I will never know what I named my daughter. I will never know what I named my son. I will never know what my favorite present at the baby shower was. Or if we played those silly baby shower games after all. I will never know what day of the week it was when I first felt the baby kick. Or what time it was and what the weather was like outside when I felt the quickening. I will never know if I knew immediately that I was pregnant or if it took me far too long to catch on. I will never know if my oldest has her father’s eyes or mine, and if she smiles like me or somehow manages to smile like my sister. I will never know how old my son was when we decided to make his crib into a “big boy’s bed.” Or what year we took our youngest to their first baseball game. Or how we explained Grandpa Alban’s death. I will never forget to put money under a pillow for the tooth fairy. I will never decide if and when to spill the beans about Santa Claus. Or worry that my youngest thinks Jesus is Santa Claus. I will never have to remind myself that we decided never to spank the children. I will never have to feel bad the one time I forget and slap a little hand after the 52nd time I’ve said, “Please don’t touch that” or “Please put that down.” I will never wonder who thinks I’m a bad mother. I will never wonder which mistakes are inevitable and if my daughter really will need therapy because of me. I will never run out of ideas for birthday parties. Or worry that we’re not saving enough for college. Or hope she didn’t hear me when I said “Fuck!” out loud that one time I burned my hand while making dinner. I will never have to fit myself around a small body who insists on climbing into my bed—and sleeping sideways. I will never think of the dear weight of him in my lap when I am at work and he is at nursery school. I will never understand what loss, what ache my mother felt when she caught a glimpse of me sleeping and thought, “Oh, she’ll never be my little girl again” and then burst into tears. I will mourn or I will not. I will press these losses to my chest or I will not. I will let myself be haunted by what I didn’t catch hold of, or I will press my lips to what it is that has come instead to fill these hands, this body, this life.