love notes tucked in lunches are only the start

‘round about dinner time the other night, the email slipped in. a note under the door, unnoticed. for a while. but then, i must have tiptoed back, glanced at the flat black box that these days brings me most of my news.

there it was, marked simply, starkly: “sad news.”

oh, no, i gulped, afraid to peek inside.

when i clicked, i read, and heard my heart break too. there’s a little girl in my little one’s second-grade class. her name is alice. and her mama had just died.

now i don’t know alice. and i’ve never met her mama. maybe i’ve seen her here or there, but she’s not someone i would’ve pointed to, said, oh, there’s alice’s lovely blessed mama.

but nonetheless i swallowed back a tear.

the news came home, crept beneath my door. told me once again what i know–what we all know–but what we lose track of when one zany day melds into the next. when what we worry about is getting dinner on the table, and children into bed. when we worry for our jobs. and mutter frazzled sounds when the crayon goes through the wash. or the gas tank’s left on empty, and we’re late for where we’re due.

i read the words and remembered once again that every day, every hour, there is a child, there are children, who lose a holy blessed mama. who, if they’re lucky, kiss her on the cheek as it drains of all its warmth, or don’t let go.

there are children, little ones, who don’t get one more bedtime to squeeze their mama’s hand, to watch her shadow slip from the bedroom, count her footsteps as they fade down the stairs.

that there was–is–a little girl, one born the very year that my little one was born, a year that seems so not-so-long ago, that there is a little girl who is absorbing the wholeness of what it means to lose her mama, well that’s a ghost that haunts me.

i carried the news back into the kitchen, where i’d been stirring. i ladled dinner onto plates. we sat, held hands and prayed. i prayed for alice, of course. i’d asked my little one all about her; he showed me her picture in his yearbook. blonde and sweet and big-eyed. i could barely grasp that never again would her mama see that face.

i carried the news with me as i climbed the stairs to tuck my boy in bed. but then, somewhere in the brushing of his baby teeth, and the inside-out pajamas that took some untwisting to set things right, i lost track.

i put my little one to bed, with prayers and kiss and tucking in of sheets. then, i walked downstairs and set about making his peanut-butter-extra-jelly (hold the grape, double the strawberry-peach preserves) for the next day’s lunch. i’d be gone at work by the time he woke, so i grabbed a pen and did what i’ve done a hundred thousand times: i penned a little love note and tucked it in his lunch bag.

that’s when i felt my heart twist and tug, and wince at once.

i thought of little alice, whose mama wouldn’t write another note. i wanted with all my heart to pack a lunch for alice and stuff it fat with love notes. i wanted to sit by her bedside and be her mama, whenever she needed one. whenever she cried out. i wanted to waft into the room and be the mama she cried out for.

i sometimes wish i could sop up all the hurt that makes this world so deeply broken.

instead i started to tick off the many moments in my little one’s life that no one else might notice if i were gone. but the moments when he alone would feel the gaping hole, the absence, would feel the skip of his mama’s heartbeat.

love notes tucked in lunches, i realized, are only the start.

there is the way we say our prayers. the way we always start and end, and wind around the middle in a particular order, with a particular rhythm and a certain sing-song way we end it every time.

there’s the way i rub the lotion on his cheeks, in little circles, ears to nose, each morning, and oh-so-gently tug the brush–the pink brush by the way, the only one whose bristles do the job–through his ringlet curls.

there’s the way he likes his cereal, a way he needn’t ever tell me, because i’m the one who’s almost always there to pour it out. and i would know–as would he–how upside-down it would start the day if the raisin bran was on the bottom and the cheerios, dumped on top. because, well, that’s not the way it’s ever done.

mothers and children–and all of those whose lives are intertwined–flow seamlessly through much of time. except of course for the fits and starts and assorted flare-ups in, say, the target check-out line, when we lose our place and our footing (and a good teaspoon of patience, too) and must shake it off and find our groove again.

but often, and surely when it counts, we begin and end each other’s thoughts and whims, with barely an instruction. it is love, mostly, that fills in all the blanks. we so know each other’s hearts, we’ve memorized the lines unspoken.

it all began, i’m certain, when i first brought my little one to my breast. and there began between the two of us a poetry, a rhythm and a rhyme that would be unbroken through the years. he would know, before words ever came to him, that in my arms he rocked a certain way. and in the sounds from my throat a soothing came that came from nowhere else.

i ache for all the children, all around the world, who wake up today, go to sleep tonight, without the mama they have come to count on.

i ache, deeply, for alice, who came back to school today, and who i’m told spoke not a word all day.

i wish, i pray, that in our deepest heartbeat we could pump out double-time for the children among us who cry themselves to sleep. for the children whose dreams are shattered and their daytimes too.

i pray with all my might that the Great God of Unending Arms, and Hand That Won’t Let Go, embraces all those children, sweeps away their ache, brushes back their tears.

i pray with all my might that the Great God of Laughter fills their hearts and throats again.

and in the meantime, i wish with all my might that i could pen a love note and tuck it there in alice’s lunch bag.

just the way i do for the little one who is mine, so deeply sweetly mine.

are you sometimes struck by news that brushes close to home? does it jostle you from complacency, remind you just how many little moments we forget are so priceless? what are the little things your loved ones would miss, if you slipped away from their everyday? please say a prayer for alice, and her fourth-grade brother. and everyone who loves them, the children now without a mother….
p.s. sorry this is late again. that ol’ new job barely gives me time to breathe, let alone tap out a meander. but i’ll be damned if i give up the one chance to let my fingers unspool what flows from my heart.