April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
So begins T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land." Yes, April can be hard. Brave tulips droop because they’re covered in frost. The explosion of early spring is hellish for allergy sufferers and I’d bet meteorologists drink more this month due to the unpredictability of their science. In our house, we greet April with a Midwestern brand of guarded and stiff-lipped optimism. We plant late-blooming tulips, dress in layers and pack extra Kleenex for runny noses. Nature may reward us with one hand and backhand slap us with the other, on the same day no less.
There’s another reason we are on guard. Some time after Easter, usually during the last weeks of April, the marketing onslaught of Mother’s Day begins. Ads for flowers, greeting cards and even luxury cars flood the TV. Class art projects, reading assignments and even math lessons turn their gaze to the second Sunday in May. None of this goes without notice. Since he was 4, our sensitive oldest son has picked up on it because his adoptive, same-gender-parented household doesn’t have a traditional mother. We have grandmas, aunts, older female cousins and baby sitters. But there’s no mother to receive the treasure trove of attention.
After the first year or so, his birthmom stopped direct communication. She and I are friends on Facebook so I let her know he’s doing well by posting upbeat infrequent statuses, hoping she’ll log in that day. We send care packages each Christmas with cookies and photos but over the last few years, they were not accepted at her last address. Maybe she’ll reach out again someday and maybe she won’t.
My son’s own memory and desire affect his mood. He becomes more withdrawn and quiet this time of year. When he was younger, he’d lash out at times. It comes with the predictability of an April pollen count so we’ve talked to his teachers in the past and let them know. Fortunately many of his teachers are receptive and approach this time with heartfelt empathy. One changed all the classroom references of “Mother’s Day” to “Parents’ Day” noting dutifully that Father’s Day falls after the school year. But that doesn’t fool anyone. The kids always know. Once a child chased my son around a playground, taunting, “you don’t have a mom!” around this time of year.
We deal with it as we can. He writes Mother’s Day cards and we put them in a folder and we send it to our birth mom through the adoption agency. We take out the faded photos. We talk about how tall she was and how her laugh was warm and soft. We tell him he has her nose. Once he started off casually, “Did she like peanut butter? Did she like dance music, like me?” As I tried to answer as factually accurate as I could, he surprised me with a bone-crushing ninja hug. (Bear in mind, my son is a hat size shorter than me and years of gymnastics training have given him a super strong upper body. Imagine those images of the colossal squid wrapping itself on the sperm whale.) He sighed and said, “I miss her.” After I caught my breath, I surprised myself. “I miss her too, buddy,” I managed.
I do miss her. I want her to know how much he looks like her. I want her to know how proud she should be of him. Like her, his smile takes some coaxing but it’s worth the work. I want her to know that he still loves her in his own way. I want her to know that we pray for her and are eternally grateful to her. She chose us because we looked like a happy couple. She made us a happy family.
We know that we cannot take this longing and this hurt from him. It’s one of the things you don’t prepare for as a parent. Your children will experience pain so deep that even your love cannot reach them. But like the banks of a river that define its path, this pain will guide him. It will lead him into the vastness of the world and it will make him into the man he’ll become. Maybe he’ll share this pain with his younger brother some day. Maybe he’ll have a worship-like devotion to the mother of his children. Or maybe he won’t.
The only thing we know for sure: April yields to May and then to June. His hurt will pass and he’ll get better at dealing with it. We’ll recover by the lesser feast of Father’s Day and we’ll move on. Until then, we’ll wear our extra layers, enjoy the flowers that manage to bloom and pack our Kleenex for any tears that come our way.