Photo by Paul Copeland
Aiden turns four today.
Your little boy is growing up so fast. It fills me with a cocktail of pride and terror. Am I doing this right? Am I a bad mother? Who will teach him how to be a man?
Soon he’ll be at school and I’ll be helpless to shield him from the battles of the playground, from the afternoon he comes home crying because the class had to make Father’s Day cards and he has no words to put inside and no one to give it to.
Or maybe those are just my tears I’m imagining.
Believe it or not, the roses and azaleas you planted two weeks before you left are still there. I was never the one with the green thumb but I feel you watching over us when I tend those flowers, keeping us safe like you did all your life. Sometimes I pick a few to brighten up our existence. But as always, it’s bittersweet.
I can’t cry, not today. I have to be strong for Aiden. I have to get his cake and presents ready and perfect. We’ll put on some music and play some games and he’ll dazzle me with that cheeky smile that reminds me of you. I know he should be having a party with everyone from kindergarten instead of being cooped up in this house all day but I’m not ready to let him go.
And I just pray he’ll be okay without you. I pray he’ll be okay in spite of me.
“Mummy?” Aiden peers up at me with wide, anxious blue eyes, and my throat tightens, wondering what I’ve managed to mess up today of all days. “Mummy, I made you a picture.”
He holds up his creation and I inspect the swirling landscape of crayon colours put together in a way that only our little artist can.
“It’s flowers,” he explains. “I seen you pick the flowers from outside and then put them in water and then they die and you get sad. But when I make pictures you put them on the fridge and you look happy again. I want the flowers to make you happy.”
I burst into tears; I can’t help it. Aiden’s lip starts to shake. “Are you sad, Mummy?”
“No, no,” I assure him with a kiss and a hug. “I’m just so proud of you.”
He bunches his face up, looking slightly confused but ends up in a smile anyway. I scoop him up into my arms and carry him to the fridge, where his flowers take centre stage.
“Happy birthday, Aiden,” I whisper in his ear, ruffling his golden hair just like you used to. His toothy grin warms my heart.
“What we doing today, Mummy?” he asks.
“Whatever you want, darling.”
He puckers his mouth, deliberating, then says: “Tell me about Daddy?”
My heart sinks. I want to tell him no, you’re not ready, but that’s not fair to him when I’m the one who isn’t ready. I take Aiden outside and sit him down on the lawn by the flowerbed, stroking his hand. With a deep breath I begin: “Daddy loved you very much.”
“The other kids said Daddy wanted to die. They said he made himself die.”
My throat clenches as I fight the urge to kick down the other kids’ doors, shake their innocent little bodies for saying things like that to my boy and smack their parents for gossiping about you when it’s my job to talk to Aiden.
“Daddy was sick,” I say, struggling to keep my voice steady.
“Did you put him in bed and read him a story?”
Tears slip from my eyes. “Daddy wasn’t that kind of sick, Aiden. He was the kind of sick you can’t see just by looking at someone. He had a sickness in his brain that made him very sad and mixed up until he couldn’t think of any way to feel better.”
The guilt seeps into my gut. Could I have done something? Tell me. Give me a sign other than that note on the pillow. Would Aiden have his father today if I’d been different?
Aiden frowns in thought, then with fearful blue eyes, asks me: “When you get sad, are you that kind of sick too?”
I think of the cold mornings waking up next to an empty space, wondering how I’m going to pull myself together for another day. Then I remember our son, and what will happen to him if I can’t. “I’m just sad because I miss Daddy a lot.”
“Me too.” Aiden crawls into my lap and wraps his little arms around my waist. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Aiden.”
“Don’t be sad, Mummy. It’s my birthday. We get cake and presents on my birthday, right?”
A short laugh trickles from my mouth in spite of myself. I gaze into Aiden’s eyes that hold our hopes and dreams and fears about the future. But right now, our little man is four years old and deserves to celebrate.
“Yes, we do. Let’s go cut some cake now.”