Sugar & A Song: Celebrating My Mother Through My Toddler’s Eyes

This essay originally appeared in our monthly newsletter for The Mom Hour podcast. To get our emails, subscribe here. –Katie

Every year, I struggle with what to do on June 12th.

Every year, the options of what I could do run through my mind. Do I go to her grave for a quiet moment with her? Do I post a Happy Birthday message to her on social media? Do I call my dad and three siblings and fumble awkwardly through a conversation about her?

When I consider each of these options, none of them seem good enough. None will truly express my tangled emotions. None testify to my relationship with her. And all of them seem too sad. So most years, I don’t do anything at all other than sit with the guilt of not doing anything because doing nothing seems like the worst alternative.

This year, nine years later, nothing’s changed, my paralysis no different. But this year, enter the perfect combination of a birthday-obsessed toddler and a thoughtful husband with an uncanny ability to do the right thing when it means the most, and the decision was made for me. We celebrated my mom, Angel Grandma. We ate cupcakes in her honor and sang her Happy Birthday.

Through my toddler’s eyes, nothing could be simpler. Insulated from knowing the pain of loss, she saw this birthday as she does all birthdays – sugar and a song, nothing more and nothing less.

Somehow, there’s some healing for me in her not knowing the sadness, not attaching much meaning to the night’s festivities. Her uncomplicated approach and oversimplified perspective were a gift to me – a first step, a way forward to acknowledging my mom’s memory when too many years have gone by without one. Somehow the true weight of the celebration being simultaneously lost on her but not on me or my husband created a balance that I could bear, created a safe space for me to share my mom’s birthday with the people in this world I love the most.

This isn’t the first time that seeing things through her eyes has shifted my perspective, offering a portal into her world, which sometimes is way more appealing than my own. In this case, it offered some joy where once sorrow sat alone and made room for things that weren’t possible before.

I didn’t eat my cupcake that night. I threw it in the freezer; I wasn’t quite ready to eat it, nor am I quite ready to fully untangle all the emotion I still have on days like my mom’s birthday, but I do know that cupcakes and singing with my kids and husband were the right thing this year.

If you’re mothering without a mother of your own, or grieving a missing parent, I’d love to hear from you. Comment below and let me know.

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