I try not to get self conscious when my only child smacks his little palms on the pudge like hands lapping water. He smiles because he doesn’t know any better. He smiles because he doesn’t know it makes me cringe. He smiles because he doesn’t know what happened. I realize his eyes have only seen my body as a mother and will only remember thick purple scars as Mommy’s lines.
Before strolling out of the bathroom, I look at the misshapen belly and body fat which lingers with the absence of a gallbladder. At least that’s what I tell myself about the weight gain. A picture in a blue wooden frame with seashells hangs on the wall above the towel rack and my honeymoon body cranes over and reflects in the mirror. The old image seems to cast a thin shadow over me everytime I stand in the mirror. It was before Shiloh, before they found cancer, before doctors ripped and tore a child and organs out from me, before I could have no other children.
There is a tube of Mederma scar treatment gel in a metal basket on the sink, but I don’t grab it because the marks are too purple to make a difference. Before I leave the bathroom, I put on underclothes and wonder when is too old for children to see their mother in undergarments. I have friends who have little ones and strict rules about nakedness and others who stroll in their houses, nipples blazing, with their grown children lounging in boxers. I have yet to feel any awkwardness, so I place the invisible standard on a shelf for later.
I twist my stringy auburn hair into a bun, since it’s still not long enough to look like pre-cancer me, and slather the obligatory deodorant in the pits before leaving my frankenstein reflection. As I step into the bedroom away from the warm shower air, the crisp air conditioning raises goosebumps on my exposed skin. Before I can find a shirt from the myriad of haphazardly piled clean clothes baskets, a squeel of “Mommy!” tumbles off the bed and bounds toward me in a size 3T NASA tee and clad in newly potty trained undies.
“Mommy! Mommy!” Shiloh says through a toothy smile and playfully slaps both hands on my insecurity. “You have a line,” he observes.
I’ve played his eventual “why” over in my mind thousands of times. He won’t ask today, but eventually Shiloh will. How does any parent tell their child something so big when your child’s understanding of death is that something has merely gone away? I don’t know how to tell him that when he was born, the doctors found stage IV ovarian cancer, and I wasn’t supposed to survive surgery. I don’t know how I will tell him that Mommy was bald during all his infant pictures because I was trying to survive chemotherapy. I don’t know how to tell him or myself that I cannot bear any more siblings because my organs were killing me and had to be removed. It’s a list of a few of the thousands of things I don’t know about being a parent.
I’m convinced most parents are winging it, even the Pintrest perfect pretties. We hope they don’t remember when we bumped their head against the door frame when carrying their slumbering bodies to bed. I’ve done it once or twice. Many of us are grateful our little humans continue to grow on dino chicken nuggets and apple juice. We convince ourselves that it doesn’t bother us when someone looks like they’re doing it better or that the stain on your shirt is probably a booger your offspring just wiped on you. Sometimes, we pretend parenthood is enough to mask the disappointment of our mom bodies in the mirror after a shower. There isn’t a user’s guide for raising each little human, so we all try our best, cry, drink wine, and do it again the next day with hope we haven’t screwed them up for life.
In this moment when Shiloh’s hands beat his life song on my drum, I caress his curiosity of the scars the only way I know how. Whether it’s the “right” response or not, I take it to chance.
‘“Shiloh was in Mommy’s tummy and then you went BOO DOOP and came out into the world,” I say cheerfully. Shiloh giggles and repeats boo doop and smushes his smile into the lines.
No talk of cancer, or sickness, or lost siblings. It’s the only way I know how to say it right now. I think that’s enough.