About the time Leyna was a year old, I remember reading a comment on my Facebook page from a woman named Leyna. It was the first time I “met” someone else with that name. It was so strange how we connected. She followed a blog/photographer friend of mine from Austin, who at some point linked to me. Leyna clicked through and saw that I have my own little Leyna, who I affectionately called Leyna-bug- the same nickname her mom still has for her.
We struck up an internet friendship of sorts, mostly consisting of comments back and forth on my FB page, on this blog, and on Instagram. She had a baby shortly before I had Lowell. Her middle child is the same age as Kendall, and she has an older daughter.
It’s stupid of me to think I know everything, or even very much about this woman. But when she emailed me last week, I literally caught my breath and held back the tears as I read. I was not prepared for what she shared. Here’s her email…
Maybe this is crazy since we don’t actually “know” each other, but I feel like I want you to know this about me–I want to share something with you because you are always so honest and amazingly bare with what you share with your readers.
The beautiful young woman in the picture was killed in a car crash driving to work early one rainy Austin morning. She left behind an insanely-in-love husband and a beautiful, precious baby girl. . . a baby girl whose first birthday she never got to celebrate.
She missed the sleepless nights of her baby girl teething molars. She missed her toddler girl’s first real words and sentences. She missed getting to finally put that pretty blonde hair in two pigtails. She missed potty training. She missed the first real haircut. She missed the terrible two’s and the oh-my-god terrible three’s. She missed the first successful cartwheel (and all the unsuccessful attempts before). She missed the first lost tooth. She missed the first day of kindergarten. She missed the parent-teacher conferences and the getting in trouble at school. She missed the learning to ride a bike. She missed the first All-A report card in first grade. She’s missed every single All-A report card since then. And last week she missed watching her blushing baby girl receive her first Valentine’s present from a boy.
But I didn’t miss those moments. I was there for all of them. The beautiful young woman’s name was Maggie Williams, and today would have been her 28th birthday. Maggie was my husband’s first wife. And she was my daughter Karys’ first mom. And I spent all day today trying to put aside the incredible sadness (and awkward, sporadic interloper feeling and, yes, even sometimes twinges of jealousy) to make this day about celebrating Maggie’s life, rather than focusing on the tragedy of her death.
My husband had to work late and so, for the very first time, this February 19th was all me. This morning, with an excited smile, I reminded Karys and her little brothers (Jack and Owen) that today was a special day and that after school we would go get flowers as we always do. Karys and I, with little brothers in tow, made our way to the store (where the kids proceeded to bicker and drive me nuts, of course). Karys picked out beautiful flowers, and they picked out a dessert together. In years past we’ve struggled with whether to actually light a birthday candle in our celebration of Maggie’s life. . . but it always seemed too sad at the end when there was no one to blow it out. So tonight we didn’t do that. I just had excited kiddos who got to eat sweets and stay up past bedtime, and instead of reading our chapter book we read funny anecdotes about Mama Maggie sent by her siblings. And then we tried to look at photo albums, but Jack was having a past-bedtime meltdown and Owen wasn’t far behind. It was not the sweet, touching experience I had hoped for all day.
I’d finally had enough and decided to put the boys to bed and asked Karys to look at pictures in her room until I could return. I kissed my insanely frustrating and sassy and lovable 5-year-old goodnight. I nursed and rocked my sweet and chubby and needy 12-month-old baby to sleep. And I went back to my darling and growing-up-so fast (nearly) 8-year-old’s room. And when I did, all the gratitude and the entire depth of my grief for a young woman I never knew came flooding in. Is it possible to love and grieve for someone you never knew in life? I think it is.
But, you know–you have to hold the sad stuff in around kids until it’s the right moment, and it just wasn’t the right moment tonight. She wanted to tell me about a funny kid at school and make Rainbow Loom bracelets and sprawl out her skinny, tan, muscular legs to look at photo albums.
I spent the rest of the evening taking silly pictures of Karys recreating silly pictures of Maggie (they look SO.MUCH.ALIKE.), and then tucked a super tired girl in her bed way past her bedtime. I lingered as I kissed her smooth hair and reminded myself to breathe her in . . . When they get bigger it gets easier to forget. I vow not to forget so often.
Many nights I feel exasperated when she asks for that last sip of water (it’s totally a stalling tactic on top of all the other kid stalling tactics and my days are looooooong and at that point I’m so ready for wine and winding down), but tonight I felt simply gratitude. Gratitude that I am HERE. I am here to get the last sip of water. I am here to lose my mind and my patience at the grocery store. I am here to rock a baby back to sleep in the middle of the night and trudge through homework and do stinky little boy laundry and feel like a chauffeur for dance lessons and soccer practice and change dirty diapers and clean up mess after mess and get impatient with my wonderful husband and then clean some more. I am HERE.
Today, especially, I am reminded of how very freaking lucky I am, even on the worst days. I am reminded of how much I love my husband and our three beautiful children . . . my family . . . Maggie’s family . . . my friends. And I am reminded of how much I really do love my mama friends (those in real life and those on the internets) and this mama journey we’re all on together. Because we are all here. Here.
Happy, happy birthday, Maggie Jane. And. . .thank you. I am so grateful for and blessed by your life, and all the love it’s brought into mine.
Leyna was just reaching out to me at the end of a long day, looking for someone to share her story with. She didn’t intend for it to end up on this blog, but when I asked her if I could publish it, she said, “I would love for you to share her/our story any way you choose, if you so choose. Mostly? Thanks for listening and responding. Today has been rough. It’s a weird and winding road, navigating grief and jealousy and love and parenting and more love. And lack of showers and sleep. Obviously.”
I was compelled to post this here for a couple reasons.
1. Obviously, this reminds me of how precious my time with my family is. And while I’m not a big proponent of the “cherish. every. moment.” movement, I do think it helps to put things in perspective now and then.
2. The quiet undercurrent of this story, to me, is that of 2 moms, loving each other, helping each other from 2 very different places.
I like to think if Maggie was still alive, and she ran into Leyna at the playground, they’d at least swap smiles, and maybe push each other’s kids on the swings. Or maybe they’d become mom-friends, and swap funny texts or commiserating blog comments like Leyna and I have.
We don’t have to know all that much about other moms or parents to know that, at the end of the day, we all care about loving our kids. There’s a common thread there that we don’t have to search hard for.
Thank you, Leyna. Thank you for introducing us to Maggie. Thank you for loving without limits. Thank you for sharing a story of two moms who will never meet, but are bound by a common thread, loving each other from 2 different places- in life and beyond.
Leyna Williams is a (non-practicing) lawyer/former wedding planner/former knife saleswoman/former psychology lab coordinator/former pizza delivery girl turned stay-at-home-mom. She maintains her sanity by texting with her BFF and other working mom friends, researching everything, and reading Baby Rabies (She would say Pinterest, too, but Pinterest makes her feel inadequate on the days she hasn’t showered and gives her kids a random assortment of questionable fridge items for dinner.)