I am a creature of habit, a lover of routine. I’ve been eating peanut butter toast with sliced bananas almost every morning for the past six months. My warm-weather Starbucks drink is an iced Americano, in the winter green tea. I will wear my hair or makeup the same way everyday for a period of time. Lately, for the first time ever, I’ve been on a no eye-makeup streak. Partly because it’s hot and so it runs, darkening those circles and making me look even more tired than I already am, and also because it smears when I nuzzle Sayla or she touches my face in that gentle toddler way. Maybe when it cools down I’ll break the mascara back out.
A friend walks me down the brightly-colored hallway leading to the nursery. I drop Sayla off and she immediately starts crying, you’re just going to leave me here? The caretaker assures me that she will be fine, and as I hesitantly turn away from those eyes of abandonment, I remind myself how everyone raves about the kids program here.
I sign a sheet upon entering the room, my friend still leading the way, and a perky, petite woman greets me as I shuffle in.
“Welcome, I’m so glad you’re here!” After a short pause and curious expression, “How old are you?”
“I’m thirty,” I say, smiling back.
“Oh my, I’m so sorry! I thought you were maybe nineteen or something.”
As she blushes with embarrassment, I smirk in delight that I can pass for a freshman in college. Maybe if I was wearing eye makeup I would look older, more mature.
The room is crowded with too many ladies and not enough seats. The smell of coffee and perfume fills the space, and the women laugh and jabber as they eat petite quiche, mini-muffins, and fruit salad. I’ve already had my morning toast, my required coffee, so I settle in with a cup of water.
I am at a visitor’s day for a community bible study, meaning women from all different churches in the area meet weekly to study Scripture, and it’s a chance or me to see if this is something I want to participate in. When you sign up you commit for an entire school year to the bible study. I wonder if it’s a good fit, partly because it’s thirty minutes away. And like I said, everyone loves the kids program, but is that really a selling point at Sayla’s age? I’m not sure…what have I got to lose?
After the welcoming in the crowded room, we break off into our respective groups for the bible study. I stick with the friend who brought me. We’re studying one of the little Johns. The leader begins guiding the group through the study guide, fill-in-the-blank kind of stuff. I’m not fond of the surface-level questions, finding the facts clearly presented. What does this text reveal about God, about humanity? How has this text changed the way you view life? Granted, not everyone likes these deeper questions, and we’ve got to start somewhere. Back off, stop being so critical.
The group is quiet and no one feels like talking. I begin to lose interest and I’m tired of sitting in this metal folding chair. I’ll sign up if you let me sit cross-legged on the floor. I don’t know if I want to do this—drive thirty minutes to get here, sit for two hours, drive back. That’s three hours of sitting.
The are about ten women in the group, some young mothers, some already grandmas. I start to evaluate which of the young mothers I could be friends with, which ones hold possibility, listening closely to how old their kids are and how many they have.
But really, it’s the grandmas I’m interested in. One lady is wearing a soft blue scarf that matches the blue in her pants, and she colors her hair blonde. Another woman is wearing sparkly, strappy heels—something you’d wear to a wedding—and I love that she doesn’t care and is donning them at a women’s bible study. Someone else has a chunky turqouise piece adorning her neck with earrings to match.
As I observe these women—their hair, their makeup, their shoes and jewelry—my eyes well with tears, because I can see my mom standing at the top of the stairs, turning to one side and then to the other: “How does this look? Do you like this together?” And more than anything, I wish that I was standing at the bottom of those stairs telling her it’s cute, that she’s beautiful, and those shoes go great with that blouse.
Grief is a strange thing. The day my mother died I knew that something had gone terribly wrong—that my life would be altered dramatically—but to what extent I could not conceive, the implications incomprehensible. For a while I felt self-conscious of my grieving, that somehow I wasn’t doing it the right way, that it didn’t meet the criteria for mourning a mother’s death. Her birthday felt like any other day, the anniversary of her death sometimes ordinary. The moments when I thought, this is when you’re going to feel something dark and heavy, deep down, I felt nothing.
Instead, I take Sayla to the Arboretum and see a mom with young children and their grandma walking along, and grief (and jealousy) jabs me. Instead, it’s Saturday night and my grocery supply is running low and I have no idea what I’m going to make for dinner, but I end up creating a delicious meal out of the odds and ends in the refrigerator, and I want so badly to call her and tell her what I came up with. Instead, Sayla says “meow, meow” and I hear my mom giggling and meowing right back.
As I drive home from the community bible study, the tears are now streaming down my face, no mascara holding me back. I’m no longer self-conscious—I don’t question whether something is wrong with me—because there is no formula for grief, no one-size-fits-all, nor do I have to go searching for it so that it meets some preconcieved standard. Grief finds me in the ordinary, in the everyday moments—in the kitchen, on walks, on vacation, with Sayla—in silk scarves and sparkly heels.