Children multiply our joys in so many ways; this notion is the stuff of cliche. What is less discussed, perhaps, are the ways in which they halve our sorrows.
I know when my Dad passed away, taking care of Bambina was, for a few days, a very rote experience. I fed her because she needed to be fed and that was my job. I did the bedtime routine because I didn't want her to feel a loss simply because I was feeling a loss, but not because I felt like doing it. Being present for her was something I did out of obligation and perhaps because it was the only thing forcing me out of bed and into the one-day-after-the-other future without my father. I floated through those first days, checking off tasks but not feeling at all like I was really doing them with my whole heart and mind. Kid fed? Check. Food prepared with usual motherly concern? Not in the least. I look back on those few days as a blur, as if maybe they were an out of body experience, wherein I was watching that person who looked like me, ably--but not perfectly--imitating me as a mother.
I can't recall the moment when I gave myself permission to laugh again, but I do know that it came sooner than I wanted it to only because I had a toddler monkeygirl doing cute things like tickling my ears or picking her nose and yelling, "Booger!!!" When my Dad first died I thought "this would be so much easier if I didn't have to take care of a child right now." Not 4 days later, after hearing her make up a song about her boogers, I realized the opposite: that without her in my life, I'd have to search to find some meaning, some joy, some reason to justify the presence of humor in the world much less in my life. In short, she forced me to laugh again. Forced me to open my eyes to joy and wonder at a time when I really only wanted to feel sadness and loss.
Spending my days with Bambina, rather than preventing me from experiencing my grief, pushed me into experiencing that grief in a positive and life-affirming way. I was lucky to be loved by a lot of people at the time, but I was doubly lucky to be loved by my child who was blissfully unaware that I should be sad. Her presence, her joy, her humor and her need for a present and loving mother kept me solidly in the swirl of the world continuing to spin on its axis, when I know without her I would have retreated from people and joy and friendship in a desire to make the world without my father stop. So too today as I worry about my friend, Bambina is there, forcing me to laugh, forcing me to be present in this moment with her, forcing me to remember that joy must be felt through pain.
As I've said before in these pages, when people congratulate me for "saving" my daughter, all I can say with complete sincerity is "No. She has saved me." Again and again.