I turned thirty-seven years old this month. I am a parent to three young children. I live 5,527 miles away from the place where I was born and the place where my own parents are.
Last Sunday at church, I’d had it. Unfortunately, I had chosen a seat in the front row, where the whole world could see that I’d had it. We attend a great service, one oriented for families with young children, but my young children still get bored. Plus, they love the politics of musical chairs. So while the girls fight for chairs next to me and the affection of one of my arms, my son remembers I am there and wriggles off my husband’s lap to toddle over to me, hands upraised. I can’t offer my arms to the girls and pull him onto my lap, so I let the girls go. While he sits there, leaning on me like a Lazyboy, I can’t breathe, because my belly is twenty-four weeks pregnant with a fourth child.
The daughter on my left finds a way to huddle in, anyway, and the rough glitter glued to her flats rubs against my hot-pink, nylon leggings. Hot pink on me is a rarity, so I love them. After about four or five rubs, I ask her to move her feet away from mine. After about four or five more, I bark. The daughter on my right keeps chattering through the prayers.
As distracting as this all is, this Sunday morning tradition that makes it so hard for me to enjoy church, I am not distracted from worshipping. I am distracted from worrying about things on the home front. I hate Sundays because they are too quiet. I am forced to slow down with the rest of the family and find myself confronted with the things we shove away the rest of the week in the hectic, in the hubbub, in the haste.
My eyes well up with tears and I am so angry at myself for sitting in the front row. I want to flee. There are rooms beyond this one that are quiet and emptier, but I cannot surmise a route that won’t pass people I know who love me and will ask me how I am doing. I don’t want to talk about how I am doing.
While I am trying not to cry in the front row of the service, I am overtaken by a wave of old grief. At a moment like now, of all moments, I feel orphaned. Feelings have crept in that I don’t like to acknowledge: feelings about being young and completely on my own.
This is the price we pay when we move to the other side of the world. My father is still alive, but I do not have my father. He is a half a world away, a few miles from the place where my mom is buried. My mom died six years ago. I cannot call her anymore. That’s how it feels to be abroad and lose my mother. On days like these, that lack of access finally feels painful.
Wary of self-pity, I ask myself if I am right to be feeling this way at thirty-seven: high time that I should be all grown up. High time that I accept that adult life is about deferment, responsibility and the duty of self-sufficiency. I am a parent myself, for crying out loud. Just look at me sitting here, as big as a whale, pawing off three offspring.
As I sit among the people at church, trying to avoid their eyes, I remember those within these walls who have come and gone before them. They remind me that I have never stopped searching for new parents. The compass in my heart gravitates toward couples some generations ahead: smiling, loving, wise people of faith with open arms. I have made the mistake of using them to find my north. At the age of thirty-seven, six years beyond my mother’s passing, I have learned that these relationships bear short-lived fruit. I have learned that I cannot depend on other people to fill the gap. But the reminder is painful. I am so keenly aware of the blaring orphanage in my heart – a whole history of moments when parents were missed and I sufficed, without them.
On the way home from church that day my husband says that we didn’t see a friend there because she had been on the phone with her mother. The friend is older, with teenage children. Her mother lives in another country. She still calls her. I am right to be feeling this way. Thirty-seven-year-old pregnant mothers of small children living abroad will feel like they’ve had it and still want to talk to their mothers.
At moments like these, when the compass needle begins to tremble and point north, it takes the grown-up in me to look past the “parents” on offer and to keep seeking north. God is my only comfort. He is the burning bush before which I bow down. His flames are afire and never singeing. The fire holds the hectic, hubbub and haste at bay, promising shelter to deal with the things they’ve kept hidden.
It is a lonely place, prostrate on holy ground. My pain and grief do not seem to lessen. But at some point, I am able to stand up again. I give thanks, and then I go on.
©2013 Anastasia Hacopian
for Yvette Henry, with thanks