I loved 3rd grade. Miss Sadowsky was funny and full of creative ways to inspire our spongy little minds. Thanks to her we had pen pals from Iceland, learned to sing “Silent Night” in German and made paper mache puppets that we used to tell original stories that we wrote and performed for the school. She was everything a great teacher could be. Unfortunately, the memory of 3rd grade will always feel sad because by the end of May my mother started having headaches and by the end of the first week of June she had died, forever changing my life and removing the word “normal” from my vocabulary.
It used to be that one school year ended and another began on the other side of non-stop summer fun. But I don’t remember that summer as fun. It was a time when everyone around us put on frozen smiles and tried to make everything “okay.” But swimming pools and Friendly’s ice cream cones were just reminders that she wasn’t there to ask for extra jimmies (sprinkles) or towel me dry after a really great cannonball off the diving board.
Our yearly trip to Cape Cod never happened. No plans had been made for camp. My whole family just stood frozen in the pain and let the summer wash over us without leaving any tan lines as proof that we had dared spend lazy time on a beach or played outside all day on our dead end street.
Summer lasts forever to a kid. July melts into August and going back to school isn’t even on the radar. But that summer was a black hole. I lost a part of me that cut so deep I wasn’t sure how to be me anymore. The only solid memories I can drag up from that summer between 3rd and 4th grade is the image of me on the living room couch getting lost reading Treasure Island as part of my new school’s summer reading list. Yes, not only did my 3rd grade year end in the pit of sadness and loss but my father had decided to enroll all 3 kids in the same school to make life easier, which meant I was starting a new school in the fall – the first fall without “her.”
The loss of my mom will always be a defining moment in my life, but that first summer was the most difficult. Gone was the carefree feeling of a summer filled with nothing but cookouts and fireflies. In its place, a quiet, sad, worrying me was born; a me that would, from that summer on, be older than I ever needed to be because something so important had disappeared from my life.
It took years for me to stop feeling a great sadness when a school year ended because I always felt my mom’s absence from the excitement of shouting, “Summer Vacation!” But I am older and have had many summers to learn to swim in the deep end of my loss.
Summer is no longer an emotional black hole, but no matter how many years have gone by a part of me will always be the little boy stuck between two school years, like a boat lost at sea between two ports called Mom.
Alan Silberberg is an author, whose new book, MILO: STICKY NOTES & BRAIN FREEZE tells the story of parental loss with humor, cartoons and a heart-warming story.