500 Words About Missing My Children. An Essay by Liz Quirke

Handmade Mother’s Day cards arrived by post. Coloured card, glue, drawn lines and a range of configurations of “I love you, Momma”. My youngest sent her love in the shape of a yellow-coloured egg glued onto red card, entitled “a pirate with one eye”. Today, I received pictures over Whatsapp of their “work”, sums, letters, handwriting, neat, skewed and practiced. I know those hours spent at a table, heads bent to the rituals of crayons and colouring pencils on paper. How colour smudges from page to fingertip, to heel of palm. How such art-making can be an all-day affair, stopping only for meals, for similar necessary distractions. I know the feel of washing those little hands with my own, the way to loosen colour from the landscape of their palms, how the softness blooms pink within a towel’s cuddle.

This is the first Mother’s Day since my ex-wife and I separated. It’s been a typical separation, steeped in rights and wrongs, abundant ridiculous clichés, hard lessons learned on the hop. At times, it has been brutal. Sometimes my heart is a war zone and my head is a tragic penny-film slot machine where the same celluloid is moved over by the light, brought in and out of focus so I recall everything from the births of my children to the end times, to the more recent days of hanging out with these wonders who have defined my life. There isn’t a thing I would change about being their mother, even though I know if I had carried them, performed the making of their cells within my body, that I would not be cast aside as some cliché weekend parent. Sometimes, I’m lucky and they’re allowed to ring; sometimes before bed, at breakfast. The longest time between hearing their voices was nineteen days. My body felt unmoored from the earth. Their call on that occasion lasted nineteen minutes.

It’s only now, transposing that gap of time onto our current sequestering that I am starting to bow under the weight of their absence. It’s an unruly, half-sadness, half-grief (yes, there is a distinction between grief and sadness) but I take comfort in the way my address was committed to orange card by my eldest, her script certain in the sharp peaks of her As and the shallow fall of her descending consonants. We speak to each other now at a slight remove, geographically, and in the measure of time. We report to each other about our days, our lunches, whether we are still wearing our pajamas, and even though there’s a fissure in the tissue of the part of me that loves them, there is still that confidence of our connection borne from the way I held them in their sleep. There are somethings that no separation or lockdown can reduce, no matter restrictions of travel, geography, the foregone ire of expired connection between their other mother and me, and those small certainties will see me settle here and rest.

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