Smile Like You Mean It.

August 1996.

We are driving- my mother and I, in our green Subaru Legacy Outback, somewhere near East Norriton, maybe a trip to I Got It At Gary’s, I’m not sure. It’s August, the windows are down, I’m 7 and ecstatic to be sitting in the front seat – my arm hangs out the window making wave like motions to the beat of whatever song is on, the air flowing through my fingers – life is simple. We come to a stop at a red light when my mom turns to me, pulls her wig from her head and asks,

“How do I look?” Its so hot and the wig itches.

“Beautiful,” I say. And I mean it with every ounce of my being.

This is the second time my mother has had breast cancer – at the time, I am unable to understand the gravity of it, all I know is that she’s sick, that the cancer has taken her hair, and that she now has a brown permed wig that sits on a Styrofoam head every evening when she is done work. I have no idea what she actually goes through; she never shows she is hurting, I more remember her smile and infectious laugh.

September 1996

My grandparents bring me me to Jefferson Hospital. Something has happened –I’m not sure what but things have taken a turn for the worse. Aunt Linda takes me to the room, she nudges me in – it is dark, save for the light from the hospital monitors – my mom is laying in bed, my dad stands to her left. I quickly fixate on my mother – there are tubes everywhere, an oxygen cannula in her nose, lines, IVS, the whole 9. Something is wrong. Still she smiles at me reassuringly.

My dad speaks- I don’t know if I am sitting or standing, all I hear is “Alexandra, Mommy’s going to die.”

And then I run, without purpose or direction down hallways that seem like they will never end until I reach my grandparents arms. The rest is a blur.

My mother stays in the hospital for about a week after; I don’t remember ever going back. I stayed home from school that week – my grandparents watched my 2 year old sister and I. Every night when my father would come home, I’d rush to him and ask if mommy was still alive. I cannot imagine how hard it was to answer that every night, but how much harder it was when he finally had to say no.

I don’t remember that night either.

The funeral was a blur, filled with hugs from strangers and lots of tears.

Going back to 2nd grade was awful. My first day back I walked in late with my dad, I was met by teachers I did not know and again more awkward hugs. I just wanted to pretend nothing had happened. But when I walked into my classroom there was a whole message written on the chalkboard about how sometimes people die and go to heaven with God. Now everyone knew and I was going to be THAT kid. The one who’s mom died. Just like the one whose dad died or whose parents were divorced. And I’d have to go to that stupid van and talk to Mr. Davis like all the other weirdo kids. GREAT.

My friend Jillian motioned for me to sit next to her, there was some relief met by the fact that I could be next to my best friend still I wanted to sink into my chair and hide. Forever.

Through the years.

Growing up without my mother was difficult; I felt it most in grade school when there were mother daughter events or when we had to do arts and crafts for mothers day. It seems trivial but teachers always made a big deal about it – like they went so far as to pull me from the room to go do something else. It always felt worse then, like it was reminding everyone that I was motherless, but more so reminding me. There were always times when I wished she was around, when it would have been nice to have her pick out a prom dress with me or my first bra, even though I honestly never needed one and still don’t . I was lucky to have 7 full years with my mom, to be able to see the strength she possessed, especially in the face of her disease, and to be taught to have compassion and kindness for others.  I was also lucky enough to have a bunch of strong women in my life to help me through growing pains and just life in general. Even better I have an amazing father who sat in on brownie’s mother daughter pictures, picked out every single prom dress for me, made sure I never wanted for anything and would even get my tampons at cvs when I asked. I was and still am very lucky to have the family I have.

Now.

One of the things that I always wish I had more of are photographs with my mom. I have a TON of baby books that I have always enjoyed looking through. They are obviously filled mostly with photos of me but there are not a ton of my mom and I. She always preferred to be behind the camera. There are some where I can see parts of her arm holding me, but not many of just the two of us. It has always been one of the things that bothers me most.

When you lose someone, it’s not really all at once like you’d think, physically yes, but the rest happens slowly over time. I was young. I had 7 years with my mom, my memory of her has mostly faded to the point where I can honestly say, I don’t know that I’d recognize her voice if I heard it today. If I didn’t have the photos of her that I do have, I often wonder if I’d remember her face. Time steals things from you, plus I’m sure there’s some PTSD tossed in there for me.

I never realized how much this bothered me until I had my own daughter, until fears I had buried deep within began to surface.

I have always been one to take a ton of pictures of Riley, I want her to have photo albums like I have. I know how much I loved to look at them when I was younger. But I wanted to make sure she had photos of the two of us, especially after I had a mammogram scare and had all but killed myself off in my head (ALL IS OKAY NO WORRIES IM DRAMATIC AF).

Pictures with a baby are hard enough but trying to get one of yourself and said baby is a whole other story. I remember one day I was all dressed up looking nice and so was Riley and all I wanted was a good photo of us because we don’t have many of the two of us and if we do, it’s a selfie. I don’t have a husband or a friend that’s following me around taking pictures like the paparazzi, (legit jealous of my sister because her girlfriend is AMAZING at taking all sorts of photos especially candid ones). So anyway on this day I like cried cause all I wanted was just one nice picture of the two of us – my sisters girlfriend got it, and it was great but I didn’t love it. (I’m also picky). I wanted one of Riley and me, where she is smiling how she does in photos of like her and my dad or her and my sister, where I’m the one taking the picture and I’m the reason her smile is so big. I wanted one where she is smiling the way she does when she looks at me, and that is so hard to get.

It seems maybe insignificant to some but to me its important – I want her to have things to look back on, and while I prefer to be the one behind the camera most of the time, it’s important to me that she has some of her and I.

So often we are running around so busy with life that we don’t have a chance to slow down and appreciate the small joys in life, like the way your child looks at you – let alone to be able to capture it on camera.

I was lucky enough to find a photographer Rhianna Clark, who was able to do just that. I have only seen a few sneak pictures but I am so in love with them and cannot wait to see the rest.

If you have been holding out on getting photos of you and your child done, I urge you to do so, even if its not professionally or if your highlights are grown out, don’t wait. Life is short and you never know whats going to happen – try and capture those small joyous moments as often as you can. Even if you look like a trashbucket.

Just kidding. I mean get nice ones if you can but also take them whenever possible.

To see our photographers work -> Rhianna Clark Photography

Love and Light

Lexie PS

3 thoughts on “Smile Like You Mean It.

  1. Lexi-I am in tears, like literally….and a little dramatic AF too lol. This blog entry is amazing and you really spoke from the heart. I’m kind of at a loss for words as your story speaks for itself. I cannot imagine what you went through and only that those feelings have reemerge with having Riley. This piece will stay with me for a while- and especially the part about highlights grown out etc…. just take the dang picture! You are a wonderful mother and I know you’re mom would be so incredibly proud! Much love – courtney

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Courtney thank you so much for your kind words!!! It’s so nice to see how much you have grown from when we first met and to see how wonderful of a mommy you are to Mary Townsend!! Sending lots of love and good vibes your way!

      Like

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