The day we decided to surprise our three boys with a trampoline, we stayed up late putting it together on the back patio after they were in bed, with me on constant lookout, sneaking into the hallway to listen for any signs that we might be discovered. There was so much joy and anticipation that night as we waited to see their delight when they woke up in the morning.
I remember a scene from that summer: three little boys with shirts off, jumping in a circle and making up games, giggling, carefree for a moment. I snapped a picture, knowing I couldn’t keep them. Knowing that without the picture, I might not even remember.
Tonight, another family is coming to take the trampoline. I’ve been waiting for the day we could finally get rid of that old eyesore and have a little space to create something different out there. Of course I anticipated that, as soon as we said it had to leave, the kids would return to jumping with fervor, because it is just so hard to say goodbye. Growing up has so many layers of loss, and they feel this as much as I do.
My 9-year-old asked me, as I tucked him in last night, “Mom, will you remind me to jump on the trampoline tomorrow so I don’t forget?” I promised I would. As I watched him jump and giggle with his neighborhood buddy, I felt hot tears streaming down my face. Smiling ear to ear watching them, I could taste the salty tears that burned my eyes. I was aware of the familiar, frantic feeling in my chest that has come so often to me as a mother: I don’t want to let go. But they were never mine to hold. Every day is another step in goodbye; loss is inherent in all of our journeys.
“But why do we have to get rid of it now?” they wanted to know. “There isn’t anything to replace it yet.”
“Yes,” I said, “but it’s not being used, and we are getting ready for something.” It’s the beginning of another story—one where we can clear and dig and plan and plant. Next year, we could have a garden if we work hard, or maybe a spot to play games, or a sandbox for the baby. And we’ve talked about a special bench next to Hope’s tree, where we buried the baby we never got to hold. What do we want? We have to begin, to make space, and this is the first step.
It hurts because we all know deep down that time is passing, that we are changing, and that growing means goodbye. It’s part of my job as a mom to be willing to feel this, and to help put it into words with them, so that they can name that which they inherently feel. They need to know it’s okay—no, more than okay—to feel the pain of life. If we can feel it together, we can really be together, now, while we are here.
We can’t feel joy if we refuse to feel sorrow.
So I got the baby down for a nap and I texted my 15-year-old, at the mall with friends, then I sat down on my bed to cry for a while. I remember the little boys who passed hours on the trampoline. I remember the laughter and the fights. I remember them with their little plastic plates eating lunch out there. I remember chicken nuggets and carrot sticks and sticky popsicles. There were birthday parties when we filled the trampoline with balloons. There were endless games of Crack the Egg. They learned to do front flips and back flips and they would yell for me, “MOM! Come see what I can do!” That doesn’t happen anymore. I cried because their baby brother didn’t get to be a part of it, and he won’t have brothers to play with as he grows. I cried because I can’t keep them, and because, while it’s all so beautiful, life has also brought a lot more sorrow and hurt than I thought it would when I started out.
I know for sure that I wouldn’t trade any of their wild and messy childhood for a quiet house, for sleep, or even for sanity. I chose them and I will choose them every day while I still get the privilege of having them close. And even though I will want to hide in the bedroom while this new family takes our trampoline tonight, instead I’m going to watch it go. I’ll be there if the boys are hurting or if they are mad. And I’ll probably cry at seeing that decrepit thing carried out of our little backyard, piece by piece. And then, when we are done with tears, anger and hurt, we’ll start writing the next chapter that has already begun.
Annie Dewaal is a psychotherapist in Edmonds, Washington, where she lives with her husband and four sons. When not working, Annie finds joy and feels like herself when actively creating—planting flowers, singing and playing guitar, or working on remodel projects for her fixer-upper home. She’s considering adding writing to that list. You can connect with Annie at anniedewaal.com.