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I recently went to see the most recent movie from Nicolas “The Notebook” Sparks. I was going with my parents so we settled on Safe Haven with Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough as a film we could all agree on. I wasn’t expecting much. I like romances but Sparks’ stories are pretty predictable and I find I generally waver between pleasantly entertained and slightly eye rollie. The only exception to this rule so far would be Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in the aforementioned Notebook. The scene when they’re on the floor of the old plantation house elevates the film well beyond any typical feel good romance. Anyway, Safe Haven was exactly what I was expecting and was enjoying it well enough until I found I was becoming increasingly emotional. By the end of the film I was so overwhelmed I went to the bathroom and bawled my eyes out. The whole experience got me thinking about how our reactions vary so drastically depending on our perspective. The film had a different affect on me than everyone else in the theatre, except maybe my mother who was seeing it through my eyes.

Safe Haven (SPOILER ALERT) is about a young woman who escapes her abusive husband to find herself in a vacation town on the coast of South Carolina where she meets a handsome widower and his two adorable children. It’s relatively straightforward. She’s got trust issues, he’s still dealing with the struggle to move past his beloved wife, they fall for each other, love conquers all and, after her crazy ex-husband gets shot in the chest with his own gun, they live happily ever after.

safe havenThe thing is, I was supposed to be rooting for the couple. I was meant to see her fill the void left by the children’s mother. I was to hope she’d trust this marvelous man – only alone by a cruel trick of fate – and cheer when she finally let her guard down enough to see that not all men are bad and that she was worthy of love. As I followed the plot however, I became increasingly aware that the character I was most associating with was not the main girl, or the husband or even the children. The character I was projecting onto was the dead mother. For obvious reasons the mother was the character I found myself most connected to. There’s a scene where Josh explains his son “remembers his mother” while the younger daughter just “remembers the idea of her”. It was supposed to make me see that if Julianne could win over the son, the daughter was already hers and everything would just fall into place. I found the entire thing devastating. Loch is younger than the daughter in the film and I know should something happen to me now, he’ll never truly remember me and another woman will easily be able to take my place in his heart. The son in the movie is older, say 11, and he’s angry and confused by his mother being gone but also by his Dad’s interest in a new woman and I found that concept equally unbearable. But, because this film is about two people falling in love and not the story of how people deal with grief, after a few short scenes of minor tween attitude, the boy is equally won over by the successor and ready to move on. Nice for the child. Nice for the Dad. Nice for the new girlfriend. But I’m still sad for the dead mom.

Did I mention the dead mother shows up to befriend and get to know the replacement. Yep, so there's that too.

Did I mention the dead mother shows up to befriend and get to know her replacement. Yep, so there’s that too.

At one point Josh Duhamel looks through a stack of letters in his wife’s old office which has been left like a shrine. It appears the mother wrote a collection of letters to be read by her surviving family members at key moments in their lives, “To My Son on his Graduation” or “To My Daughter on her Wedding Day”. Those letters, all sealed and waiting, are there to make us feel for the husband, for the burden he’s carrying and the job he’s now doing alone, but I was weeping away in my seat for the woman who wrote them and what she had to leave behind. Later in the film when that same building burns to the ground (thanks to the unbalanced ex) and I wasn’t worried for the child who had to jump from the roof or the female lead wrestling her ex with a gun, I was worried for the letters. Those painstakingly written last hopes and dreams. The final thoughts of a mother who had to leave her family but wanted them to know she was still with them. I kept thinking “Save the letters! Save the letters!” and when they didn’t, I was a wreck.

safe haven with kidsAs it is with these kind of books and films however, there was a loophole. The letters, which were stored in a metal desk, were discovered intact when the husband roots through the debris after the fire. At the end of the film Julianne’s character, sitting on a beautiful, old tree swing, is given one of those letters. The letter is simply addressed “To Her”, meaning the woman who comes after, the woman my husband has chosen to love. As Josh and the darling moppets fish in the warm Carolina sun Julianne reads the letter. The dead mom’s voice over wishes her love and joy. She says she’s happy her son will have a mother and her daughter a confident. She says that she knows her husband must really love her because she’s reading this and she’s now able to move on because she knows her family’s taken care of. Julianne looks up, her eyes lock with Josh and they stare lovingly at each other. Their happy ending is all but guaranteed and all I could think of was the poor dying woman who’d been reduced to a disembodied voice.

Life is perspective. We hear in songs what we’re experiencing at the time. We react to words people say with the spin we feel in our soul. Someone having a baby is great news unless you just had a miscarriage or have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get pregnant. Getting an expensive present from your husband is lovely unless you know your family’s struggling with money. Birthdays make some people depressed and other people, like me, super happy. Our take on things is amplified by how we already feel. I was happy for the couple in the film but I didn’t care about them like I did for the woman who had to say goodbye before she was ready.  I’m not feeling as noble as she was about being replaced, though for the sake of Sean and Loch I know eventually I might have to adjust.

safe-haven-julianne-hough-josh-duhamel2There was one moment in the film I really appreciated. A second where they took a moment from courting to honor the memory of the person who was gone. The couple are at a particularly romantic location and Julianne asks Josh if he used to bring his wife there. He says yes and admits that for a while he tried to avoid places that reminded him of her because he thought it would be easier. He says he tried to put her from his mind, to not think of her… but he realized that wasn’t fair to her memory. That if he wasn’t remembering her, who would? He says, “She was wonderful and doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.”

Should I go, I would want Sean to find love again. I would want him to be happy. I would want Loch to have someone to love and mother him, to hug and kiss him and tell him everything was going to be ok. I wouldn’t want them to be alone but the thought of someone taking my place kills me. No matter how healthy it would be for them, I’m not ready to be forgotten. Right now I still believe I’ll beat my disease but, should I go down hill, I can see softening to the idea of being replaced. I can imagine a time where I’ll be at peace with the thought of simply being a memory and, with all the letters I write to Loch, perhaps I should take the time to write one to “Her” as well.

Sometimes the right thing to do is also the hardest. It’s all a matter of perspective.

xo leigh

On the Occasion of your 5th Birthday

Dear Loch

You just turned five. You’re FIVE years old. Half a decade. No longer a baby. A full fledged kid. You don’t toddle or struggle for words. You make yourself and your feelings heard. You are loving and empathetic, kind, funny, popular and cheeky. I am honored to know you and am so proud of who you’re becoming. I adore you with all my heart.

People say it goes so fast. The years fly by and one day your child is grown and you wish you could do it all again. You wish you’d spent more time together, not sweated the small stuff, appreciated every minute. I’ve heard that every time I’m at the end of my rope I should try and transport myself to the future and see my life after Loch’s grown. I should take a look in my rearview mirror and see no carseat, no goldfish, no little face. I should imagine hearing no kid music or little voice talking from the backseat and that should give me the perspective to see all the monotonous activities morphing into lovely memories I’ll surely miss. Though I understand this as a noble exercise that could possibly grant me that extra scrap of patience when I’m steps away from losing it, the truth of the matter is I believe true perspective is only really possible in retrospect. photo 4 copy 2  We can enjoy the company of our children, appreciate the moments of love and affection, revel in our unconditional love for each other, we can kiss their sweet faces and pray over their little sleeping bodies, but we can’t truly appreciate the passage of time until it’s passed. It’s too much to expect of ourselves and just another thing to feel guilty about when we don’t succeed. You can’t see a forest if you’re tied to a tree and the rope only slackens up as our children age and gradually pull away on their own. It’s only with distance that we can see a bigger picture. Yes, childhood goes fast but in many ways it also goes slow. I stayed home with you. I’ve been with you every day of your life.* I was there when you walked and talked and sang and learned and grew. I committed to your well being, your education, your entertainment. I introduced you to everything from manners to live theatre and all the things in between. I’ve been your constant companion, champion, teacher and friend and I’ve loved almost every minute of it.

photo 2 copy 2Being a parent is by far the best thing I’ve ever done. Being your parent is a gift from God I’m grateful for every day. I know I’ll look back on these baby years with longing but I’m also looking forward to the next step. I know there a lot of working parents who feel guilty they’ve missed some milestones but I don’t find myself in that position. I didn’t miss anything in your life. The things I missed were things that belonged to me. As a parent whichever way you choose you’re going to miss out on something. It’s impossible to do it all, be it all. have it all. Something has to give. If you’re at work you’re missing out on your kids. If you’re with your kids you’re missing out on your work. We do the best we can and live with the guilt however it comes.

Hendershott Photography is the best. Working with Adam & Sylvia is such fun!

I’ve been tired lately. Not of you but of me. I’ve been so caught up in the business of being a parent I find I’m less capable of experiencing the joy of being a parent. I watch your Dad play with you and I get down on myself for not being more like him. As you wrestle or play superheroes or legos I feel I should be able to handle more than an hour (or sometimes 15 minutes) of down-on-the-floor-playing but I can’t. I’d rather be out in the world experiencing something with you, or taking you somewhere, or getting some writing done or folding the damn laundry.

photo 1 copy 4I fight to live in the moment when I have so many other things in my mind. On the flip side your Dad’s time with you is more spuratic, more fleeting. He’s able to give himself over to you completely because your time together is finite. Our time together is more extensive and fluid. We’ve experienced so much together. Played for hours at all ages. You’ve grown up in front of my eyes and I’ve decided not to get down on myself for being excited for the next phase. I’ll always treasure our days together but I look forward to having some time belong to me again. Time to find worth in my work and not just your behavior. Time to explore my own happiness and not just live vicariously through yours. You will always be my top priority, my first and most important job, your happiness will always come before mine, but as you grow, so again shall I.

photo 2 copy 3I’ll miss these days. I’ll miss our time together. The concentrated, one-on-one Mommy/Lochie time. I’ll miss your unbridled affection, your devotion to me, your constant desire to be with me. You recently told me you didn’t want to turn 5. When I asked why you said it’s because 5 year olds have to go to kindergarden and you’d rather stay in preschool. You understood it. You liked it. You weren’t ready to move on. I get it. I have moments when I feel exactly the same, both for your life and mine, but I told you no matter what we do we can’t stop time from marching on. We have birthdays, we get older, we transition to the next phase and the best we can do is appreciate each one as it comes.

I have six months until you start kindergarden. Half a year to truly treasure these last days of your first phase before we start celebrating the beginning of the next. Every part of your life is important, every transition exciting, and even though each step will take you further from my side, each one only solidifies you in my heart. I love getting to know you Lochlan. I love the discovery of who you are and who you might be. I am not afraid of you getting older. I will look back on these days as glorious memories. I’m not sad. I’m excited and proud and I only hope I’m around for the many more phases to come.

Happy 5th Birthday Darling boy!!!

xoxox your mommy

Photo credit for all green pictures to the lovely geniuses at Hendershott Photography. We are so lucky they like to use our kid to play around. Yay Adam & Sylvia!

Photo credit for all green pictures to the lovely geniuses at Hendershott Photography. We are so lucky they like to use our kid to play around. Yay Adam & Sylvia!

* Every day except nine. Three, weekend trips with your father and one three night trip to NYC when you were two