When I was expecting my second child at 23, I asked my mother how I could possibly love another child as much as my first. Mom was, after all, the mother of four.
Her answer was simple:
“The heart expands.”
She generously left out the part about hips, waistline and laundry pile expanding.
The second baby arrived. In love all over again, I was thrilled with my new little daughter and all the wonderful new baby tricks, including smiling while spitting up, a feat I’ve always found quite engaging.
My third child, years later, clinched it. Mom had been right on the money. My heart was full indeed. No one was told, “Move over.” There was always room.
In 2006, my mother passed away. At the time, my husband Ted and I were engaged, living together, and his mother Margaret (“Muggsie”) – at age 91 – came for several days as family gathered. Although I’d had time to prepare for Mom’s death, I was just heartbroken. The world would not be the same without her. Being my mother’s daughter, crying merged with laughter merged with chocolate.
After the funeral, after celebrating her life, after the food – an essential part of any Eliscu gathering – things finally quieted down.
“Want to play Zilch?” Muggsie gently asked. Zilch is a simple dice game, like poker or Yahtzee.
Muggsie had taught me this game a year earlier at her house in New York, and it could get quite competitive and very funny.
“Ted!” I’d yell, after Muggsie scored big. “Your mother’s cheating!”
“You, uh, want to reroll that one?” she’d fire back, grinning, when I got top points.
I didn’t know her well yet, but I liked her.
Enough background – and I’m not sharing any of my winning Zilch secrets. Let’s just say I figured out how to win, at least half the time.
So there we were, post-funeral – the others had gone to their hotels, or to bed in our farm house, worn out and sad. I knew I couldn’t go to sleep yet. At Muggsie’s suggestion to play Zilch, I began looking through the house for the necessary six dice, pulling out every board game I’d ever owned, inhaling decades’ worth of dust. I couldn’t find more than five dice. It was too late to go to a store. Just where are those all-night dice shops when you need them?
“I know. The upstairs closet,” I yelled, and ran upstairs. Nothing.
“Maybe the basement closet!” I said as I ran downstairs. No sixth die. At least I was getting some exercise, which always gets me thinking.
Minutes later, I was giggling myself silly in the kitchen. Muggsie, from the living room, called out, “Are you OK?”
With all the noise I was making – shelves and drawers opening, slamming shut, things flying past the doorway between the rooms, shrieks of another-world kind coming from me – she must have thought I’d gone completely over the brink. It took 10 minutes, which included a fast run to the bathroom and more doors opening and closing. You definitely don’t want to be laughing hysterically with a full bladder, trust me.
Tears streaming down my face, sweating, laughing, crying, I emerged, beyond words, walked over to her, and brought my hand from behind me to present her with my effort: one handmade paper die, complete with penciled-in numbers 1 through 6, taped together, barely usable.
We both laughed as we played with the five real dice plus this imposter, which only seemed to land on 2. We sat together, playing Zilch, for a couple of hours, with hysterical outbursts from time to time from yours truly, in the accepting, kind company of my future mother-in-law.
Mine was the laughter of a woman exhausted, who’d buried her beloved mother just hours earlier, who was badly in need of a break from her sadness, who desperately needed her mother back.
The woman who sat with me through this was not my mother. But she mothered me well.
And it was then, on that night, that my heart expanded once again.