I can't remember how his hand felt in mine.
That little-boy hand, that precious plump skin sheltering delicate bones, cupped within my larger, mother's hand -- I can't envision it, my muscle memory cannot re-create it the feeling.
How have I forgotten? Was I drunk too often? Did I fail to hold his hand enough? Late at night, the thoughts haunt me. I imagine myself walking him to school, as I did many times, and think of that small hand cupped in mine, in the hopes that I'll dream of it.
When I became sober, it was far beyond my capacity to predict the little, sneaky guilt-trips my mind would play on me, two and a half years later. Ridiculous, one might say---after all, I am fully aware and present to hug the whole, beloved 12-year-old young man that he is now. And yet, one glance at a photo of him at age 5 or 6 and I'm reduced to near-tears, overwhelmed with loss.
Guilt and regret are the ugly Hyde to the Jekyll of sobriety, even years in. With new awareness, we relive past experiences---or in many cases bemoan what might have been.
I can't remember the many little conversations I had with that kindergartner, the chats we must have engaged in as I walked him to school or gave him a bath. Certainly, I am being hard on myself -- I had many, many, sober conversations with him; and what parent hasn't forgotten many little dialogues, the minutiae of daily mothering?
Guilt and regret are the ugly Hyde to the Jekyll of sobriety, even years in. With new awareness, we relive past experiences---or in many cases bemoan what might have been. Pain and sorrow previously numbed by a drug or drink of choice is glaringly present, and strikes unpredictably---in the midst of a family gathering; alone, late at night; smack in the middle of an important work presentation, or during a particularly deep yoga class. Often a sober person, after years of deflecting and avoiding feeling, is shockingly unprepared to handle feelings and harsh emotions.
Or at least in my case -- I'm never ready for the overwhelming sadness when it comes, and I certainly cannot avoid the encounters or situations that trigger it. What can we -- what can I -- do when these floodgates of grief occur?
The poet Robert Frost made the oft-quoted declaration "The best way out is through" and the repetition of these words is testament to the innate truth of them. Riding the waves of grief, of regret, and allowing them to exist, to pass through me is the only way I've found to keep functioning, to process the loss and continue.
Being present with the feelings, and then holding tight to what I have now.
Often a sober person, after years of deflecting and avoiding feeling, is shockingly unprepared to handle feelings and harsh emotions.
My son may not let me hold his hand on a regular basis anymore, but he happily will regale me with every detail of his latest car-obsession, or joyously kick a soccer ball around the yard with me.
I may not remember what that five-year-old hand felt like in mine, but I can savour every second of laughter over a meal with my son now, and treasure the good-night hugs he still deigns to bestow upon me every evening.
Being open to all the intricacies of this many-splendoured life, both beautiful and painful, is the only way through.ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
Voting is one of the most important parts of our democracy. By teaching your kids about their civic duty early on, you'll position voting as something they should be looking forward to as adults. So invite them into the booth, and because stickers make everything awesome, let them wear your "I voted" badge.
It's crucial that we all understand where we came from, whether your family grew up across the ocean or across the street. Ask their grandparents to help out and they will have treasured stories and traditions to pass on to their own children one day.
In today's age of constant technological distractions, it's important to instill a love of reading in your child. Let them pick out the book, and don't be afraid to make it a real performance: voices, gestures, the whole bit. By bringing the narrative to life, you'll help your growing kids to think of reading as a joy, not a chore.
Just ask our current First Lady: It benefits the whole family to stay active. By teaching your kids how to play your favorite sport, you'll have a great excuse to bond with them for years to come ... especially during those difficult teenage years.
It's a fact of life: kids get dirty. Make bath time fun by drawing them a bubble bath filled with toys.
Whether it's knitting, gardening, collecting stamps, playing football or jogging, show them that there is more to life than looking at a screen.
Make your kids into well-rounded little humans by teaching them a musical instrument. If you're not musically inclined, look to a local school or university for references to qualified, reliable instructors. Reading music has been said to help improve intelligence in children, so it always pays to start early.
Throw on a nice outfit and dine in style with your kids. Show them which utensils to use, how to order politely, how to pass and serve food and other "adult" skills. Not only will your kids feel special -- like real grown-ups! -- but also, the manners they learn will stick with them forever. (Note: You might want to try a test run at home for the younger ones.)
Show younger children the importance of a good work ethic by sitting and helping them complete their nightly homework. By being clued into their workload, you'll better understand any struggles they have at school. Although we know every kid tires of the question, "How was school?" this is also a great opportunity to discuss anything that's going on at school beyond the classroom.
Show them where you spend your day and what you do there. Not only will this give your kids a window into your life when they're at school, but it could also help build their work ethic down the line. Take advantage of a school day off, introduce them to your coworkers and encourage them to dream big.
Keep them safe and resourceful by showing them skills like changing a tire, sewing or fixing things around the house. They'll certainly thank you later, and you'll save yourself a frantic phone call down the road.
Show them about good grooming by making regular "appointments" with them to style their hair. It can be a trial-and-error process, but it's a great way to teach kids how to handle their hair, encourage self-esteem and sneak in some bonding time.
Cooking is another life skill children can take with them through the years. Let them join you in the kitchen as your "little helper" while you prepare meals for your family. Make sure you show them how to clean up the mess, too.
Play outside with them, especially in the summer. And when it's not summer, bundle them up and do the same. Plan picnics and playdates and set up games for them in your local park.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
Follow Keeley Milne on Twitter: www.twitter.com/milnekeeley