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The days went by

August 19, 2014

Little one, the days went by. Your days, the days when the entirety of what and who I am is wrung out and I remember so clearly the weight of your body, the stars on the blue blanket the hospital wrapped you in, your pale eyelashes and beautiful, stubborn little face.

The days went by, and I didn’t write here – there was no time and I was trying to put on a happy face for your sister who doesn’t know about you yet, and I had a cold, and we’d just returned from a grueling trip to Chicago, and there was no calm or quiet time. No time to put words, again, to the heartbreak.

But as the days went by I felt each and every break and crack in my patched heart. I felt them throb and stretch as they cried out in grief and told me of each emptiness that should be filled by you. I didn’t write, but I cried behind sunglasses as I chased Dot on her bicycle. I cried as I cooked dinner, and as I frantically washed all of our bedding and vacuumed the bedroom in a fit of paranoia about travel and bedbugs that turned out to be rather silly. I was even grateful, fleetingly and foolishly, that you’ll never be bothered by such things. I looked for you in every flower, gust of wind, and bumblebee. I  spoke your name into the wind and asked her to bring you word of me, but if she did, I didn’t understand the message.

The days went by, and I noticed that for the first year on these days since your death, no one called us. No one called to say they remember you, or that they miss you. It’s not surprising – harvest was on, and half of our family was recovering from that rather taxing Chicago wedding (no one mentioned you there, either, except me), and it has been six years after all. Except, well, fuck that. Six years is not a long time, is it? Is it? It doesn’t feel like a long time, especially in August. It feels like I could reach my hand out and touch those days, touch the mother I used to be and the father who watched you with love and devastation in his eyes and the small miracle of you, our firstborn, so nearly perfect and so fatally imperfect.

The days went by and I felt so terribly lonely this year, missing you and wondering why more people didn’t seem to be missing you, and trying to pretend I was fine (how I hate fucking fine!). I wish I lived in a world where I could talk about grief openly without horrifying people. I don’t want to shock or scare, just to acknowledge. You were here and loved and now you are gone and loved, and missed. I wish I could openly miss you without worrying about what people think.

The days went by and I thought about who you might have been at six. I’ll never know, but I imagine you would have welcomed Dot’s current fascination with bathroom humor and would have encouraged her to new heights of fart jokes and silliness. I imagine that you’d be helping her figure out this bike riding thing, that you’d have little patience for my constant reminders to wash your hands. I wonder if I’d be reading you Harry Potter about now. I’d give my life, paradoxical as it seems, to be able to read Harry Potter to you, Teddy.

The days have gone by, and here I am, again, wondering where all this love I have for you goes. I hope it reaches you somehow, somewhere, even though I don’t get to shape it into actions like reading or hugging, even though your ears no longer exist to hear me telling you I love you, and play nicely with your sister, and eat at least three bites of veggies, or no dessert, young man.

I say the words anyway, the same old words: I love you. I miss you. I wish you could have stayed.

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Nightmare

July 10, 2014

Back in graduate school, long before I met N or even thought about parenthood beyond the abstract, I had what I think was a panic attack. That’s the practical, likely name for it. I woke up in bed, certain that someone was sitting on my chest and holding my arms down. I couldn’t breathe or speak or scream, and I intensely wanted to do all of those things. A Chinese-American friend told me later that she thought it was a hungry ghost, and I spent a lot of time thinking of old nightmare stories where the mare doesn’t refer to horse but to a goblin or hag or unspecified supernatural being (usually female) that sits on top of a person and feeds off of their terror.

But I was living in a dark apartment in graduate student housing in a new (to me) city, and was teaching for the first time under the supervision of a mentor who never answered any of my questions or took any interest in my teaching except as a way to get out of teaching himself. So “panic attack” seems to be a good diagnosis. Reasonable, recognized, scientific. I am a logical person, with a fairly skeptical mind, and panic is easier to talk about than supernatural attack. But I’ve never been able to wean myself away from superstition and the belief in things unseen (or I’d be happily atheist right now). I’ll never know if voicing my anxieties kept the nightmare from coming back, or if it was the rowan berries and twigs I tucked into the corners of my windows and over my door.

I used to dream about saving the world. I was Girl Robin Hood, or the person with superpowers who dived into the sea to turn back the darkness and the monsters, or the leader with a plan. I was fierce and powerful and beautiful in my dreams. That nightmare in graduate school made an impression on me not only because of the substance and terror of it, but because it was such an aberration.

I don’t dream as much now, and my dreams have softened. I haven’t saved the world in a long time, though I once gave the god Thor a really great kiss before he went off to die in Ragnarök, and enjoyed the dream-privilege of Neil Gaiman babysitting Dot in his apartment so that I could have time to do some writing. Good stuff, but I sometimes miss being the hero myself. I think that might be a part of me forever lost with Teddy’s death.

Last night I dreamed that I turned my back on Teddy and he died. He was Dot’s age, in my dream – a little boy with short fair hair and some sort of internal injury. And I pulled him out of a bus – or a plane – or something – and held him before laying him on the ground next to a stranger. And Teddy was hallucinating, calling the stranger “Daddy” and talking about what they were going to do tomorrow. I wanted to keep holding him, to stay, but someone told my that Teddy couldn’t be moved, and that we needed to drive others to safety, and I heard a small gasp, then turned around, and he was dead. And then I woke up and he was (of course) still dead, and I cried in a way I haven’t for a long time and then overslept and had to push to get everyone up and out of the house.

It’s warm summer here – I fling the windows open in the evenings and rush to shut them and keep the cool air inside in the mornings. I’m aware, especially so this morning, that the warmth and smells and sounds are pulling me back to those days of hope and desperation before Teddy’s birth and to the dumb, raw grief that followed. Still. Still, I feel this. And this nightmare of last night – I got to hold him again, see him again – but I’d rather have a good old traditional nightmare sitting on my chest or to be hagridden than to dream that I let him go.

I wish I could dream of saving him, just once.

 

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Ugh, and ugh again

January 29, 2014

N has asked me to “unfriend” some of his family members on fac.ebook. He doesn’t have much of a social media presence, but I do, and at one point or another, his family members have friended me as a way of getting more news about him. I know that these friendships are more about N and Dot than they are about me, but I still don’t like having another person, even my best person, try to tell me who I should connect with online. For much of his family, facebo.ok is the only place where they see photographs of Dot, or get news about what she is doing. My mom and I talk every week, but N doesn’t talk to anyone in his family that often and this silly social media connection is the best connection they have.

So why the unfriending? Well, N’s dad invited all of his grandkids (except one, except ours) on a ski weekend in Colorado. I’m sure they had good reasons for not inviting us or talking to us about it. We live farther away than N’s brother and sister; we have turned down invitations to visit in the past; N’s relationship with his father is prickly; Dot had a busy January filled with dentistry and her first ever dance program; N’s never been that interested in skiing (I grew up in MT, so no excuse there); right now we don’t have the financial resources to fly out to CO and stay in a ski resort. So, I’m sure they have their reasons, but I wish they would have invited us anyway.

If they’d invited us anyway, the onus of not being there would be on us. Our decision and our call. And maybe they didn’t want the rejection of a no from us, which would be another understandable reason, I guess, but I wish they’d risked at least a phone call to feel us out. As it is, they’ve really hurt N’s feelings. Not mine so much, but I don’t have the long family history of divorce and step-parents and half-siblings and rejection and denial that he’s had to deal with. I’ve always known my family is right there for me if I need them, that they want me with them at family gatherings and that if I’m not invited it’s because they already know I can’t come because they’ve checked with me. N hasn’t grown up with that surety. For me this was a “your family is weird” moment, but for him it’s a “my family forgets/rejects me (and my child) again” moment.

And now I’m in this weird place where I can either just unfriend the family members (unlikely), or try to engage in further conversation about this. Neither of which I want to do. I could also lie about it, which I know is supposedly a terrible thing to do, and relationships should be based on honesty and [insert another commonplace about honesty here], but I can’t help but wonder if it might not save hurt feelings all around. It’s not just N’s decision, for one thing: it involves my connections and also Dot’s relationship with her grandparents, uncles and cousins. It’s pretty sad to have your best connection with your grandchild be through fa.cebook, but I don’t want to cut that connection without further thought and discussion.

I wish they would have given us a call.

 

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Only

December 30, 2013

“Is she your only?”

“Yes.”

I say yes now. I barely even pause. You’d have to be acquainted with this type of loss to catch that barest flicker of hesitation that comes before my “yes.” I say yes for the other people, really. In my heart the answer is always and forever no, but do I want to be the person who throws child death into a casual conversation with the nice guy who kept my child from diving head-first into the hotel hot tub? Not so much. He’s just being pleasant, and I lie in order to be pleasant back.

I’ve been spending the last few weeks being sad and angry and missing Teddy terribly. I get weepy when I see little boys and I try not to think too much about how much more fun Dot would have at Christmas if there was another kid for her to play with instead of all these adults expecting her to behave like a mini-adult. No one to wake her up early to check out the stockings, no one to giggle with on Christmas Eve as they try to fall asleep.

That’s not quite true, or fair, of course. Her father plays with her and laughs with her and tickles her. Her grandfather turned into a little kid several times during our visit, chasing her around the house, elucidating shrieks the likes of which I’ve never heard before as he jumped and pounced and chased her. I played what felt like endless games of pretend and My Little Pony.

But she’s still the only kid in grown-up land.

It’s so foreign to me. I grew up playing with my little brother, surrounded by siblings. All of my friends had siblings. And I always expected to have two. I never thought that there would be such constraints on time and money and energy, that I’d be on the brink of 40 and still paying of debts from my early twenties, that I’d find mothering my very lively daughter to be so all-consuming. I never thought my first would die.

I still want two, a living two. I stare at my birth control pills every morning before I take one, and I wonder, just a little, what might still be possible.

My brother and his wife waited until Christmas morning to find out the sex of their baby. It was very fun up until the moment I found myself in the kitchen with my mom and she was crying because of the news that they’re having a girl. I know she will love both her granddaughters and that she is happy for my brother and his wife, but I also know, because she has told me, that she wanted “one of each.” A tiny part of me hates her for that, and I am trying to come to terms with it, to terms with being angry with her for wanting a grandson when my son, her grandson, is dead. It’s a perfectly understandable desire for a grandparent, and it is not the most attractive part of my personality or something I want to indulge, that I feel this way.

It is also not the best part of me that is seethingly angry with my mother for saying “well, maybe they’ll try again,” as she dabbed her eyes, when her reaction to my saying, over a year ago, that we weren’t absolutely sure Dot would be our last baby was profoundly negative and boiled down to “Oh, I don’t think you should do that.”

There’s more going on than this, of course. N was commenting on all of the photos Mom has of my sister-in-law, and I think he was feeling a bit like chopped liver, as the expression goes. But in this case, well, my sister-in-law is the daughter my mother always wanted – professionally pretty, thin, petite, put-together, successful, practical. Not pudgy and introverted with a head stuffed full of fairy tales and contempt for blow-dryers. Not someone who runs off to work with no makeup and who cuts her own bangs over the bathroom sink and works herself into a frazzle at a job that pays okay, but not as much as you’d expect with all the advanced degree requirements. Mom loves me, but I’ve never been the daughter she really wanted. Which is usually okay because she really is a good mom and really does love me, but it gets to me sometimes.

Next Christmas, my brother and his wife are planning on visiting Mom and Dad, with their new baby, who will hopefully arrive healthy and alive and change their lives for the better. We will be there, too, and I think it will be wonderful. I still miss my brother (the one who woke me up early on Christmas morning) every year during the holiday season, and I love the idea of getting to see him as a father at last.

But after that, well, I think the Christmas after that will be just for us, at home, with our own tree and traditions, with no long travels or command performances for Dot at church or at gatherings of the larger family. N will pull out his guitar and we’ll sing carols, just our little family, and I’ll light Teddy’s candle and remember him without worrying that no one else is. I am more than ready for that.

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Frozen

December 3, 2013

We took Dot to see her first in-theater movie over the weekend. Overall, it was a good experience, even though N insisted we sit in the middle of our row, which made things really exciting when Dot “whispered” in her most urgent tone, ” I have to go potty!” and even though much popcorn was spilled, and even though every time I tried to tell her to be quiet (she had a lot to say) she would glare and me and say “SHHHH, Mommy!” AND even though we had to carry her out, kicking and screaming, after the movie was over because she didn’t want to stop running around and playing in the theater.

I like the concept of Disney’s Frozen and it did something wonderful in that the love interest wasn’t the main point of the younger princess’s story, but someone who helped her with her quest. This was something Tangled did, too, and I was glad to see it again, and especially glad to see the way the movie played with the “true love’s kiss” trope (no spoilers, but it was pretty cool). Dot loved the princesses and the songs, I loved the trolls, N loved watching Dot stare, rapt, at the screen and feeding her popcorn (when she was sitting still, which was a lot of the time, but not the whole time).

But I’d forgotten how Disney loves to dispatch parents at the beginning of their movies. Yeesh. It wasn’t nearly as brutal as Nemo, but I wasn’t ready for that part of the movie. (Tarzan is the absolute worst for this, in that the human child’s parents and the baby gorilla are both done away with at the beginning. I haven’t watched that one since college, and may never watch it again just because my heart breaks for the mama gorilla and then I get really mad about being so easily emotionally manipulated by a movie.) It’s a pity Dot didn’t have to use the potty at that particular moment, but she hasn’t asked us questions about it at all so far. She’s just starting to ask us questions about what dead means, but it’s clear to me she doesn’t get that it’s permanent. That’s the hardest thing for me, too, so I’m not surprised.

I’ve been thinking about Teddy a lot lately and I’m sure part of it is the holidays, and part of it is that my brother and his wife are expecting, and part of it is probably just me. And, oh, I miss him. I miss his baby self and I miss knowing who he’d be this year at almost five years old. The missing isn’t the hard part, really. At this point in my life, it’s just part of who I am and what I do. The hard part is feeling like I can’t tell anyone about it. N would be worried, and so would Mom. Friends and coworkers would listen and then wonder when I was going to move on. But this is what it looks like, me moving on. I play with Dot and cook Thanksgiving dinner, and am grateful that my daughter is just about toilet trained; I buy Christmas presents online during Cyber Monday and plan out what kinds of cookies I’m baking this year and try not to forget stocking-stuffers and worry that I won’t be able to find a good gift for N, and I miss my son. I miss him when I’m busy and when I’m not, and this morning when I woke up to the first real snow of the season, it was beautiful and magical and I wanted to cry because he wasn’t here to see it. And that doesn’t make me a tragic figure or someone who can’t laugh at a joke or get stuff done, but it’s always there. I want it to be there, I loved him and love him still and love has to manifest somehow, after all. But I do mind not being able to be open about it without people worrying about me.

 

 

 

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Neighborly

November 1, 2013

I am not a good neighbor.

I’m not a bad one, either, but when we moved last year I didn’t bake things and introduce myself to the people living on my block. I probably would have, in retrospect, if I had known that my daughter would make such a point of repeatedly running out the front door, stark naked, refusing to come inside until I caught her and dragged her back.

She’s only three, and I don’t want her to feel at all strange or worried about being naked at this age (it’s a short enough time that any of us gets to be that comfortable in our skin, after all), but I also worry about how others might be looking at her, from their own front windows. Also, you know, dangers lurk in the lawn – the occasional thistle or bramble, something that might cause slivers. Dog poop from the neighbors’ little black dog.

I somehow enter a conversation about tipping at restaurants and mention that I tip extra when I eat out with Dot and somehow people start talking about parents who can’t control their kids and I cringe because she has run around a restaurant before. She has climbed all over booths. Not without consequences, but she’s young and kinetic and sitting still while her parents eat a full meal is, clearly, one of the most boring things ever, even when we work really hard to include her in the conversation and entertain her. I think sometimes even when parents are working hard to help their children get used to societal norms and rules, their work is ignored if it doesn’t result in obvious obedience and silence. I don’t think we’ve ever spoiled anyone else’s dinner or grocery shopping trip, but there are times when I can’t “control” my kid and still have to pay the tab or buy milk.

I stepped out to extinguish the pumpkin lights last night, standing under the porch light that my father fixed while he was visiting. I was wearing some pajamas that have seen better days, and I suddenly remembered the woman who lived across the street from me when I was growing up. How Mom would talk about her, half pitying, half wondering, this person who did her gardening in her bathrobe and after dark. This neighbor we didn’t know that well even though we lived in one of those small towns where everyone talks about what everyone is doing. All the time.  And now I wonder about that neighbor’s story, whether she minded that people talked about her, how she grew into someone who didn’t let that stop her.

Some days I feel like I’m not doing so well acclimatizing to societal norms myself. Like a messy-haired cave woman brought forward in time against her will. I can put on a bit of polish long enough to get by, and it’s not entirely fake, but it’s an effort most of the time. I’m not good at holding up conversations with strangers, and I watch my child anxiously, hoping the tigers don’t creep out of the forest to pounce, even while I try not to be anxious. I can talk about Shakespeare and multimedia learning theory but thrumming in the back of my brain I’m cawing out death, fear, love, protect in a sort of primal chant that seeps through, eventually. Even with friends, I can’t avoid being awkward, making missteps. And this autumn I’ve been missing Teddy with what seems like renewed fierceness that I think has something to do with wanting another baby and knowing it’s not a good idea to have one, at least not right now.

Last night N and I took Dot around the neighborhood for her first evening of real trick-or-treating. We peeked through several doorways at other human beings who were just as awkward as I am, all with their own signs of being messed up. There were sleep deprived new parents, older folks who smelled of years and years of cigarettes, college students who had forgotten to get candy for trick-or-treaters, people who looked at Dot with wistfulness I don’t presume to interpret. And all of them smiled at my daughter and listened to her enthusiastic “trick or treat!” and her more quiet “thank you.”

It made me feel less alone in my messy awkwardness and helped me remember that I’m not (for worse and for better) all that unique. I’m just a part of humanity – messy, interconnected, grieving, loving, growing and aging, getting-through-the-day and wondering-what-it-all-means humanity. Halloween, mythologically speaking, is supposed to be a time when the doors between worlds are thrown open. I am grateful to the people in our neighborhood for opening their doors to us and making me feel more a part of the world, for a reminder that I am surrounded by good neighbors and that becoming one is within my reach.

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Mixed

October 22, 2013

I want a cocktail that reflects the mix of happiness and jealousy that I am feeling right now. Two parts happiness, one part jealousy. Or maybe three parts happiness and one part jealousy.

I want to make the jealousy component smaller than it is because jealousy is an ugly thing and because I don’t want it to distract from the happiness that is mine since my brother informed me last week that he and his lovely wife are expecting. They are nearing the end of the first trimester, so only a few family members know right now, but after long years of trying this is incredibly good news. I want to be an aunt. I want to see my brother get to be a dad. I want to see my sis in law holding a baby in her arms. My fingers are crossed and will remain so until May.

But they have everything. They did everything right. They are both successful and organized and have the baby-ready house and the large family car. My sister-in-law is professionally beautiful and works in television, and I am guessing that six months after giving birth she will probably be back to wearing a size three. And writing these things here makes me feel like an un-funny Bridget Jones, all petty and silly and focusing on the wrong things, but I had one thing that they didn’t have. One thing that made me think that in the grand scheme of things, if you measured my life and my brother’s they came out about even. He had the money and the smart career and the house and the savings account and I had my daughter.

And my  mom and dad visited this past weekend and it became very clear to me that I am the family screw-up, with my credit card debts (that I’m paying off, but still) and my rental home and my husband who is killing himself to finish his dissertation and my three-year-old who is strong-willed, not yet potty trained, has imperfect table manners, doesn’t listen when her grandmother tells her “no” and who spent a good part of the visit wanting to watch My Little Pony videos instead of playing with her grandparents. My mother, who loves me and has raised me well, is also the person in my life who makes me feel scruffy and insecure. She loves me, but I don’t think she’s ever been satisfied with me (except for the year when I lost forty pounds). And she made it pretty clear when she was here that she thinks I don’t know what I’m doing as a parent –  that I let Dot have too much screen time (probably true, that last, but not something you want to hear as criticism from your mother) and that I should invoke more discipline, push the toilet and the table manners and the respect for elders more than I have. I know it’s hard for Mom – she raised us by adhering to James Dobson’s books, and whenever we misbehaved, spanking could be easily invoked. We weren’t spanked often, but the threat of it played a large role in keeping us in line. And while I don’t think my brother and I had unhappy childhoods (quite the opposite) or grew up maladjusted, I do sometimes wonder what or who I might have been if corporal discipline had been out of the picture.

I spend a lot of time talking with Dot when she’s angry. I spend a lot of time telling her the whys of our rules, a lot of time sitting with her when she is mad or crying or screaming, a lot of time helping her to tell me why she is angry or why she wants to do things that she knows she shouldn’t do. I am doing my darndest to raise her well, to raise her to ask good questions, to know her own mind, to be compassionate and caring but not nice in the way I was raised to be nice. I don’t want her to always put others’ feelings before her own, but I still want her to know that the feelings of others are important. And she is very strong-willed, and sometimes I think being an only child makes her see herself more as another adult than as a child, partly because outside of school her playmates are me and N, so sometimes telling her no is hard, and sometimes getting her to do things she doesn’t want to do is hard, and this method (not that it’s anything so formal as a method, really) of parenting takes a long time, and it’s not quick or neat, and it hurts that my mother doesn’t see this as valuable parenting work, but as a problem that I’ve failed to solve.

The thing that hurts most is the fear that I have spoiled, that I am actively spoiling, my daughter. Because I do hand her the tablet after school so that she can watch videos while I cook dinner. I do let her eat too many sweet snacks, I haven’t been able to turn myself into the type of drill sergeant who could easily make both Dot and her father agree to an earlier bedtime. And on top of this, I don’t own a house, am decidedly overweight, rarely spend time on hair and makeup, only made tenure by the skin of my teeth, and have to take a day off work in order to clean up my home. It is all too easy to worry about what kind of role model I am, what kinds of bad behaviors I am modeling. I don’t get to raise Teddy, and somehow, having lost that experience, it feels extra important that I do a good job with Dot.

And now my brother and his wife are (hopefully, hopefully) going to have a wonderful little baby who will grow into a wonderful child who will most likely never through tantrums when the grandparents are visiting, who will be polite, go to bed at seven pm every night, and will be relatively perfectly raised. I can’t wait to meet this little baby, but I am having difficulty shaking off the fear that his or her existence is going to mean that my darling Dot will also be cast as the family screw-up.

Also, I really want Dot to have a living sibling. I really want another child. I’ve been feeling this longing for a baby like a sneaky, stabbing pain for the past couple months, but it would be irresponsible on several levels to pursue another pregnancy. N is just not into the idea, and at this point, I think we can either eventually own a house or have another child, but not both. Which feels like another failure on my part, actually.

Maybe writing this all out will help me to let the next few months be about my brother and his family instead of giving into the temptation to make their good news somehow all about me, which would be a pretty horrible thing to do. I am giddily happy for them, in spite of my own baggage. And giddily nervous for them, too. Unfortunately, we all know more about what sorts of things can go wrong than most families.

So I need a cocktail. So far I’m thinking of calling it a Friendly Nemesis or a Smiling Green-Eyed Monster. Maybe gin, maybe absinthe. Definitely bitters. Name and mixology suggestions welcome.

 

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