In November of 2008, in that time that was still fresh and raw, when grief dripped bright red and steaming from my fingertips, I wrote about a lullaby that made my breath catch. I still think of Teddy whenever I sing it, and I sing it almost every night to Dot as she drifts (or sometimes fusses, moans, and kicks) her way into sleep. She pulls the songs from me in streams – folk songs and pop hits from my youth and Disney and Sesame Street classics (Rubber Ducky just cries out for a steamy torch rendition, doesn’t it?). Her father and I have remembered that we love the Cowboy Junkies, Paul Simon assures Dot that her mama loves her like a rock, and I reflect on just how many children’s songs seem to be about animals being killed or eaten. But “You Can Close Your Eyes” is a song that is hers and mine and Teddy’s, and some day maybe I’ll tell her that.
We’ve been touring child care centers. It’s good to do; it’s necessary. Because we both spent much time and money on our educations and are still paying for that we aren’t in a position to be a single-earner family. And, hard as it is to admit to myself, I want to be a working mom. I like my job, I’m good at it, and I’d like my daughter to see that, too, some day. I admit this to myself and immediately am flooded by guilt. How dare you? How dare you want to spend any time doing anything but watching her breathe, especially when you know what a miracle breath is? How dare you risk missing anything she does or says or learns? And since I can’t take a full year off and still expect to keep my job, we may go with the really-too-expensive center at our workplace just because if she’s there we can pop over and see her any time we’re free. Instead of the more reasonably-priced (but still expensive enough to defer home-ownership for another decade) center near where we live.
And I wonder if I’d be quite this guilty, anxious, and sad about the process of settling on child care if Teddy hadn’t died. I’ll never know, but I suspect not.
When Dot was born I remember looking at her with some relief and some regret and thinking, “She doesn’t look like her brother. She looks like herself.” Sometimes, though, when she’s sleeping, the shadow of her brother’s sweet and stubborn little face lies over her own sweet and stubborn little face, and she looks like him to me. I think of how he held on long enough for us to tell him goodbye, and I hope he wasn’t confused and in pain, and I wonder if he were still here, thriving and almost two years old, if anyone besides me would think he looked like his sister.
We’re attending a family get-together in late June, and I’m looking forward to it, to Dot meeting her aunts and uncles and extended family. And I’m already bracing myself because I know that Teddy’s absence will be starkly outlined by how happy everyone is about my daughter. I know that the lack of him will be glaring as a neon sign to me and that most everyone else will ignore it. I hope I’m wrong, that some of my family will be able to talk about him, but I’m preparing to be right.
We haven’t been back to Portland since we left with Teddy’s ashes in the back seat, but N and I decided to spend Teddy’s birthday there this year. We’ll take some gifts to the Ronald McDonald House that sheltered us, walk again in the hospital garden where our beautiful little boy died, see the memorial brick with his name on it, wave hello to the Tin Man sculpture who once seemed to us to be a good omen. We’ll take Dot to the children’s section of Powell’s and grab lunch at the Whole Foods grocery across the street, then breathe in the late summer scent of roses in the rose garden. And maybe, after this, we’ll be able to return to Portland without such ceremony. Maybe the weight of those memories will ease a bit if we re-trace our footsteps. Maybe we’ll return home wiser and better able to face the world without our son in it.