Archive for November, 2011


For November – not quite a PSA

November 18, 2011

I’m still not sure how we ended up well into November, but here it is. Today there is snow on the ground and bits of snow still sticking to the trees, and I find myself thinking of the smell of wet wool, of digging out the holiday lights from their hiding place in the basement, of what kinds of cookies I want to bake this year.

Perhaps because the smell of the oncoming Christmas holiday is in the air (and to me, this year, it smells sweet, but I realize to many it’s something to dread), I wanted to share this video, which I think is brilliant. It’s a video essay on family, about how we talk about family, and about holiday cards. It’s smart, wry, and quietly powerful, and it will definitely be helping to shape my thoughts and words as I put together my own holiday cards this year.

One of the things that causes this video essay to resonate so deeply with me is the fact that it is created by someone I know and am lucky enough, occasionally, to work with. I work with her husband quite regularly. I didn’t know about this aspect of their lives until I stumbled on this essay. That shouldn’t be surprising, that I didn’t know. It’s not really the sort of thing you sit around discussing at the water cooler or throw into the small talk that takes place at the beginning of meetings. In spite of all that, I’m surprised.

Another instance of how many hidden griefs are out there, of all the things we don’t know about others and of all the reasons we have to be gentle with each other. Another reason to think more deeply and inclusively about what we mean by family.



November 16, 2011

I sometimes think, once August and its aftermath are well over, that I am a fully functional, normal human being again. My grief is calm and even mellow. I remember Teddy and remember missing Teddy, and I miss him again, but without ferocity.

I’m not used to it, the absence of the ferocity. Maybe this is why it’s return takes me by surprise lately.

Last night, scanning through faceb.ook (You know, roughly, where this is going already, yes?), I stumbled on a post by an innocent I grew up with (I used to teach her brother at Sunday School, which adds an element of irony to all of this) about how grateful she is for God’s mercy that her son survived her pre-eclampsia and how God must have big plans for his life. And all of a sudden I want to reach through my computer screen, grab her by the throat, and shake her until she can’t say or type anything like this ever again. There’s so much anger here, and it’s so big, and violent, and inappropriate that I don’t know what to do with it. Because, here’s the thing: I’m not kidding or exaggerating when I say that I wanted to throttle her. For several moments that was the only thing in the world I wanted to do, and I indulged my violent imagination with rather detailed ideas of what it would feel like to wrap my hands around her neck. I was grateful, later, that this wasn’t an actual possibility, but the wishful throttling strikes me as an overreaction. I mean, people say these kinds of things all the time. Feeling so horribly angry over this one little thing feels like a regression.

I will, however, pat myself on the back for refraining from doing any of the following:

  • Commenting, “Oh, it’s so nice when they live, isn’t it?”
  • Explaining to her, in precise and profane detail, precisely how much I value God’s “mercy” and “miracles”
  • Driving back to my home town, waking her up, and throttling her (this only seemed like a good idea for two seconds, I promise)

Some of it is jealousy, of course. If Teddy had survived, I would probably be saying almost exactly the same things as this person did. I’d believe in miracles and think, pityingly, of those who didn’t get theirs, but the contrast between my fortune and theirs wouldn’t have haunted me much. Part of me wishes I was that more innocent person, that I were the one throwing out my little reflections on my cheap faith. Damn, but that’s humbling. I feel like I owe the world at large (and myself) an apology from the person I almost was. I’m sorry, so sorry for that.

Of course the fbook is a place that just seems to be rife with these sorts of comments, but they come up all the time in the outside world, too. I guess I’m surprised that I’m still surprised by how hurtful the term “miracle” can be when tossed around the way it tends to be. Heading into the holiday season, I suppose I should gird my loins for more miracle talk. I wish I had a better idea of how to go about effectively girding. How do you do it? Does it involve advanced blacksmithing skills? Because I don’t have those.

If I were a better person, I guess I’d try to talk to this young woman about how many hopes and dreams and plans we had for Teddy, about how much we’d looked forward to getting to know him and watching his life unfold, to seeing what he would do and how he’d make the world a better place. I’d try to show her that her laying claim to a miracle comes at the expense of my baby, my grief, my rage, and at the expense of other dead babies who were deeply loved and frequently prayed for. I’d try to get some real answers about her faith – is that really how she sees things? Is that really how she thinks it works? And maybe I’d be able to help her find a faith that is deeper and more mysterious than what she currently seems to have, or maybe I’d be able to see some kind of beauty in what she believes, possibly even without wanting to throttle her.

Alas, I’m not that strong of a person. I just hid her from my friends feed.



November 9, 2011

Her face crumples and there’s so much frustration and disappointment there that it hits me like a lash.

I don’t listen or watch closely enough to understand.
I can’t  or won’t give her what she wants.
Why can’t I understand?
Why can’t she open the box/put on her shoes/take off her diaper/pour her own bath/have more chocolate/wear rainbow jammies to school?

She arches her back, screaming, and flops to the floor, waving us away. Our hands are useless and annoying, our voices infuriate her, our worried faces apparently just piss her off. She is mad, mad, mad and she will not suffer any more of our foolish bumbling because she is mad, dammit.

It hurts N dreadfully. He wants to fix it, fix her, make her happy. Here, darling, have some more chocolate. Want to dance? Want a song? Want to go for a walk and look at the moon? Want a bubble bath?

It hurts me, too, but I’ve been toughened by a bit more exposure to her tears. Also, I think, already, she’s a bit like me, sometimes needing some space. We have a baby book that says I should hold her, but so far I can’t bring myself to use a hug as a restraint, even for her own good. I sit next to her on the floor, and I tell her I’ll stay with her. Sometimes I put my hand on her forehead, or rub her belly, but usually she flails her arms at me until I stop. Sometimes I pick up one of her books and read it, slowly, calmly, stopping to look at her, to let her know I’m paying attention.

She can really scream, this daughter of mine. Her cheeks bright red, her eyes squeezed closed, her small legs kicking.

But, after not too long, she pauses, gasps, looks at me with frightened eyes, and holds our her arms.

Now, I can hold her, hug her, wrap her up in my arms and rub her back and make soothing noises and kiss her head. Her arms wrap around my neck, strong and tight and hot, and relief washes over both of us.

“Was that frightening, baby? You were really frustrated, weren’t you?”

And we re-enter what passes for normal life around here.

I used to joke about how hard life must have been for Jesus’ younger siblings. “Why can’t you be more like your big brother?” would be something they’d end up hearing quite a lot, I imagine. I try not to compare my children, and in many ways that’s easy. They are so very different – Teddy is a boy, Dot is a girl, Teddy is dead, Dot is alive. Teddy (or his ashes, anyway) rest quietly in my dresser drawer, Dot runs through the house testing out new words, like “ferocious.” I don’t think I do compare them, really, but I do wonder how his baby- and toddler-hood would have been, and I seem to have convinced myself somehow that Teddy would have been my calm and snugly child. I have no reason to think this, and if Teddy had lived he may have treated us to some wicked tantrums, too. I’ll never know.

As it is, he is remarkably well-behaved and tantrum-free, isn’t he? My quiet oldest child. So well-behaved and quiet I hardly notice him in the room.

I don’t want to turn Teddy into Jesus. I don’t want Dot to ever have to think of her big brother as some sort of canonized, pedestal-ed example she can never live up to. For one thing, she can’t live up to him, and she is remarkably and joyously alive, my girl. For another, I really don’t want to idealize Teddy too much. He was a beautiful little boy who kicked and wiggled exuberantly in my belly, who nestled in my arms like he belonged there. He was our baby and we loved him. That is what he was. Not a saint, or a godling, or a message, or a lesson. Just our baby.

I wish he could have been more. I wish I knew what his tantrums looked like, or that he could be here to watch Dot with a puzzled look on his face, or that he was here to clamor for attention. Of course I wish that.

But he’s not here. So I hold Dot and wonder if her brother would have done this, too. I miss the arms that never wrapped themselves around my neck while memorizing the feeling of my daughter’s arms, that do. I hold her and I’m grateful for the ferocity of her, for the strong will, the climbing, the vigor with which she grabs onto life, even when that vigor is manifested in a shrieking, flailing, yelling tantrum.