Archive for April, 2012

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Butterfly dance

April 27, 2012

Dot has a new nightgown, made from light-weight cotton with a pattern of brightly colored butterflies strewn across it, a ruffle at the hem. N brought it upstairs, fresh from the wash, last night, and she happily stripped off her shirt and insisted she wear it. Then she twirled around the kitchen, laughing.

Butterfly girl. Rainbow girl. Bright spark.

She danced with her daddy, round and round the living room to Beth Orton, one of N’s favorites though I find the sad echoes in her singing almost too lovely to bear sometimes. I guess that’s one way I’ve really changed over the past four years. I shy away from certain beauties I used to seek out. N held Dot in his arms and looked at her with so much love and happiness on his face that I was torn between laughing and sighing. They ran out in the cold drizzle to look for the moon, and, not finding her, came back to me.

Dot reached for me and took my hand, slid down out of N’s arms, still gripping his fingers tightly. She made us hold hands, too, and we found ourselves a circle of three, swaying and ring-a-rosy-ing to the music, directed by this tiny, whispy-haired girl who somehow knew that right then the most important thing was for us to hold hands and dance. So we dance, our little family together, surrounded by soft lamplight and music. And I was swept up into an intoxicating sort of happiness, knowing that this was a moment I would never forget, knowing that these are my loves, these two. And that I am their love as well. And that we have a few precious moments to hold hands and be who we are right this minute and love each other fiercely, and dance.

And the itch in my hands as they wanted to reach for the child whose hands we aren’t holding – how do I explain that it added to the dizzying beauty of it all without devolving into that silver lining business that I hate? We are three and we make a good three, but our fourth – I still long for him. We are complete and also forever incomplete and this makes the moment so dazzlingly bright that my eyes puddle with tears.

It’s so exhilarating and terrifying to know how precarious this is, how ephemeral we are with our fragile and miraculous joys, our brightly colored wings not meant to last. I can’t hold it in my mind for very long.

But we have a little time to make much of. And the dance – I think somehow the universe will hold it in its memory, this bright flash of a moment. The joy and togetherness and fractured loveliness – they matter, somehow, to something larger than myself, larger than us. I hold on to that while reminding myself of all I can’t hold on to.

 

 

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Attached

April 19, 2012

Last night I worked late and N took Dot for a Daddy & Daughter’s Night Out. They went shopping, played at the park, had dinner at a restaurant, and then came to pick me up. Dot was happy as a little, well, happy thing. N looked exhausted.

He isn’t allowed to try to teach five classes in a single semester. Not ever again. It’s bad for our collective health, and it almost breaks my heart to see how tired he is.

After getting home, convincing Dot to get out of the car turned out to be impossible. End of a long day. She had to be carried, screaming and kicking, into the house where she proceeded to tell her father, the man who’d just drained all his reserves to keep her safe and happy and entertained, the man who’d lie down in front of an oncoming train if it would protect her, that he needed to “Go away!” She wailed and lay on the floor and let me know that she’d wanted to play in the car and that she was really mad that I wouldn’t take her back to the car. And I waited until she asked for milky and then we cuddled on the bed.

Yes, she still nurses. We’re going to do more with weaning very soon because I am finally so tired of being the amazing human pacifier that I’m willing to give up my few daily moments of guaranteed peace and quiet, but it will wait until the semester is over, because our collective family sanity is hanging by thin threads and I don’t want to add any further stressors to the mix. And, at times like this, I’m so glad that there’s a shortcut to ending the tantrums. She’s a very passionate little person, and learning to process all those feelings is hard for her, I think.

While cuddling, she said, “I don’t have to be scared anymore,” which is the sort of thing that makes the back of my neck prickle. “Were you scared, Sweetheart?”

“Yeah.”

“Could you tell me more about why you were scared?”

“Yeah.” And this was followed by a long pause, and then, “He’s a big guy!” And then, “I need a hug.”

And I hugged her as my brain began to panic, wondering if someone has been trying to molest or kidnap my two-year-old. I know, I know. Overreaction. And then I realized that she wasn’t upset, not really. She was just reflective and cuddly. So I let it go for the night. I talked her into pajamas and books and going to bed, snatching bites of my own dinner between all of this. I told her the story of the water fairy and Delilah, the adventurous froglet as we curled up together and both drifted off to sleep.

This morning I mentioned that conversation to N, who knew all about it. Yesterday at the park they encountered a big and bouncy ten-year-old. That was Dot’s “big guy.”

I worry about the truth of that statement. You don’t have to be afraid anymore. I wish it were true, and I hope we can keep making it true for a long time.

I whisper it to the listening air, You don’t have to be afraid anymore, either, Teddy.

And because my imagination is very good, or possibly because I’m so tired from waking up in the middle of the night to a toddler grasping for me that I’m hearing things, or maybe (maybe) because it’s true, I hear this –

I’m not, Mommy. It’s okay. I’m not afraid.

Okay, then.

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Too close

April 18, 2012

This is rather a whiny post. I apologize in advance. I know this isn’t my best side, but it’s a side. And I decided to show it in this space because I can’t think of where else to go to process this.

At my workplace, I’m on a couple of steering committees that oversee different “Teams.” One of those teams staffs a public service desk, with team members each being assigned a certain number shifts to fill up a certain number of hours a week. The work done at this desk, the work of this particular steering committee of which I’m a part – both are something I’m passionate about. And both require a lot of thought and work and (sometimes) defending as we face staff shortages and shifting organizational priorities.

I realize that’s vague. It’s back story and it’s about my workplace, and I try to be discreet when talking about my workplace. But sometimes my work life and my life life aren’t separate creatures. More often than sometimes, really.

We were discussing asking anyone anticipating an extended leave to publicly provide an anticipated return date. This sounds very reasonable, yes? And even necessary, when you are looking at staffing a public services desk. But there are two problems:

  1. This would have been a guideline ostensibly for the whole team but in reality aimed at a very small group. This sort of communication, the “Everyone remember to …” with a side of “We’re looking at you, Billy” just doesn’t sit well with me. If someone has a problem with a particular person’s work, why can’t they just approach that person directly?Yes, I know there are times when that doesn’t work, but there are times when not being direct is taking the easy way out in a way that just allows resentment to fester unecessarily.
  2. The small group in question? Pregnant people. To be clear, pregnant people in my workplace now number zero, but relatively recently pregnant people number two, me and a coworker. Really recently pregnant people – that’s just my coworker. Who came back to work earlier than expected after giving birth, which is apparently what started all of this off (I’m still surprised that people weren’t just happy to have her back sooner than expected).

And point number two is where I just can’t even speak to the issue because I’m so close to it. I carefully planned two pregnancies, two work absences. In terms of them going as planned I’m a complete failure. Pregnancy number one involved a life-threatening congenital defect and unexpected bedrest. Though my baby did conveniently die, making it easy to pick a date to return to work and also making it harder for my coworkers to be irritated by my inconveniencing them.  Pregnancy number two is the one that was problematic, from the working perspective. First of all, again with the unexpected bedrest. Followed by a birth a couple of weeks early than expected. Followed by my coming to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to be fit to work as soon as I’d hoped – not for physical reasons but for emotional and situational ones which I didn’t discuss with anyone at work because I didn’t have to. My partner wasn’t comfortable taking care of the baby for extended time periods. I wasn’t comfortable not reassuring myself as to her being alive for extended time periods. And I probably should have known I was going to be a hot mess & planned accordingly, but I didn’t. So I didn’t give my return date as promptly as I should have.

It’s true, pregnancies can be planned for. A lot of them probably even go according to plan. But expecting them all to go according to plan and expecting new parents to know what they’re doing before they’re even new parents – in my experience this is maybe not the best way to look at pregnancy.

And now I feel like I’ve contributed, negatively, to the perception of pregnant people in my workplace. That my pregnancy difficulties (which can’t be addressed directly, legally) and my being a hot mess after Dot’s birth, have messed up the environment where I work. To the point that, when my energetic, enthusiastic, hard-working coworker returns to work earlier than people expected after the birth of her daughter, this is treated as an inconvenience instead of what it is, a damned good thing. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Hurray! More guilt. Because what I really wanted now that I finally am starting to feel like I’m more healed than broken – more guilt!

The ironic part is, there just aren’t many of us working here who have young children, and there’s a very slim chance there will be any pregnancies in the organization’s immediate future, so this is a definite case of closing the gate well after the cows have gotten loose.

The sad part is that if we weren’t so weirded out by the fact that work life and life life aren’t actually always separate things, there would have been the kind of mentoring available to both my coworker and me that would have allowed us to minimize this sort of fall-out. And I also wouldn’t have been so private about what was happening to me medically and personally, which would have allowed for better planning if not for more understanding.

The saddest part is that I now realize that my workplace, which I’d viewed as extremely accommodating and supportive, may not have actually been as willingly supportive as I thought it was. I think I’m wrong about this, that what I’m seeing right now is due to a lot of factors beyond my control and that most, if not all, of my colleagues are truly supportive, and that after I’ve had a few days to process, I’ll be able to believe this again. Still. Blech.

Baby loss. The gift that keeps on giving.

The steering committee did decide that we didn’t want to issue the guideline as coming from the committee. I expect the person who drafted it will take their concerns to the administration. And, years from now, if any of my colleagues is expecting, I will have some decaf coffee with them and try to offer the kind of mentoring I wish I’d had.

 

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Slings and arrows

April 6, 2012

I think I expected this kind of pain, but not really. I wasn’t naive enough to think that parenthood was a continually happy love-fest where everyone hugged and held hands and danced among the daisies. But I didn’t really know how much it would hurt to have my dearest wee Dot look at me ferociously and yell, “No! Go away! I just want Daddy!”

Daddy gets it too, of course. “No! Just Mommy right now!”

And we’re going through a phase where we kiss our daughter and she furiously scrubs at her head or her cheek, glares at us, and says, “I’m wiping your kiss OFF!”

She’s two. These are all parts of being two, I think. Of testing the boundaries of her power, of seeing how far she can bend the world to her will, or testing (constantly) to see how we’ll react. She’s two, and it’s hard to be two, and we forgive her before the words have even left her mouth, but they still hurt. I’ve seen pain and resignation pass over N’s face so many times in this past week, and I know he’s seeing similar feelings on my face. She’s only two but she hits us, with devastatingly good aim, right where it hurts.

Maybe this is good. Maybe I’ll be tough and weathered and battle-hardened by the time she turns 13.

Sometimes I worry about my heart – is it too tender? Is it tenderized? She is not her brother, but she is here, and by virtue of being here, she gets slathered with all the love I feel for her and a lot of the love I feel for him as well. I didn’t get to make him happy, to coax smiles onto his face, to cuddle him close when he had bad dreams, to tell him about plans to leave the Easter Bunny a carrot. I can do these things for Dot, and it’s not just a joy, but a relief, somehow. I love Teddy, but there’s not much I can do with that love but remember and write and talk to him under my breath. So the active loving I get to do with Teddy’s little sister is shaded by the fact that there’s pent-up love behind it.

There’s pent-up love behind the small rejections and the dismissals and the toddler tantrums, too, though. I think sometimes that losing Teddy may have made me too sensitive, may have made it difficult to “suck it up” and be the grown up. Or maybe it’s this hard for everyone. I don’t know.

On twitter the other day, I caught the following tweet by Roger Ebert, of all people: “The death of a little girl. Sad beyond words. http://nyr.kr/HRZgSs

Of course I clicked on the link. I had to. It itched at me like a scab wanting to be picked. I opened up the New Yorker article, scanned the title and then stopped in shock when I saw the byline. Aleksandar Hemon, who writes devastatingly bleak, uncompromising, beautiful stuff that I can only read if I psych myself up for months, was in graduate school with me in my other life as an English Lit scholar. We weren’t especially close, but we had classes together, commiserated over paper deadlines together, had some of the same friends. Everyone loved his wife.

During 2010, one of the best, if hardest, years of my life, he and his wife lost their baby girl. I feel strangely ashamed that I didn’t know even though I can’t think of any reason why I would have known. And as I read his words, still uncompromising and beautiful, what struck me most is how similar they are to the blogs I read. So many of the same questions – “And how do you step out of a moment like that? How do you leave your dead child behind and return to the vacant routines of whatever you might call your life?”

So many of the same hurts: “Without Isabel, Teri and I were left with oceans of love we could no longer dispense; we found ourselves with an excess of time that we used to devote to her; we had to live in a void that could be filled only by Isabel. Her indelible absence is now an organ in our bodies, whose sole function is a continuous secretion of sorrow.”

I hate it that someone else has to feel this way. Again. I especially hate it that someone from my past life, someone I liked, if distantly, had to go through a fight for his child’s life that ended in her death. I hate it that he and his wife had (and have) to live through the isolation and continual pain of that. I am grateful to him for writing about his daughter in a place many people can find, and I keep returning to the idea that, while so much of this essay is centered around isolation, so much of it felt like the words I see shared by so many grieving parents. This club no one wants to join – I both bless and curse the fact that I am not the only member, that I’m not the only person who knows all the different stabbing, throbbing hurts that come with the death of a child.

Maybe the knowledge of these particular kinds of hurts will be a strength as well as a weakness in my own parenting. Maybe my tenderized, desperate heart will be balanced by this fact: that no matter how much it hurts to endure my toddler’s scorn and fury over being made to wear pants, or how hard it is to take her rejections, none of this hurts even the smallest fraction as much as the ache of her brother’s absence. In the face of that I can almost welcome the barbs and punches that come with loving my living child.

Having said that, tomorrow she can stay in her pajamas as long as she wants.

If you want to read the New Yorker article and the link above isn’t working for you, you can find it here:  http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/06/13/110613fa_fact_hemon#ixzz1rHTic3sm. It’s worth reading, though part of the reason it’s worth reading is that it’s intensely painful.