Another way of missing

June 21, 2012

Last week I took Dot to the nearby playground before dinner. As I pushed the stroller through the schoolyard she saw a group of kids sitting together on the grass, and as we passed them she called out, “Where are they goin’?”

“Nowhere, Honey. We’re going to the slides.”


“But look, there are kids over there, too. Do you want to go see?


And we did go see. And she played with a little girl a year or two older than she was, and was in perfect bliss for all of ten minutes before the other little girl went home with her family.

“Where’s she goin’?”

“She’s going home with her brothers and sister.”

And after that the fun went out of the playground. We half-heartedly tried another couple of slides, glanced at the swings, and then I heard Dot say something she’s only said maybe once before in her life: “I want to go home.”

And I stood there with tears threatening to leak out of my eyes, blinking fiercely, wishing her brother was here to play with her. Wishing she had the sort of companion I grew up with, realizing that she misses Teddy even though she doesn’t yet really even know he was here. I’m angry all over again. He was my son and I miss him terribly, but he should have been her playmate, her mentor, her sometime-tormentor and biggest critic and biggest fan. How dare you, Universe. How dare you take that away.

Nevermind that if he were here she may not be.

Later that week, at the pool, a little boy played with her, watched her playing. N overheard him asking his mom, “Is she a princess?” We think Dot overheard him, too, and that this is part of what won him her approval and favor. They played together until he had to go home. And I smile at this story, and I wince.

Even later that week, we go to the library and I read her stories. A little boy walks up to us, beaming at her. He listens to me read and laughs with us. He follows Dot around when she goes to look for more books. His name is Max. He is one. His mother is sweet – obviously her son’s approval means that we are nice and to-be-befriended.

“Does she have any brothers or sisters?” she asks me.


“No. Right now she’s an only,” I say. Forgive me Teddy, but it’s truer than I ever wanted it to be.

She’ll never get to be a little sister. I feel like Teddy’s death stole this from her, like part of her birthright was lost before she was even born. Sometimes it feels like I raise my children in reverse. Instead of knowing roughly what Dot will be doing at six months, at one year, at two years, I look at her and think, so this is what he might have been doing. I can’t stop thinking this way, and I’m not sure I want to. It’s a connection to him, through her, and I need these connections. But it’s also yet another proof that Dot’s big brother never got to be a big brother. I probably need to get over it. It is what it is, and it doesn’t bother her. She’s making her way in this world, becoming more and more herself every day, and I feel like – if I don’t mess her up – she’s going to be all right. Better than all right. She’ll be amazing.

But I think he would have been an amazing big brother. I think she would have been a great little sister. I keep seeing them together in my mind, running and laughing and arguing, always in orbit with each other. And it’s so hard to know that this is my own fond dream instead of my daughter’s reality.

For the first time, I find myself just a bit angry with Teddy. For dying. For not being here for his sister. I hate that. It doesn’t make sense and he was so little and pure and nothing that happened was his fault. I hope it’s temporary, this flash of anger, that it sizzles and dissipates and that I can somehow beg his forgiveness.

In a couple of months, he would have been four. I don’t know what to do with that except to keep turning it over in my mind, trying to get used to the feel of it. Almost four. Four. Four.

Ah, Love. I wish I knew you, and that your sister did, too. And that you knew her. Because you would have liked her. I know it.



  1. Oh Erica, I know. I look at Angus, who now has the very big job of being the Big Brother and I think but no, he should have been the Little Brother first. He should have been following her around, mimicking her, laughing at her, chasing her. But that isn’t how it is. It will never be and four years later I still try and make sense of that.
    Try as I might, I still don’t understand it.
    Damn, I miss them Erica. Four years. Unbelievable.

  2. I do that parenting in reverse thing too, sometimes. I think what keeps me from doing it more often is having carefully set myself up for Henry not to have done things on the same schedule as his peers. But yes.
    And four! I wonder if I will ever reach an age that does not seem new and big and momentous.

  3. And shortly after reading this, we went outside and Kathleen said, “I love Henry. I really love him. I want him to come back to earth.” Me too. Another way of missing indeed.

  4. Heartbreaking. I know this longing.

  5. In our family there is an extra twist to this. The Cub never got to have an older brother, but now he is an older cousin, by just a touch more than the difference in time between A’s birth and his own. My nephew lives on our street, and the boys are together all the time. The Cub is my nephew’s favorite person (closely followed by Monkey), and they are already getting up to all kinds of trouble together. And Monkey can get the both of them to follow her to about the ends of the Earth. So though I try not to think of it this way, sometimes I think I see how it would’ve gone had A been here, and it makes me so sad… These kids, though they don’t know and they don’t know how to miss what they never had, but man, they’ve been robbed of life experiences, of relationships that may have shaped and defined them in ways we can’t even imagine.

    This is beautiful. And I am so sorry, for Dot and for you. This sucks in a multitude of ways, and somehow it manages to suck in new ways with time. But why shouldn’t it? If they were here, they would change with time and we would discover new things about them all the time. I guess instead we get to discover new things about missing them…

  6. I’ve been trying to respond to this post for a while. I’m just floored. I felt this way (and still do occasionally) when I would see Jessica, in the park, playing on her own. It was supposed to be different. Or it might have been different. A big sister for Jessica. A big brother for Dot. They would have liked them. I feel certain.

    I wish we knew them. And I’m just sorry, sorry, sorry that we won’t.

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