Posts Tagged ‘summer’


Summer, again

July 18, 2011

All around me, people have been complaining about our late summer, about the rain and the cool weather.

I listened, smiled, nodded. I didn’t completely disagree with them, either. When your child is extremely active and her favorite activity is climbing things, it’s immensely helpful to be able to take her to the park, where she can climb things that aren’t bookshelves, dinner tables, or kitchen counters. But even as I was hoping to get an afternoon romp in with Dot, even as I was smiling and nodding, I was thanking my lucky (well, sometimes lucky) stars for the cool weather.

Now, it’s here. The sunshine, the heat, the smells. I find myself hiding again, shoring up my strength, focusing on making it through. Just making it through.

Summer used to be many things to me. I’ve never liked the heat, but I’ve loved so much of what goes with it. It still carries the scents of years of birthday parties, of running around at the farm with my brother, of camping trips in Glacier Park, of my summer job as a bible camp counselor, of skinny dipping and learning to drink and smoke at the bible camp. Sometimes, a warm day makes me crave a clove cigarette. Sometimes, I hear a five-guitar chorus off in the distance playing “Rocky Mountain High” or catch a hint of the evening air at the farm, full of hay and dust and frog song.

But the warmer it gets, the more I realize that, for now, summer is still mostly about Teddy, about missing him and remembering him, and remembering those hard weeks before his arrival and how they were filled with hope and love and the sort of prayer that you engage in when you don’t really think anything will come of it, but you’re too desperate not to pray.

Summer is hearing that my son has a life-threatening condition while my mother sits with us in the ultrasound room. Summer is listening to my dad and N put a ceiling fan up in the bedroom and knowing that Dad is glad to be doing this because there’s so little else he can do. Summer is driving back and forth from the nearest big city where specialists tell us that things look serious but that we won’t know the outcome until Teddy is born. Summer is non-stress test after non-stress test where Teddy won’t stay on the monitor (my wiggly little man) and so we end up in the damned L&D rooms forever. Summer is the fear in the hospital staffs’ voices when they tell me that I need to call right away if there’s any hint of pre-term labor. Summer is lying on the futon, drinking water and trying to send my mind away by reading and by watching junk television. Summer is those two wonderful, hope-filled weeks in Portland where I bought a baby sling and actually thought I might get to use it, where I sat and drank coffee with other parents at the Ronald McDonald House and felt comforted by the presence of people who knew what it is like to fear for your child. Summer is a too-long induction, a fever, an emergency caesarean, four doctors standing in my hospital room in the morning asking me how I’d like the world to end. Summer is too brief a time holding my baby. Summer is letting him go.

And I wouldn’t give any of this up, not one moment with Teddy, even the hard ones. I’m not sure I’d even give up the strangely vivid remembering that comes with this season of warmth and light.

But between you, me, and the lamp-post, I wish summer were still about the clove cigarettes and the skinny dipping.



July 11, 2011

The people who live across the street from us have a wonderful little black and white cat named Marilyn, who is frequently in our yard.

She’s about two years old. She was a kitten, playing in our flower bed, during the first days of spring in 2010. I remember smiling at her antics when I took Dot outside to look at the flowers and experience the outdoors in small bits. Perhaps because I associate Marilyn with these memories, I’m very fond of her.

She is skinny as a rail, even when she’s pregnant. They’ve told us they feed her, but I’ve seen her eat and there is nothing wrong with that appetite. Mama cats shouldn’t be that skinny, especially when they supposedly belong to people.

She has now brought two litters of kittens over to live in our shed/garage. We have fed them, and became especially attached to this last litter of three. We defended them from roving raccoons (ever see a large family of raccoons out after dark? They’re damned scary buggers), played with them, and (heaven help me) named them Luna, Lilah, and Linus. We’ve been watching as their mama started to teach them to hunt, and had started to ask around to find homes for them. I’ve also been investigating places to get not-cripplingly-expensive vaccines and spaying and neutering services.

Last week, three of the kids who sometimes live across the street came into our yard, grabbed the kittens, and took them, squirming and clawing, back to their house. We haven’t seen them since. With the last litter, they gave two of the kittens away when they were just a few weeks old, and then they tried to separate Marilyn from her remaining kitten (named Pitch) while still letting the kitten roam the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, little Pitch disappeared.

So, after weeks and weeks of watching to make sure all three of this current litter were accounted for every morning, after running out in the dark to help Marilyn defend the garage, after watching Dot play with them by wiggling long pieces of grass at them until they pounce, I’m worried, and cranky. And, since Marilyn isn’t ours in any legal sense, I don’t have much recourse except to wait for a chance to ask one of the parents across the street what is up. I’ve seen Marilyn around, but unfortunately I don’t speak cat fluently enough to ask her if her kittens are still together and okay.

I am biding my time to catch little Marilyn and get her fixed and vaccinated. I know it’s ethically sketchy – she’s not my cat – but pets aren’t disposable. You don’t just replace one summer’s cute kitten with the next summer’s cute kitten. (I once ended a friendship because my friend abandoned a cat. Do I take sort of thing too seriously? Maybe.) And little mama needs a break. But my biggest motivation right now is that I’m more emotionally exhausted than I should be from trying to make sure that no more babies (yes, I know) die on my watch.


Birthday present

July 22, 2010

Today is my birthday, my thirty-sixth, which means I am three dozen years old, which feels as though it should be momentous, but mostly, well, isn’t.  Too much else is going on.  When I was young, I would have been horrified at the thought of my birthday not being a big deal, but today I find it soothing.  I’ll finish up at work, N will give me a present and make dinner.  I’ll try to get Dot to sleep so that we can watch Enchanted April and maybe make out a little on the futon.  An embarrassment of riches.

Though perhaps I should mention that I count as good any birthday that doesn’t involve anything as horrible as me staring at a reality tv show in a futile attempt to combat the despair of being on bedrest due to CDH complications.   I still think of that woman I was then and I wish I could fold her in my arms and tell her, You’re right; it’s bad, really bad, and it’ll get better and then much worse.  But even though it’ll be horrible, you’ll somehow get through it.  And you’ll never have to do this again.

Knock on wood, of course.

I used to think that the universe gave me presents.  Sunsets, birdsong, smiles in corridors, signs of hope, rain when I was sad.  Now, I’m suspicious of any such thoughts.  Sometimes I am thoroughly scornful of them.  Yet every once in a while I catch myself wondering.  Maybe the universe, or my fairy godmother, or some benign spirit is capable of gifts, but only small ones.  Maybe the life and death stuff has to be set at random for some reason I don’t/won’t/can’t comprehend.  In any case, I’ve received a small and sparkling birthday present.

I had no idea who Regina Spektor was until yesterday, when N called my attention to a song a friend had put on a mixed CD for us.  The friend is also the chair of his department, and also (and perhaps not irrelevantly) the father of another baby boy who died too soon.  I listened to the song in the car, to it’s playful piano and almost-but-not-quite-cheery tune and I smiled.  And then I focused on the lyrics.  I listened to it again.

And she was singing to me, singing for me as I try to cope with memories and travel planning and missing Teddy like crazy and being relieved that I don’t have to lie on the futon and stew in despair again.  This song felt like it was made precisely for this summer with August staring me down and asking me how much I can take.  How can I not love a song with lyrics like this?

This is how it works
You’re young until you’re not
You love until you don’t
You try until you can’t
You laugh until you cry
You cry until you laugh
And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don’t get harmed
But even if it does
You’ll just do it all again

And I wanted to share it, in case you needed something like this today, too.

On the Radio


Tuesday jumble

June 29, 2010

I’m still wearing maternity jeans on occasion, even though they keep falling down.  My belly is still squishy.  My squishy belly is still most comfortable in elastic, though I try to wear pants that don’t fall down most days at work.

Dot was a very good sport about meeting my extended family this past weekend, but it bothers me when people call her a good baby.  I kept wanting to call people on this, but they meant it as a compliment (as if I have much control over it, but still) and I didn’t want to be all prickly when people were so glad to be happy for me.  Dot is in many ways an easy baby, and we feel pretty lucky that so far she is mostly good-natured unless she’s uncomfortable or tired, but we wouldn’t think of her as a bad baby if she were louder, cried more, or refused to let strangers hold her.  Easy doesn’t equal good, but if it did, then what was Teddy?  A very, very bad baby (huge medical needs, long-lasting emotional hurt for the parents) or a very, very good baby (no keeping us up with colic or even normal newborn hunger spells)?

My grandma is in the end stages of lung disease, and my mother talked to me about her worries about Grandma dying from lung failure – a long, slow, suffocation that must feel a lot like drowning.  All I could think about was Teddy, and if he felt like he was drowning when he died in my arms.  I hope not; he was very medicated and didn’t even open his eyes, but I wish lungs weren’t such fragile, necessary things.  I wish I could have focused more about caring for Mom and Grandma and not wonder how Mom could have no idea of the memories she was calling up when she talked to me.

N is still self-medicating and I can no longer act as though it doesn’t bother me.  His sister talked to me about it when she was visiting and suddenly I can’t turn a blind eye any more or hang onto my “hey, whatever you need to do to get through this” attitude.  I know it’s tied up with grief and with the anxiety he struggled with long before Teddy was born, and I also know that he loves Dot and me with crazy, big love, the kind of love I have for him.  I also know that now there’s a living child in the picture I can’t just think of him and me.  Hence the tremendous worry.  And since there is very little good counseling in our corner of the world, and especially after N’s encounter with Amazingly Bad Therapist, I worry that this option for help may not be available to us.  I don’t know what to do, but I’m painfully aware that doing nothing is also a choice, a choice that sometimes looks like giving up.

I think I’m still more damaged than I let on.  It shows up in little ways – I get paralyzed by the thought of making simple phone calls that are part of my job, I hide from things I should confront, I’m afraid to ask for help even when I need it, I have trouble, many days, focusing.  I drop more balls than I used to.  I intensely dislike this about myself.  I crave the escape of novels and sleep more than I usually do.  It’s partly just adjusting to parenting a living baby and partly the season and the memories rushing back, but it’s been almost two years.  I thought I’d be more myself by now – more of the self who was outgoing and energetic and responsible and willing to take on new things.  I don’t want to be tired and defeatist and sloppy.  I don’t want Dot to see me as this damaged self.  Also, the poor kid will never have a play date if I can’t manage to at least attempt being a little less introverted, a little more put-together.

I’ve been missing Teddy so much the past couple of weeks.  It’s like the summer has pulled the scab off of my grief and what used to be a mild though constant itch is open and oozing again.  I still look for him sometimes, half-expecting to find him waiting for me when I come home, or to see him peeking out at me from behind a tree, or to catch a glimpse of him around the next corner.  I wonder sometimes, where does all of this love I have for him go?  Does it reach him?  Is there a him for it to reach?  I want to say, yes, but when I am most honest with myself I have to admit that I don’t know.  There’s a howling void in the middle of that thought.

My feet are dry and yucky and rasp against the sheets at night.  Wrong as it is, right now I want a pedicure more than I want world peace.  This is just a phase and will pass, right?



May 26, 2010

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.



June 30, 2009

first sweet pea

Hey, Universe.

Things are hard right now, and in some ways crazy hard.

You know that.

Still, I want to thank you for my first sweet pea of summer. Today it looks like the thing standing between me and despair is tiny, delicate, and pink. And I can live with that.


Turn and face the strain

June 9, 2009

I feel like I’m playing a giant, non-stop game of “This Time Last Year.”  It’s a really crappy game, too.  There are no fabulous prizes for the contestant, the questions aren’t entertaining, and the game show host (this season of summer) is unrelenting.

This time last year we’d been told that, in all likelihood, nothing was wrong.  This time last year I was planning the same summer social event at work and worrying about how, just in case I had gestational diab.etes, I should maybe avoid the ice cream.

This time last year, I was placid and sure and content.  In hindsight, this is one of the hardest things to bear, that I was so cocksure, so certain all would be well, so clueless.  Not that anything would have changed if I had been scared to death.  I wonder sometimes if I’m not more than a little jealous of my past self.

I am trying to carve out little bits of this late spring and summer that don’t belong to or echo last year.  I am growing new things in my small garden of pots, we go for walks in the arboretum, I’ve taken on new projects, and I try to notice how I’ve changed.  Much as I’d like more time (any more time – an hour, a minute, a second) with Teddy, much as it’s hard to let go of the time I had with him, I’m different now.  Like it or not (and sometimes I hate it and sometimes it’s the relief that allows me to carry on) I’m not the same person I was last year, no matter how much I relive the events of Teddy’s life.

He is gone, and I hate it.  He is gone, and I’ve held him in my arms for the last time, and sometimes knowing that still makes it hard for me to breathe.

At the same time, he is gone and I’m no longer the raw wreck I was  in the months that followed his death.  No matter what lies before me, the actual moments of his loss are behind me, no matter how often I relive those moments, their particular, piercing pain has for the most part been replaced by a duller ache.  It’s a constant and throbbing ache, but I’m getting used to it and I can function around it.  I can (usually) sleep, carry on a conversation, start and finish projects, look at babies without turning pale and running away, and reliably walk through the grocery store without bursting into sobs, for example.  And if I do burst into sobs, at least I now know enough to be carrying tissues with me.

I read stories of newly babylost parents and my heart pounds with the memories of what it was like to be that new to grief, and I cry for the ones who don’t have any calluses yet, and I shake my fist at the universe because no baby should die, ever. Lately, though, I also think, “I’m glad I don’t have to go through that again.”

And then I knock on wood, rustle up salt to throw over my shoulder, and hope like hell that I’m right.