Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My kids in the afternoon

Liam: always mellow, happy to snooze whenever the moment allows. Except then I won't fall asleep at night so my mom won't let me nap! Aoife. Sleep? Why would I want to do that?

Oh, my.

Is anybody out there?

There is great joy in letting go. I don't understand why as a parent I sometimes cling to the things that I do, firm in my belief that this is how I do things and it makes my life better.
Oh, my, how wrong I always am.

Raising children is like following the dripping wax down a candle, you just don't know what shape it's going to make at the bottom. There's a point where you can sometimes tip the candle so there isn't a drip, but then the wind starts to blow, or the wick gets too long, and you just can't really do much but watch it fall.

So lately my moment of RELEASE has been around afternoon sleep, which we don't do anymore. At all.

The mom who was so rigorous about the sleeping schedule for her little son (because he was a GOOD sleeper!) has realized, in raising her little daughter, that not everybody follows the same schedule. And my attempts to have my children "rest" in the afternoon left me feeling pissed off with a sour taste in my mouth because I hadn't gotten a thing done during the "rest" time-- unless you count 63 laps up and down the stairs to try to tell them to rest quietly.

(First of all, what I must quietly interject, is what I am defining as getting done, because is it more important to hang out with my kids, or wash the kitchen floor, think about this)

So I silently surrendered, and now, after lunch, I just let them wander around the house. We stay in for an hour or so, and I read to them, and we do something kind of quiet with blocks, but it's a whole lot quieter than standing up in bed yelling every request and excuse you can think of for 45 minutes. And I cannot tell you how much happier I am for it. As sad as I was (and am, truly, what I wouldn't give for just 30 minutes to breathe in the middle of the day) to give up that time, I am so much happier to not have that excuse to feel irritated with my kids.

Because if I'm irritated? I need to change something. Maybe it's my routine, maybe it's my own tone of voice to try to calm things down. My close friend just described to me that when she's really, really mad at her kids, she tries to pretend like she's really stoned. So she sets herself back into super-mellow, out of it, disconnect and addresses the situation like such. Calm, groovy, and to the point.

This is all to short to really get your panties in a knot about. But boy, I have had some tough knots to unravel.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Greg read a story
to the children tonight
It was called, Sophie and the New Baby
and in it, the little girl waits
with her daddy through a snow-lit night
while her baby brother is born

just sophie and her dad

then brother arrives
and Greg read it, the story about Sophie
the biggest girl
who waits with her dad for her brother
to be born

and fat tears splashed
into his lap
and onto the golden heads of
the children, who laughed
and said daddy, why are you crying
silly daddy

they laughed, but he cried more
because in our family
there is no big sister

Ivory Soap and NYC

My dear cousin Sabrina, whose art is so remarkable in so many ways, created this Monument to Childhood on a rooftop on Weehawken between W. 10th and Christopher, one block from the West Side Highway. It seemed a fitting tribute to show this work here, where so much of DeGrassi's beauty has been portrayed through words.

see more of sabrina's work: www.sabrinawardharrison.com

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A tiny fur seal, c. 1996

There are those moments in your life that send chills up your spine.

I have so many of these in the realm of my Charlotte. I see a picture of myself, holding a tiny sweater that she would never wear up over my belly, an enormous smile on my face. I find something that I wrote to her, assuming that I would have her forever. I remember that moment of looking up at the ceiling in my living room, caressing my huge belly, and wondering if I would be able to survive if my baby dies. I never thought I was seriously pondering this, at the time it was just a way for me to wrap my head around how crazy in love with her I already was.

So today I found this huge packet full of all the letters I wrote to Greg while I was in New Zealand and he was in Madagascar our junior year at Middlebury. They are akin to old letters sent during the war, explaining things that I saw, what I did, feelings that filled me. We had no telephone contact during that time, so it was inclusive of mostly everything.

In the midst of one of the letters, I recovered this account of a fur seal dissection that I attended at the University of Otago in Dunedin. A graduate student studying fur seal populations had an arrangement with a certain fishing company to procure all of the fur seals that died accidentally in their nets (! :( oh dear). In any case the animals were used for reasearch and I was there, assisting with this dissection. I had never attended the dissection of such a large mammal before.

I remember quite vividly, having been reminded through my writing of this experience, the dampened, melancholy curiousity that came over me when we realized that the seal we were dissecting was quite pregnant. This is what I wrote to the man who is now Charlotte's daddy. I am shivering right now.

We had sawed open the two adults and pretty much disemboweled them and they were lying on the stainless steel table, which was covered with blood. Coated with blood. And the full uterus was just lying in this pool of blood on the table. The student, Gail, cut through one, two, three layers of sac, and amniotic fluid poured out onto the table , and then, there lay this tiny, clean little seal, the only thing in the whole room that was not covered in blood. Its skin was soft and pink, and its tiny eyes were closed. Its nose looked like a kitten's and a soft coating of brown down covered its body. I opened its mouth and it had no teeth yet; its tongue was little and pink. It was so sweet. It was so sad that it had died and never even seen the world, but so peaceful that it had lived its whole life rocking in the warmth of its mother's body. We all surrounded this tiny creature in complete awe at something so small, yet so complete. Examining and amazed by this little seal, I looked forward to one day when a small person, soft and pink, will come into my life, a little piece of me that I'm sure I will be just as amazed and astonished by.

Except at that time, when I was nineteen years old and writing this, I never imagined that my baby would also be dead, did I? Also drowned by lack of oxygen, floating in the warmth of her mother's womb. But she was astonishing, I give you that, and I was truly amazed by her.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ivory soap, and so on.

A new bar of Ivory soap.

Can you conjure this smell the way I can? We used to carry a bar with us down to the dock at night in the summer, because it was the only brand of soap that didn't leave a trail of bubbles behind. We would walk through the closing twilight into the black pool of a lake, which reflected the starlit sky and the lights of the bay that surrounded us.

When we'd arrive at the beach, a silence would fall as our clothes fell away, clandestinely forming small piles several feet apart as we feigned modesty while derobing. Then the splash, but not a big one, as we would leap off the side of the dock into the shallows, our feet making ripples in the silent water as we entered. The soap, in my hand, would have been dry, and it needed to be wet to get that smell. So I would dip it, just quickly, and twirl it between my hands as I walked through the quiet night.

Inevitably, I would drop this smooth, clean bar somewhere along the way to the slide. The water was only eighteen inches deep, so retrieval wasn't the issue. But the bar was grainy now, its slick surface now a fine grit of maybe a #200 sandpaper, ready for use. Not as slippery in the hand anymore, but I would it hold tightly as I mounted the ladder, heading for the top of our playground wonder, stationed in the midst of our baby beach swimming place.

Ping, ping. I can hear the sound of my rings tapping on the hollow piped handles that ran alongside the ladder, as I would climb to the top. Pause on the landing, passing the gritty bar from my right hand to my dominant left, soap it up, and cover my naked, white bum. Then I would sit, gently, and with a great shove, take flight.

The ride down the smooth, splashed sliding board would take perhaps slightly less than two seconds, and then there would be this moment of silence as my body virtually soared through the air, speed defying gravity taking me five or six feet off the end of the slide before the water hit my naked skin and my arms defensively plunged downward to prevent an uncomfortable bottom-first landing in the soft sand beneath the gentle, still lake. My hair, still dry, would just hit the surface of the water before my feet would make contact. I'd stand, and assuming the position of modesty disguised as coldness, I'd wrap my arms around my body and hunch over slightly as I made my way through the knee-deep water back to the slide, where the splashes would follow me, and the silence gave way to shrieks and giggles and laughter.

The bar of soap would stay, gripping with its sandy surface, on the landing at the top of the slide as we went, again and again.

Sometimes we would find it there in the morning, where we'd left it.


There is peace to this memory, which could be from one of hundreds of nights of my childhood and teen years, from the point at which I gained my independence and was allowed to swim alone at night with my friends, to the point at which I became too exhausted and cold to bother to go out after dinner (this could also be described as parenthood).

So it was pleasing to me, and also slightly puzzling, that as I walked along the Mill river trail today with my two children for company, amazed at the silence of this windless, warm fall day, I could smell this smell: Ivory soap.
My nose is a little stuffed up, allergies to the fall, so I couldn't be sure, but I was sure. Why could I smell soap, here in the middle of the woods? I couldn't imagine. But it made me feel a sense of beauty and peace.
We were walking to Charlotte's stone, of course. This place where we visit with dried flower petals and the cuttings from our gardens. Today's bouquet was fall mums, pink and yellow, arranged around a big bunch of fragrant sage, with a few of Liam's homegrown zinnias to add a lighter pink zest to the little gathering of color. When we arrived, Liam took charge of scattering the petals I'd collected from the dying roses while I carefully tied the bouquet to the little maple tree that grows out of the root of the huge white pine that towers over her stone. Then I pulled from my pocket this little piece of randomness that I wish I'd photographed, this smooth piece of slate from Grandad's lake, and I'd written on the stone by scratching it with another piece of slate: Charlotte, Liam, Aoife. One on top of the other. My three children, where I only have two.
When I was sad, I would visit Charlotte's stone and feel heavy, I could throw myself nearly on the ground and feel close to her and want to talk to her and feel her there. Now I feel muddled because when we go there it's often a glorious day, and the walking is lovely and it's such a beautiful family outing that I'm filled with joy there, and I feel a disconnect that I don't know whether I should be happy or sad about. Is it good when the pain doesn't hurt you so badly anymore? But does that mean I miss her less? I can't interpret this because it's too large to think about. But the stone does not make me sad anymore.
Later this evening, we gave the kids a treat of pizza and movie night. I roasted sweet red and yellow peppers and made a tasty vegetable pizza, and we watched "The Muppets Take Manhattan". As Miss Piggy is boarding the train and waving goodbye to Kermit, she waves her purple silk hankerchief, and drops it. It flutters on the track as the train rumbles off into the darkness.
Oh! Liam says, straightening in his child-sized wicker rocking chair.
Oh, no. Miss Piggy lost her thing. She lost her thing.
His face is a look of concern, he sees Kermit pick it up, but he's worried for Piggy.
Why is it this that makes me cry instead? Greg and I locked eyes over his little blonde head, and we both started to cry. Big, fat tears fell onto our laps. Liam looked up at Greg.
Why are you crying, Daddy?
And how do you answer that? I'm crying because you're sweet and sensitive, because you're caring and empathetic, I'm crying because I love you so much, and because every day that I love you I'm reminded that I was only given one day to act upon the love that I had for your sister, and I wonder how my love for her would have morphed and grown and changed as I watched her grow, as I now watch you? I'm crying because you're here, and she's not. I am crying because you are such a beautiful little creature and you're mine?
I kissed his silky hair, and took Aoife's hand. And felt happy and sad all at once.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


It has to be said, today at 6:43 , that this morning after 8 hours of sleep I arose just past five o'clock. The rabbit hadn't fallen over and had eaten his food (I've postponed the death visit to the vet, hence). I unpacked the four bags, sorted and folded the clean laundry, and started the dirty laundry. I cleaned up my room, swept the downstairs, and made the lunches. The bathroom floor has been washed.
The day is open to me now, and I feel full of promise. It is truly amazing what a good night's sleep can do, along with axing some of the things off your list that are dragging you down. I'm now skipping off to re-organize and sort the playroom in the few moments I may (or may not) get before my sleeping children arise. Then we'll read books, eat the cinnamon buns we baked yesterday, and begin the day anew.

Monday, September 22, 2008

If I were a teenager right now, I would be absolutely convinced that I was very fat and had no friends.

What is it about the way a darkness sometimes just sits over you and makes you feel like you cannot climb out of some funk that's settled?

Today, it's just busy-ness and clutter and a chill in the air and very crabby kids. We arrived home late last night after a glorious weekend in southern Quebec with my Grandad. We walked the crisp roads, went for short boat rides that delighted the children, and enjoyed lots of good family time with Grandad and my aunt and cousin. But then, the homecoming. There are bags to be unpacked, backed up laundry to be washed, and absolutely no groceries. I now babysit on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays which means I can't get to the grocery store until Thursday at the earliest. Oh, wow. Looks like beans and... beans? What else can you get from a can that already exists in my sparse pantry? It could be worse.

Then there is the bunny, Simon. Simon has been with us through it all, coming onto the scene over 13 years ago when Greg and I first lived on the same hall at Middlebury. He is now beyond geriatric, and when we returned home last night, he had fallen over and couldn't get up. He has a huge, fatty tumor on his neck that has turned his head sideways, he now (as of this weekend) can't walk, he can't get over to drink his water, he isn't eating. It's clear Simon's time has come, except that he hasn't died. So he's lying there on a pee-soaked towel, with poop stuck to his little furry bum, dehydrated and exhausted, his little cateracted eyes glazed over. I have spent the past 24 hours bathing him, giving him drinks of water with a dropper, hand-feeding him things he really loves like prunes and bananas. I brought him out onto the lawn this morning, he just lay there, curled up, almost, without nibbling or moving.

So there is this minor trauma, the pet that just won't die, and I feel terrible because I wish he would. I can't bear the thought that if he doesn't, in his current state, the responsible thing for me to do is to call the vet in the morning and to drive him over there so they can put him out of his misery. I know I have to do it, he is in such terrible shape. I think of him, this formerly tidy, neat creature who never had a smell or any dirt or anything on him. He was so fastidious, and he now can't move to wash himself, or to pee in his litter box, and he's miserable. I say minor trauma not to undercut the value of his little life, as he has been a loyal and true pet for us, but simply that compared to other losses, his shall be more easily surpassed than others.

So that's the bunny, and his situation is certainly dire, and then there are the kids. Their situation is being remedied right now by a good long sleep, they were tucked in by half-past six tonight. We'll hope for a solid 12 hours. The no-napping in our house just means slightly tenser moods. Basically after about 11:45 am mostly my kids yell at me and cry all afternoon... okay, saying this is really getting close to me being fat and having no friends. Let's rephrase: Today it felt like they yelled at me and cried all afternoon. Truly they didn't. But that's how it felt. Their nerves are a little shot after a long weekend and a longer drive, and so are mine. Some days are like that.

But I read an amazing book, if I wasn't feeling lazy and comatose I'd add it to my list; it's called People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. Shivery delicious. I loved it. Now I'm starting Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. It is so intriguing I think I might have to go curl up and read under the covers right now.

The best thing about days like today is that you know tomorrow will be better. All of my experience being grumpy has taught me that there's no way to get out of a tailspin of the grumps except to just go to bed and have a nice, long sleep. So good night.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pain is like gas, as Rixa says, and it will expand to fill the container it's in. And so yes, absolutely, each of our pain is unique, our own, and our worst.

And I am realizing that this is at the basis of what I believe: that what I've lost is mine, and my beautiful baby will always seem, to me, as more of a loss than anything else. Just as anyone else's baby will seem, to them, as their greatest loss. And somebody else's boyfriend that dumped them will seem, to them, as their greatest loss. It's just relative.

And in terms of the inability to truly compare?

I speak with the people I counsel about this to great length, this division between our emotional brains, and our intellectual brains. Often, I'm discussing this in the context of guilt: although our intellectual brains understand the doctors who say there's nothing we could have done, that we did the best we could, as mothers our emotional brains are always telling us we could have done more, that our babies might have been saved.
So too this concept extends into this inability to compare. A family member often used to showcase for me scenarios that were "worse" than mine, in an attempt to make me feel better. A baby on life support, where the parent had to turn of the machinery. My intellectual brain tells me, Yes, this would have been worse, far worse, than the peaceful delivery and time I had with Charlotte. But my emotional brain will not allow me to be soothed by this, because this one was not my baby. Nothing will ever be worse to me, than the loss of my baby. I can say, impartially, from an intellectual standpoint, that lots of people got cut a worse deal than I did, with traumatic decisions and failed rescussitations and days and months in no-mans land. But the end, my baby is still dead, so I really can't feel satisfied, or as if I've been given a better lot in life than they have. I'm sad, for my sad reasons, and I'm okay with that.

I'm reading back on this, and almost laughing at my own transparency: at my obvious desire to be allowed to wallow in self pity; at my search for affirmation that such self pity is justified. It intrigues me, as well, how this space provides for me an opportunity to do just that. When, in my everyday life I am hardly afforded the opportunity to speak Charlotte's name from one day to the next, where I walk, talk, and act as any ordinary mother might, here I am indignant: I will feel sorry for myself, I will, I will. Perhaps this is just something I need to hang onto somewhere, and as I wouldn't want this to interfere with the way I live my life, here's the spot to do it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Inspiration, Take Two

How can I think that the only day I was able to spend with this beautiful baby girl was my worst day? If I could repeat only one day of my life, and then return to where I am right now and have everything be the same, I would repeat that day in a heartbeat, just to hold her one more time. To imagine that feels like what it looks like to watch butter melt in a microwave oven, soft and slidy and melty and so warm and lovely. I just want her in my arms again, so how can that be my worst day?

But it was.

In an e-mail exchange, Kate led me to a post of hers where she (eloquently, as always) speaks of a subject that raises itself again and again, here and elsewhere: birth versus outcome. Risk versus ___ (what is the opposite of risk? and the flip side of this question is, how do you define risk, when it comes to birth?) At the close, she poses two questions, which of course now I feel obliged to answer.

What does birth mean to you, now? How do you support birthing friends after what you’ve been through?
Most important: how is it possible to be up to your neck in self-pity and still have compassion for the relative heartbreak of anyone else

The first question is something I alluded to in my last post, this act of gritting my teeth, trying to forget and attempting to lift myself out of my fog to be the innocent, unscathed birth-enthusiast that I once (thought I) was. It's not the only place in my life where I feel myself walking almost blindfolded to my own life, seeing each friend in a box separate from my own experience, trying desperately to understand with all my understanding their own point of reference. It's there that I try to take it from, to see their birth, their baby, their dreams through their eyes, without the clouded vision that my eyes would cast upon it. It surprises me how easy this is for me to do when I am actually with the person, surrounded by the gorgeous energy of pregnancy and their own joyful anticipation. It's when I go home, when I'm alone to face the words floating round my head, my solitary awareness of what I will never feel, that I am sad and lonely and see it all so differently. It's a practiced act, although not altogether false in its meaning or intention. I am supportive of my friends, and I do believe in their bodies and their babies, but the practice comes in extracting myself from their experience.

And this is where the second question comes in, howit is possible to be up to your neck in self-pity and still have compassion for the relative heartbreak of anyone else... This is where I start to feel like a traitor, an imposter, a cruel, wretch of a person hiding in the skin of an empathetic, supportive, listening ear. Truth be told, I just can't think of anything worse than a dead baby. So when somebody is starting in on their own worst day, it can be so hard not to let the caustic, dripping words leak out of the corner my mouth, unintentionally.

A good friend was sharing with me, a month or so back, about a friend whose baby suffered an injury during the birth that required her arm to be amputated after the birth. "Can you imagine?" she said to me, "Your beautiful baby, losing an arm?" I could not imagine. I did try to imagine the awful pain for those parents, pictured my Liam or Aoife, seemingly perfect, off to the operating room to become un-perfect. Truly, truly, in my heart of hearts, I felt an enormous surge of pity for them, imagining the horror of the experience, the aftermath, the pain of having a child with one arm when everyone else's child has two. But still, as I was imagining this, and feeling their pain, I also thought these words, "Can you imagine giving birth and the baby ends up being dead?" Ummm... yeah. This is where I feel like a jerk. Because I do think those people drew a short straw, too. It's just that to me, it doesn't seem short relative to mine. If I could have Charlotte back, minus the left arm, I'd take her.

But I've worked, truly hard, to really understand that each person's worst day is truly their worst day. I believe this, truly. But it's THEIR worst day, not mine. And if their worst day happened to me, after having had MY worst day? It's possible it might roll off my back. Kate's post was in reference to birth trauma, and people mourning the loss of the birth they'd imagined. True, and valid. I can see myself in those shoes, had I been given those shoes to walk in. But here's what it's like for me. I was having lunch with an old friend the other day, and told her of Liam's flip between 8 and 10 cm, and the cesarean that ensued.

"I'm sorry," she said. I looked at her pretty hard. "Don't be," I said. Truly, I meant this, it almost seemed comical to me that she was pitying me for having had a cesarean. But this is true for so many people, that they really do need a condolance, because they've lost an opportunity they felt was theirs to have had. What I had was not a loss, but a gain: I had a breathing, living child. The way he came out literally (and there truly is no exaggeration or denial here) did not faze me. If anything, it was a dream come true. For that year before, I had spent so many hours daydreaming about how they might have saved Charlotte if only they had been there to save her. Now here they were, performing the heroic rescue I had imagined. The birth cry was all I needed. I did not care how I got there.

And then there are my childless friends, still working through love crises of their own, who have related the loss of a lover to the loss of a child. For this, I must really bite into a leather strap, because love does not equal love, and I just can't say anything more on this, except to try to remember that this is what they know.

So I'm working on this. I feel as if I've come 150% in this field, because I don't resent people anymore for grieving things that I myself would not grieve. But I do, without apologies, often feel that my worst day was, well, worse than their worst day.

Sorry. I'll keep working on that one. And thanks again, Kate, for inspiring me.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Another 6x6

Here's another writing activity from Glow In the Woods. You can read other's answers there if you're curious. And I'd be curious, if you're babylost like me, to see what you have to say about this. It's something that comes up a lot. I wrote about it back in March. And here's what I think now.

1 Do you feel as though a higher entity/supreme being/energy force has a presence in your life? What do you call it, and what makes you feel it exists?

Ooh. This is the trickiest one to answer. I guess to me, I feel like what's around me is a mystery. Things happen, like my daughter reading my mind, or Charlotte bringing me a balloon from 27 miles away, that make me realize that there is much more energy out there than I can calculate or see. I suppose I don't believe in one particular entity, maybe perhaps the unseen presence of many spirits or souls that are helping to move me through this world. What makes me feel it exists is, I suppose, a reluctance to admit that what I see might be all that's there.
I also love to imagine that really what's going on is that ALL the religions of the world are right, all at once, and that there's a lot going on up there that we don't know about.

2 Describe, in a word or two, the nature of your spiritual self before and then after the loss of your baby/babies.

Unsure, didn't care/ Unsure, certain my baby's soul is SOMEWHERE

3 Do you pray, even if you wouldn’t call it praying? To whom? What for?

Sometimes, I look at the sky (always the actual sky) and I talk. I beg. I don't know who I am talking to. Am I asking Charlotte? Anyone? I really don't know. But I do this sometimes. And what I ask for is for me to die before my children, but for me to see them grow old. That's about all I wish for. Lately I've been wishing my cousin's baby won't die. It's all about things happening in the order I think they ought to happen.

4 Is there a particular line of scripture/teaching/sentiment that you find particularly helpful? Or is there one that’s commonly referred to but is unhelpful?

I have found that any and all "religious" teachings that have been proffered to me as intended "support" have worked against me. I don't feel that any God had a plan, or a will for my baby to die, and I don't feel comforted by imagining that there might be a place called heaven or whatever where she might be with my grandmother or I might see her again some day. So no, nothing has really helped me in that sense.

5 Did your faith offer rites, rituals or teachings that acknowledged your baby and your healing? If not (or if you didn't seek it out in an organized fashion), what rites, rituals or mantras have you adopted as your own?

We say a grace before our meal and it's this, "We miss you Charlotte, and we love you." This is how the kids say it. Greg and I are more wordy, but it's the same thing. Charlotte has inspired me to be a good person, to be conscientious, to serve others, to do what's right. She deserves a little prayer.

6 Some people say that in a foxhole (a desperate, life-threatening situation), there are no atheists. You’ve been in a foxhole. Discuss.

Maybe this is true, because I do vehemently deny the idea that my child is nowhere, gone, poof. I could feel her energy in the room as she was leaving me. She was there. I do believe this with a strength I can't convey. And this might be just survival, this certainty I feel.

What I can't say

When I used to write, in my past life of papers and discussions and theses and dissertations, I quoted people liberally, attributed the words I couldn't find or discover myself, and then broke them apart to support my cause. This was how writing worked for me for quite some time, because the way I used to have to write, in academia, I always needed others to support my cause to make my own legitimate.

I guess that's what I'm about to do here, just quote someone else, rather than say it myself. I never do this anymore; here I don't need supporting evidence, I don't know or relate to my audience, and they can choose to agree or disagree. I will never get a grade, I don't proofread, and I rarely edit. But I have to give you all a quote, here, because it's making my head spin.

Really what I'm about to do is give my own little personal prize to Kate for summing up the thing that plagues me the most in the most descriptive, eloquent, beautiful phrase I have ever read. So really, what I have here is a tribute to someone who is a far more descriptive writer than I am, who has woven wonders of the written word in response to her own personal loss. I love this woman's writing; it is highly probable that when you follow the link you'll think, NOW I have a new favorite blog, and it's Kate's. But-- I do ramble a bit.

The quote? (follow the link for the whole, eloquent, beautiful post)

I shiver with these words. I read them last night, late, and while I slept and all afternoon while I gardened my mind was filled with the image; like Mrs O'Leary's cow looking out over the city of Chicago, the fear wild and rampant and all the people quietly sleeping below. How can those 32 words so precisely capture this thing that lives in me, sometimes silently, sometimes rearing up and filling me with its heat?

These thoughts fill me in all of my interactions with the pregnant women in my life. I try, from this part that is very aware, to be a bigger person: to try to think statistically, to feel optimistic and enthusiastic and certain of the good outcome that everyone expects. But living deep inside me is the part that won't let go of the fear, that knows that any person is as likely as the next to fall victim to a random act of fate, that nothing can be for certain. I am constantly aware of the sound of my voice, the confident and jubliant way that my words flow out, perhaps overly joyful in an attempt to mask what feels like a terrifying and risky proposition.

The baby showers are the worst. They hold up the little sweaters, draping them over their bellies. I smile, I try to coo over the beautiful knitting and gaze admiringly at the knitter in the corner. But inside, I am thinking of the love that went into the creation of the sweater, and I can see the mama folding it carefully, running her hand over the tiny stitches, fingering the little buttons before putting it into a drawer. And I see myself, then, pulling out those sweaters that were Charlotte's, weeping into the soft wool for the baby who would not wear it. Every item that is opened at a baby shower is like a tiny prayer: please let this baby come out alive, please let the baby come out alive.

Even a blessing way, which is more common where I live, brings me angst because although this ceremony is much more centered around bringing good wishes and will to the birthing mother, the talk is always baby-centered and coming from the place that I can't ever return to. It's a room full of people who still have that innocence, and god willing they always will. It's this big club that I will never be able to join, this joy-only philosophy of pregnancy and childbirth. I get to be in the other club. Lucky me.

I wonder, sometimes, whether I will ever know somebody, a person that I really, truly know, who will experience a loss. This idea fills me with dread. While I tiptoe around the pregnancies that surround me, and think cautiously about outcomes, I also know that there is a big piece of me that feels that I have taken the bullet for everyone I know; that maybe the way chances work nobody else I know will ever have to be knocked flat on her back, unable to stand or breathe or even see for the grief that is holding her down, mockingly, with one finger. Grief, this big, vacuous space that surrounds and fills, and she cannot be outrun. I watch many people walk this road, but they have all been strangers to me before their losses. I wonder what it would feel like if it actually happened to anyone I knew.

So thanks, Kate, for giving me this little bit of 32 words that made me think and think and think all day. I admire your writing so very much.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Me, thinking about love

The kids, here, are walking out to our little guest cabin. Grammie and Grandpa are asleep in the cabin. In their bags are a thermos of coffee, two mugs, two sippy cups of hot chocolate, four slices of banana bread, and a bunch of space lego. Oh, and I almost forgot. A big wooden spoon for whacking on the guest house door to wake them up.

This is the really luscious part of having houseguests.

Somehow, having an audience increases your awareness of everything around you, of everything you do. Have you noticed this? Having houseguests makes you see your house, your posessions, in a totally different light. Being in public makes you hear your voice in a way that you wouldn't hear yourself if you were talking to your children at home. And sharing your children with others makes you see them, and your relationship to them, in a new and bright way.

I have had my husband's family-- father, mother, and grandmother-- at my house now for nine days. Some of you might cringe at this prospect, and want to dissolve at the mere thought of hosting in-laws for such a period of time. And at one point in my life, I might have, too. But I am lucky now that I have truly acclimated to my husband's family, and we've carved out a groove that we jump right into when they visit, and it works for everyone. I plan meals, mostly cook them, and they always help with clean up and dishes. They pick up after themselves, and after the kids, too. They grab the kids whenever they need someone and they read to them, play with them, enjoy them. We're lucky enough to have a little cabin in the backyard (how quaint!) which is a complete and perfect bedroom, making hosting company easier than it might be without that space. So having them here is really a treat, they help me out, I get some time to do things like go to meetings at the hospital, spend the morning at Liam's school, and work in my damp, shady garden down front.

And then there is this: I watch my children with their grandparents. I see them running, shrieking, blonde hair streaming in the wind as they race around the yard, jump on the bed, giggle hysterically in some grandparents' lap. I see their fixed gazes as they are read to, the concentrated expressions, the dimples above their eyebrows as their matching visages study the books that they are being read. I watch them through new eyes as others interact with them in the way that I normally do, meanwhile, I am enjoying my own pursuits simultaneously. And then, out of the corner of my eye, the blonde streak comes towards me, and tumbles into my lap, and I remember the best part of this all: they are mine.

We all love these children, and we take care of them together, and we love them and read to them and play with them, but when the sun goes down and they are ready for the best cuddle they could ever dream of, it's my arms they want tightly around their little lean bodies, my face they want smashed into theirs, a tangle of hair and breath and juicy lips and love. There was a poem once that my friend Catherine read at another friend's blessing way, it was a poem about the literal, physical love affair between mother and baby, and it is true, so viscerally true, and so real. I get squirmy inside in this totally, unique, indescribable way when I think about how much I love my children. It's not like how I love anyone else, and it's overpowering and physical and deep and from my gut and I just cannot get enough of it.

I think to myself, so very often, of the moment that Charlotte was born and I felt this thing for the first time, this love for my child. It ripped me open and left me raw, but it gave me an appreciation for what my parents had experienced in loving me, and it made me view them so differently. So I sit with my love for my children, half the time trying to figure out how on earth I could convince them to believe how much I actually love them, and the other half of the time just praying that some day they will have children of their own, the only true way for them to know just what it is that I feel in my heart for them each day, each minute, each second of my life.

Here we are at Charlotte's stone. We are one less than five. But we are, I admit, all smiling.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Notes on the two people who make my heart sing

We're travelling in the car, westward, on a visit. Aoife is quiet in the backseat, which is rare. Suddenly, her little voice pipes up.

"I sink my boogies are de-yicious!" she announces.

I stifle the urge to giggle. Explain to her that boogies are full of germs, and should not be consumed. Pass her a kleenex to finish blowing her nose into.

When I look in the rearview mirror, I see her licking the kleenex. This revolts me slightly, but I kindly remind her about the germ thing.

"I'm trying to get my boogies out of my mouth," she explains, and I do believe her. She wants to do the right thing.

A reader wondered how weaning was going. I swore up and down that if I wasn't pregnant by September that I would wean her, that's for sure.

And you know what? She is weaned, functionally, and it's not by me putting my foot down. She still nurses once a day, sometimes twice, but here's why she's weaned: when she falls down, I can pick her up, smooch her, pat her little bum, and she runs back to play. When she wakes up in the morning, I can pull her into bed with me, curl her into my tummy and she'll lie there, enjoying our time together, without needing to nurse to make this moment complete. It's so comforting and wonderful to me to see this transition happen, this move away from the breast and out into the world, before I actually tell her no, you won't nurse anymore. I'm only using nursing now to try (usually in vain) to get her to take a nap in the afternoon. So I'm offering it then, but if we cut out the nap, I don't know that she'd even remember to ask for it two days out of three (although on the third day she probably would). So that is the place she is in with that. And I'm not planning to cut her off anymore. I simply do not beleive that nursing from one breast one time a day could possibly inhibit my fertility. Done.
This is how I always am in the end, I make up my own mind. It's why I've never read one single book on raising a baby. I just do what I think I should be doing. My body taught me that when Charlotte died. I know what to do with my babies.

Dancing with my Liam...

And here he is, my delight and joy. There's this person in my life who asked me today, do you really love a little boy the same way you love a little girl. Can you tell she only has daughters? How emphatically can I answer this question with a YES, YES, YES!!!!! and try to explain to her this sweetness of loving a little boy? Of having this lovely, soft innocence gaze up into your eyes and to know he will grow to be... of all things... a MAN? Oh, it blows my mind and baffles me every single day, and somehow makes me love him more. This, and the fact, that my body grew a penis. That's just plain weird. And also mind boggling. So yes, of course my dear, you absolutely do, do, DO love your little boy just as much as your little girl.

And then I was asked, by someone without children, what I sacrificed to have children. I said, nothing. I sacrificed nothing. I kept everything, and gained everything. If there were things that were difficult to maintain, I figured out a way to get them back.
But what I really wanted to say was, the much, much bigger sacrifice? Would be not having children. I can't imagine my life without them, and I can't imagine sacrificing the opportunity in fear of other sacrifices. There is nothing like it on earth. Absolutely nothing.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

It is inevitable that I will, at some point, after all these years of playing catch-up, get old.

So here I am, thirty-two years of age. I can't get pregnant anymore, for the first time this summer I ate all all the chips I wanted at the cottage and drank all the beer I felt like and I don't weigh the same as I did senior year in high school, and then, today, I went out to move wood chips in my beautiful woodland forest garden and threw out my damn back. So yeah, youth is great, too bad it's passed me by! Shit! Is this for real??!@$#&(*

Otherwise, hey! Everyone's here, everyone's healthy, and the SUN is shining so beautifully on our beautiful nook of the earth here today. The wind is gentle and steady, the leaves rustling, the river high and loud from yesterday's rain. The air smells at once moist and dry, my wood chips have fragranced it with a new smell that reminds me of my days in the woods at girl scout camp. The children were cross today, not wanting to take naps, but after much coercing, a little bribery, and about ten minutes of laps walked up and down the nursery, the afternoon here was quiet. I deleted the 1561 messages from my Freecycle inbox which I had ignored all summer after throwing out my back. Now I'm sitting here, feeling happy to be here, wondering what my life will hold for me.

This no-new-baby thing is really interesting for me, at this point. I suppose I harbour a little sadness, but there is also this challenge aspect to it, which isn't really sad at all. I haven't lost anything, after all, I've just lost my idea of what I thought would happen. Of what I thought my family would be like. I never imagined having these two kids only, or these two kids and then a big gap and then another one. And so now I'm sitting here, imagining, what will this be like? What will we do in the meantime, how can and how WILL we just love this life that we have?

A little blonde wood fairy just brought me a lovely, squished piece of banana. "I wish from all my heart," she says right now, "that you will come outside."

And so I will, of course.

After I eat the banana :)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Labor Day Weekend

So the plague has left as quickly as it arrived... and though the rain POURS down outside my spirits feel relatively bright (although perhaps still a bit groggy).

Last weekend felt like this big event for me. You see, before we had children, Greg and I spent about half our weekends camping. And by camping, I don't mean driving somewhere and putting up a tent. I mean putting all of our expensive, compact gear into an ergonomic backpack and walking 12 miles into the forest and putting up a tent. We loved hiking and we went all the time. It truly was a major part of who I was.
Then, two events happened that changed this for me, and they happened in pretty rapid succession: One, an absolutely gigantic, humanized black bear nicknamed "Brutus" stalked my mother and I for about fifteen minutes and terrified the bejeezus out of us, and Two, I had children.

So then, it seemed logistically difficult to camp, and also I had developed this lovely, deep, and (I truly acknowledge this part) irrational fear of bears. So the idea of toughing out my fears in the night beside my innocent, helpless children seemed even more difficult. And so we wimped out, and never did camp.

So last weekend changed all this, and we did it, we went camping, version 2. Version two being putting all our things (literally everything but the kitchen sink) into the car, driving to the campsite, and getting out and camping. OH, how I LOVE version 2. How did I not discover this before? I feel it unnecessary, at this point in my life, to bag a peak in conjunction with sleeping in the wilderness. The latter will do just fine.

So we camped in this lovely Rhode Island campground which, coincidentally, did not feature bears. The children were DELIGHTED and logistically, at these ages, it worked out better than fine. Our campground actually had a few sites with little cabins in them, which we were able to get, so we had Greg and Liam in the tent and I, Aoife in the pack-and-play, and our two friends in the cabin.

The children actually went to sleep, they slept all night long, we enjoyed cozy bowls of oatmeal on the three mornings, better meals than we ever had on the hiking trail for lunches and suppers. And, best of all, during the days we went to the beautiful seaside and enjoyed the beauty of the ocean.

Liam spent so much time out beyond the waves, bobbing in the deep water with his bubble on.

"How come you didn't swim like this when we were at the lake?" I wondered.

"I just like the sea better," he explained. Good enough.

And what is it about the ocean? This vast openness, that makes you feel so liberated, that causes you to take deep breaths and to feel your heart beat? Every time I go to the ocean, walk by it, feel its swell and roll and mighty calm, I am taken. I know that if I had grown up by the ocean, I would be torn to leave. As it is, I feel calmed by it, and slightly long for it, but can manage having not smelled its salt and listened to its melodic crashing as I grew.

So now we are a camping family, and not the camping family which I had envisioned, which seemed too complicated. I have a new concept, a great modification for our family. And there was something so amazing to be at this huge campground, with over 800 campsites, and you weren't allowed to drink alcohol, and you couldn't watch television, and all these people are just there with their families enjoying time together. I loved it.

So if you haven't tried car camping, you must. And if you love hiking-camping with your kids and you're about to post a comment telling me I should give this a try, too-- never fear. Some day relatively soon, I'm sure I will. I'm just going to love this simplicity for a while. It feels so nice to do things and to be calm about it.

And so now I'm just really trying to get into a groove, a new groove. September does feel like a new start. I'm trying to have a new attitude. I have this cool little family who can actually do things. The peaches and raspberries are ripe in our neighborhood. My garden is flourishing. The river rages. Five years ago I lay prone on the floor, noticing nothing, bereft. Time does heal.

Friday, September 5, 2008

I have a fever and feel spacey and hot. Oh, oh. My 5 AM plans to write meaningful posts foiled by some kind of vicious bug that pounced upon us all at once.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The First Day

It's quiet now. I've started to wake up with Greg, at 5 AM, to find a few hours of peace in my day. It has been a week now. I find I am just as tired as I am at 6:30 when the little ones arise, except that I can quietly drink coffee, check my e-mail, or read a magazine instead of rushing right into my day with a bang. It works very well, for now.

Do you know what today is? Today is the first day of kindergarten. Today fifteen or twenty or nineteen children will file into the elementary school down the street, some crying, their mothers tightly clutching their hands before they have to say goodbye. There will be new pencils, and a freshly markered message at the meeting rug. Children's names will encircle the classroom, carefully written by the caring teacher sometime in the last week as she prepares for her new students to arrive. There will be one name missing, and nobody will even know.

This morning as I make my children their breakfast, as Liam pads outside to snip fresh chives, as the eggs cook in the pan, I will be noticing what I'm not doing. It has been awhile since I have been able to say, with decision, what I would have been doing with Charlotte on a given day. But today, I am fairly certain, I know. I would have taken her to school for the first time.

Of course I can't be sure of this. Already I'm wavering about Liam next year, if I can bear to send him away from me for seven hours a day, why I would want to do this, why some other person should steal my right to spend our days together. But it is my inkling that most of this possessiveness is a result of losing Charlotte; if I had been sending her, I think we would have gone.

So, my lost daughter, today I need not relinquish you: for you are already gone to me. Another milestone come and gone. I wonder what your would-be friends will do, what they will play, what will make them laugh. And I will think of you, as I always do.