Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dispatches from Level 4

A few weeks ago I needed C out of the way while I worked on 4th birthday extravaganza preparations. I decided that she might like to see some video footage of herself as a baby so, I loaded up a DVD, parked her on the couch, and ran upstairs to organize the spare room. Within minutes I heard her crying hysterically.

The trip down the stairs took approximately 2 seconds which, strangely, was enough time to imagine all of the ways she could have maimed herself with common household objects. But, when I got to the living room, she was safe and sound on the couch, right where I'd left her. When I asked her what was wrong she said that she missed being a baby.

As I hugged her and helped her to calm down I shook my head at how different she is from me. I can't remember ever wishing to be a baby. Childhood was about catching up and keeping up with my big brother and my older cohorts. Then I heard the pilot's voice hissing, "She knows. You ruined her babyhood. She doesn't want to remember it. She wants a do-over."

I don't even have a clear enough recollection of C's babyhood to help her relive it. Without any other children to compare I can't say how normal or abnormal it was but, I can tell you that we never experienced that feeling of undiluted joy. The joy was there but it was trapped under an ocean of panic, despair, and soul-numbing terror. Judging from the smiling, laughing mom in the video, I did a reasonable job of damming it up but it took a lot of effort. I had to split my energy between feeling the joy and holding back the everything-other-than-joy.

Those last two posts sound like such a fucking pity-party or maybe one of those celebrations of the ‘bad-mommy’ that seem so common these days. That wasn’t the intent. I have genuine regrets about my parenting and I can’t escape the feeling that C’s been short-changed.

The truth is that I would like a do-over. It doesn’t even need to include a different outcome for R. I’m past that. I just want another chance to focus on C entirely now that I know how to separate the happy from the sad.


When I was younger, I lived in a cinderblock dorm steps from the Atlantic Ocean. At night I’d leave the windows open and listen to the waves as I fell asleep. With enough practice I could picture the size and shape of the breakers and guess the weather conditions based on the volume of the crash.

The great, beating heart of the planet. The soothing sound of certainty. 9.86 m/s/s. The water piles up, hangs in the air for just a moment, and then falls back to Earth. More reliable than clockwork.

I suppose anything could happen in that pause. The water could get stuck. It could shoot up into the sky like a great fountain, causing Newtown and Cavendish to roll over in their graves. But, it doesn’t, does it?

Or maybe it does but hardly anyone sees it.

What if you saw it?

Would you carry-on as if nothing strange had happened?


Sometimes I forget just how close it was for her.

During one of her gymnastics classes earlier in the summer, the other mothers were comparing birth stories featuring ‘tiny’ 6 lb. babies.

These conversations make my entire body clench, sort of like that wabbly feeling you get in your knees if you stand close to the windows in a skyscraper. Are they going to ask me? Will I tell the truth? I hope they ask. I hope they don’t ask. Go ahead, ask me…

She’s in the high-performing track in the class with the other kids who have mastered the basic skills. Given that T is built like an acrobat/spelunker and C is his tiny clone, this is really no surprise but, I still have to fight the urge to cackle maniacally.

She keeps up in school. The OT cleared her of any debilitating motor-skill delays. She has enough attitude to float the entire Pacific fleet. She talks constantly, punctuating her grand schemes with jazz hands, leaps, and twirls. Our conversations are full of magical baby ponies named Rainbow Flower Heart.

Four years after all of that death, despair, and mayhem, it’s just a normal girl-world and I’m just a normal mom/pony handler/evil pony-capturing wizard.

Normal, except for the constant refrain in my head--how close we came to missing all of this, how quickly it could all end.


I don’t have a good wrap-up for this post. The birthday party was a ton of fun, even the Barbies (and the Barbie pool and the Barbie veterinary clinic and the Barbie pre-school). I just wanted to take a break from ‘August’ and the general feeling of despair that permeates this blog to focus on C, just C, and to celebrate how far she’s come and how happy she makes me.


  1. I wonder how it feels to you when readers disagree...because far from equating your blog with despair in any form; no. Not a pity party, not a whine fest, not a "bad mommy babble." Not typical.

    I think C has a rich mother. A mother who knows pain and joy and love and death and depth and light and words and silence and all kinds of things. And she can tell about them more than most people can - in a way that most people can't.

    I think the older C gets, the more she's going to think she's pretty lucky.

    I feel pretty lucky that I get to read. And for that, I thank you again.

    Living in the same mixed up world,

    Cathy in Missouri

  2. I can't say it better than Cathy already has.

    I would also like a do-over for J. I remembering saying to my mother that I wish it hadn't had to happen all at once. That I could have had some time to figure out how to separate the two experiences so that J could have a better mother. J gets terribly upset over pictures of herself as a tiny baby (as in unusually tiny, more normal size pictures don't seem to bother her). I say that's you and she hides her face. I don't know why! Strange isn't it? I wonder what made C 'miss' being a baby.

    That feeling of how close it was always seems to be close to the forefront of my mind around the birthdays. I would have been the same around that conversation of the tiny 6lb babies - I still get into an absolute agony of 'I hope they ask me / I hope they don't ask me.' And good for C being in the high-performing track at gymnastics. I would totally be cackling too. Sadly, I think J is doomed to a life of slight clumsiness but whether that is down to her prematurity or to her mother's genes will forever remain a mystery.

    I love the middle part of this post. You've got me believing all sorts of things could happen in that pause.

  3. Totally didn't see the last two as pity party/bad mommy celebration. I think you are a rockin mom, and, like Cathy said, you are a rich mother, too.

    I know of those conversations, where it seems like they're headed straight towards the brick wall of birth stories. I know the wabbly. Go C for making the rest of them look like underachievers!

    I do have to chuckle at your evil pony capturing wizard role--so opposite of the role playing going on over here, damn gender stereotypes and all. Tell Rainbow Flower Heart hello from TruckDriver Land over here :)

  4. "we never experienced that feeling of undiluted joy. The joy was there but it was trapped under an ocean of panic, despair, and soul-numbing terror."

    That's how it felt for me when we brought Angus home. I know it wasn't the same as the bringing one twin home, but all those feelings did ring true 15 months after Hope's death when we finally had a live child in the house.

    So glad the party went off well.