Monday, August 30, 2010

Wishing Time Away

Summer just zipped by this year. Or maybe I zipped by summer.

It seems to happen that way now that I'm old enough to be unquestionably grown-up. In June I start off with an ambitious list of free concerts and farmers markets--my imagination mistakes me for a woman of leisure once the temperature inches above 70 degrees F.

June is a frenzy of summer--picnics, baseball, splashing in the kiddie pool. July never fails to be overtaken by events. August is a parade of housekeeping feats of strength punctuated by bouts of emotional distress.

By the end of it my brain is paddling around inside my head like the baby bunnies the dog used to chase into the backyard pool. Only one more week to luxuriate on the beach! You should rent a kayak or something! Make some iced-tea and sit in a lounge chair! Why didn't you tie-dye anything this summer?

Normally Fall would come along in a few weeks and scoop me up into the safety of short days and limited possibilities. This year, however, we're shifting into phase 2 of our parent lifestyle--preschool.

C has a new backpack and a set of jumpers handcrafted by her Grammy hanging neatly in the closet. We're practicing bathroom skills and reminding her that her classmates and teacher will not want to hear about butt cheeks during the school day. She dutifully takes in this information and then spends her evenings pretending to be a baby.

I didn't realize I was dreading the transition until I found myself staring at the ceiling this morning around 3AM while my mind concocted all sorts of misery. What if she gets bullied or excluded? I think she'd have an easier time if she turns out to be a mean girl. Oh my god! I'm hoping that my daughter turns into a mean girl!

There's no shortage of things that need to happen around here. The laundry's backed up. I can't concentrate on the meeting agenda I'm supposed to be developing. I have no plan for dinner for tonight...or any night this week to tell the truth. All I can think about is C's clean, little self-perception getting tromped all over by a bunch of strangers.

I've already marked the last day of the school year on my calendar--next June. I'll skip work that day. We'll get ice cream at a local dairy that we haven't visited yet and go to a free concert. We'll make a bunch of plans for things that we probably won't do.

Now that summer's over, summer just can't come soon enough.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


And so it's here. Another year gone without R. We miss you and love you, kiddo.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Can you scoot over a little bit? I'm getting a crick in my neck. Better yet, why don't you hop out and swim alongside? I'm feeling a little self-absorbed this week and I need to stretch my legs.

In my real life I don't talk about R very frequently. I may throw in a cautious self-deprecating remark about my less-than-ideal experience with pregnancy or a veiled comment about the 'hard year or 2' after C was born but even those are few and far between. It's not that I don't want to talk about her or can't--I don't want to hear what other people think about R or her birth or her death or my reaction to it.

On the few forays I've made into the world of public grieving (i.e., expressing sorrow in front of people without dead babies) I've been advised to 'find something that will help me turn that negative energy into a positive result' or to 'stop worrying because it won't bring her back.' My former boss suggested I use the time freed up by trauma-induced insomnia to get more work done. I've also been ignored because, as we all know, if you want something to go away, you should ignore it.

The birthday has passed. We are now in our 3rd grief season (it may actually be the 4th given the circumstances leading up to their birth). This year's theme is apparently “Self-indulgent Prick.”

T pointed out that I cannot get annoyed by family members and friends who behave as though R never existed if I'm the one leading them in this direction. It seems I have made myself a tiny little bed with room enough for only me and a 3 lb. 12-day-old baby and I now have to lie in it.

In my mind I'm trying to spare everyone. The monumental R-shaped hole inside my heart isn't really fit for company. If I lay it out in full view it is both impossible to ignore and hideous beyond imagining. It will mock your kid's asthma* and kick you right in your arthritic knee. It wants you to know what it feels like to kiss your dead baby's forehead in the back room of the funeral home. And, goddamn it, if you don't stop talking about your Tar.get boycott, it's going to rip your head off and shove it up your ass.

In preparation for the kickass birthday party we had planned for C, I did the mannerly thing and wrestled Old Ugly into submission. After all, this was the first time all of these folks would be gathered together since I married T back in 2002 and I wanted it to go smoothly.

My family did not appreciate the effort. In fact, they didn't even notice. So, in a fit of pique I cracked open my laptop and executed the blogging equivalent of kicking the dog after a hard day at work. There I was, Monday morning, lounging with my feet in some undeserving person's face, complaining that the lifeboat lacks luxury appointments. But, you're all too decent and supportive to point that out and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.

I think of myself as a fortunate person. I've always been healthy, capable, free of any crippling mental, physical, or emotional handicaps. For most of my life I've 'had it to give' or at least felt like I didn't need to take anything from anyone. Then my Dad died and then I became a mom and then one of my daughters died and I've been struggling to reconcile my former carefree self with this new baggage-laden version ever since.

Sympathy has never come easy for me. Like most fortunate people I always thought that I had earned a life that ran smoothly. People with problems could just work their way out of them or not but, that had nothing to do with me.

You'd think that I'd be a font of sympathy now that I know the truth about suffering but it's really not that simple. My well of caring is miles deep but only an inch or two wide. If it doesn't have to do with death or imminent death of a young human, I really can't get too stirred up. (OK, maybe I can get a little weepy thinking about the polar bears drowning for want of pack ice but mostly because it reminds me that children living in low-lying areas of Bangladesh could be swept away by rising seas.)

Everyday I get up, take a shower, head to the train and somehow manage to walk the walk of a conscientious, upright citizen but it feels like such a sham. I weigh everything against R's death. At the slightest provocation I find myself back in the family room of the NICU watching T hold her out so that the doctor can listen for a heartbeat and call the time of death. Sometime right around 4pm on Sunday, August 26, 2007, the universe collapsed into a pinpoint and everything other than R and C and T ceased to exist.

Over time, the pinpoint widened to let in other families struggling to recover from babyloss but there's still nowhere near enough room for mundane complaints of the non-grieving, non-fatal variety.

On Wednesday it will be three years since R took her last breath, Thursday will be three years since she died. I'm not sure how I thought I would feel after three years.

Last year I was completely adrift on August 26. I had just started reaching out to other folks via the blog. I was living in my mom's house and wondering if we'd ever manage to get pregnant again. I walked down to R's playground and looked for some type of sign that R still existed somewhere. And I suppose I found it.

This year I feel less alone and more settled. On Friday morning I got a card from Awesome Angie (R's first and only birthday card). Several of you sent messages of support here or through email or on FB. We're in our own house. At some point last fall we decided that we really don't want more kids which is great because I don't think we can produce anymore anyway. T recently started a new job that suits him perfectly.

We are where we want to be...except that R isn't here with us. These days, missing her is just a part of daily life--easy as taking a breath. Truthfully, it's probably easier than it would have been to parent her if she had survived.

On Thursday, C and I will drive down to the beach for a reunion with some of my grad school classmates who are now mostly happily married with (100% living) children. I'm sure that we'll get caught up on life since graduation--the choices we've made, the opportunities we've missed. I will endeavor to stay focused on the conversation but my mind will likely be off and wandering, trying to figure out how I could have failed my daughter so miserably and how I can go on growing my career, making decisions about our future without her.

Whenever I talk to other parents about topics other than parenting I always wonder if they've also demoted everything else. If it comes easily, if they can crank out living babies with no trouble at all, do they sit at their desks some days wondering how the hell they got there? Do they ever feel like jumping up from the desk, running back home and never leaving the house again? Do they ever spend an entire day mulling over the power random chance has over our lives?

Do they ever dig up a puny little tree and replant it in the yard because it might be a sign from the universe that we're all part of something too great to comprehend?

Do they realize that you can learn everything you need to know in 12 days?

*NOTE: After I published this I had instant remorse about that asthma comment. I know that asthma can be fatal and is terrifying for parent and child alike. I thought about deleting and replacing it with something less horrible but I left it in because a) I already pointed out that I'm feeling lousy about being a prick b) it highlights exactly how unreasonable I can be when feeling sorry for myself.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I can't figure out how to be around other people.

I recognize that I'm not like them any more. Even the ones with some sort of personal tragedy generally have something less bizarre.

I know they have questions. I know they have feelings. I know that they want to share these things with me.

I am a clenched fist.

A birthday celebration, bouncy castles and bubble machines in my yard--I dash from one thing to another, reluctant to get pinned down and examined.

They watch me flutter around, spinning the plates and keeping the balls aloft. They are impressed/troubled/relieved.

I watch C jostle across the yard amidst a cloud of pink dresses and hair bows. I see a second set of bouncing honey-blond pigtails and I know I'm not the only one. Their collective will can almost conjure another freshly minted three-year-old. But they still can't understand.

I'm not the self-appointed keeper of misery, never have been. I'm an easy one, a good listener. It was touch and go for a while there. The old complainers braced themselves for the arrival of a new sheriff in town but I collapsed halfway through the campaign. My scars are not up for a vote.

They wait patiently to see if I want a turn and then, in the absence of any airing of my troubles, they bound into the void with their discomforts, disorders, disappointing diagnoses. I nod and express sympathy. I wish I could take a pill to fix my problem. I want to tell them that I would endure everything they have described to have R back but I know they wouldn't believe me because they can't understand.

And I'm glad they can't understand because I love all of them and nobody should ever have to feel like this.

So I leave them to draw their own conclusions and quietly take my place in the family lore.

C falls asleep on the couch all dirty feet and sweat-plastered hair. The guests exit, smiling. The party is a success. I am satisfied.

But in the quiet solitude of our room, T and I hold hands and shed tears for our other birthday girl, wherever she may be. And my heart breaks all over again because next to C and R, T is the one I love the most and he is the only other one who understands.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Last Wednesday evening T called to tell me that our car was on fire. He was getting ready to call for a tow and needed me to pick him up.

My immediate response to this news was rage which then softened into something between sadness and anxiety. As an avowed walker and devoted user of mass transit it feels strange to admit it but, I love my car.

The car was our first major purchase as a married couple. The day it arrived from Germany we picked it up and drove through the night from NC to surprise my parents with a visit. The diesel engine means that it can travel ridiculous distances on one tank of gas. When the “shit goes down” we can run it on fry-o-lator grease and flip the seats down to sleep in the back. If you aren't convinced yet, I should also tell you that the financing was set up by a six-fingered man...with a manicure.

I think its purchase may be the only decision that T and I have ever agreed on 100%. Our little silver station wagon embodies us at our best.

I hate our other car. Faced with a shortening cervix that curtailed the walking portion of my commute and a job change that required T to drive, we were forced to buy a second vehicle. In a fit of optimism we went with the mini-van figuring that we'd need something that could easily fit 2 babies and a dog. The guy who sold it to us was young and slick and had no evidence of polydactyly. It felt wrong from the minute we bought it.

There are people who will tell you that you can jinx yourself with a surfeit of optimism. There are people who believe that pessimism and negativity attract bad things into your life. All of these people are assholes.

The mini-van didn't kill my daughter. It didn't generate a toxic haze of doubt that poisoned her and it didn't draw the attention of the Fates and inspire them to put me back in my place. As cars go, it even performs most tasks quite admirably but I hate it all the same.

Most parents loathe their mini-van, a.k.a. swagger wagon, because it hammered the final nail into the coffin for their hipness. I celebrate Groundhog's Day with a haiku contest every year--I was never in danger of being hip. To me, it is the vehicle of a family that has arrived at the desired destination. It feeds the illusion that we have everything we want. The cargo room, the extra row of seating, the plethora of cup holders—they're all just reminders of the plenty that I'd gladly sacrifice for just one more day with R. I wonder if I look like I'm getting my swagger on when I roll up to Big Box Retail in my shiny van with my spritely daughter in tow.

The station wagon is the path we chose. The van is the path that was forced on us.

Buying a car that can double as EarthshipOC in some Mad Max-esque future seems so naïve now but I like having a physical reminder that I once made decisions with the unwavering belief that my opinion mattered. When I drive it I feel young and capable.

The van makes me feel like a failure. I never drive it unless I absolutely have to. Anyone who sits in the captain's chair behind the driver is automatically transformed into “not R.” I never tell these unfortunate passengers that they're sitting in my dead daughter's seat. I feel like an ass for even thinking it. Sometimes I'm tempted to pull to the side of the road and pitch R's seat into the woods so that I don't have to deal with all of the cognitive dissonance anymore.

Luckily the mechanic was able to make the necessary repair and the wagon is back in action but, for those couple days when we thought we might have to replace it, I was really a little beside myself. Guess I'm not as alright as I think I am.

Monday, August 2, 2010

White Elephant

I seem to be back on top in the battle for parental supremacy. T thinks I'm C's new favorite because I'm willing to spend hours crouched on the floor drawing giraffes on demand. I know that it's just a phase. Soon enough she won't want anything to do with me.

That's just the way it is, I'm afraid. The mother-daughter relationship is always fraught with tension. The mother looks at her daughter and sees another shot at missed opportunities, the daughter looks at the mother and sees someone who is clueless about everything. I wonder if it's less tense with more than one daughter around to bear the brunt of mom's deferred dreams. As an only daughter raising an only daughter, I won't ever know for sure.

I can't imagine ever being anything less than completely smitten with my feisty, silly girl. If she grows up to be anxious and moody I'll admire her depth of character. If she dates the wrong kind of boy (or girl) I'll silently applaud her romantic spirit even as I'm spouting off about STDs and birth control and exclaiming over the attributes of others I consider more suitable.

She has such a light in her--just like we all do before time bends us low. I can't help but worry about the first gust of wind that will threaten to extinguish it. I worry that it will be something I say or do that makes her feel like she's not enough.

When my Dad died I went to great lengths to keep my Mom happy and busy. I thought I could fill the space in her life if I just poured enough stuff into it. I placed quantity over quality. I didn't want to see that I could never be an adequate replacement for her husband. Even five years later I'm a little wounded by the realization that I can't make my Mom happy.

Sometimes I watch C sleep and wonder what her future holds and then I stop myself, unwilling to tempt fate. Three years ago today I was in the hospital wondering the same thing. At the time I wasn't thinking about any sort of distant future, I was focused on finding out when the perinatologist would be by with his handy portable sonogram machine. Judging from the frantic tugging at my ribcage, I knew C was still alive and I could feel R hiccuping away on the lower righthand side of my belly but I knew things could change in a moment.

I remember thinking about what I would do if C died. I played with the idea of both of them dying and I even talked to T briefly about what he should do if all three of us died. But, C was really the one I worried about most. It wasn't a heavy, emotional thing. My dad had died two years earlier and I was still dealing with the logistical aftermath. Faced with the possibility of another tragic episode, I wanted to have a plan. So, I imagined a future with different arrangements of cremated remains and I took a nap.

The concept of C having many possible futures in August 2010 feels so strange as compared to the high-intensity rapid shifts of August 2007. Three years ago I made peace with her impending death. I told myself that I could survive it and then August 14 came and she was suddenly healthy again. And R, who had seemed so much more likely, was suddenly gone.

On Sunday T and I were discussing our hopes for C and I realized that I have a bit of a block. He was all "advanced degrees" and "making a difference in the world" and I was sort of stuck on "breathing" and "ambulatory."

In this five minute conversation I saw a vision of my own future as one of those sunshine-blowing, enabling nightmare mothers and I started to worry a bit. It's one thing to have my own expectations of the world crumble a bit in the wake of my R's death but, I can't stand the thought of C losing out because of it.

I feel as though I've traded in my ability to hope and plan for more capacity to cope with "very bad things." What if there are sunny skies and advanced degrees ahead? Is it my job to serve as C's chief apologist if she turns out to be a fuck-up? Am I turning her into a fuck-up with my low expectation?

And so, I know this is the slow season for blogging and I know I've been bad about commenting on other blogs but, I could use some advice here. How do you go about parenting responsibly when you're so relieved to have a living child that you can't figure out what ought to come next?

I know that a lot of you are holding onto parenting advice that you can't share with the IRL folks because it involves death and loss.

Lay it on me.