Thursday, May 26, 2011

Right Where I Am: 3 years, 9 months, 12 days

Normally I wouldn’t bother with the days. Honestly, I had to do math on my fingers to come up with the months, but, it just happens to be the 26th. R died on the 26th and she lived for 12 days. So…

In the days immediately after R’s death, T vowed to make time every 26th to remember her. Implicit in this plan was his predicted inability to ever be happy on the 26th day of any month ever again. Judging from his grateful smile as I sent him off to work with a travel mug full of hot coffee, the plan didn’t take. I never bought into the plan, mostly because I couldn’t imagine any greater degree of sadness than I was feeling every minute of every day already. R was gone. C was in the NICU. Everything felt fragile and uncertain.

It still feels this way for a few minutes each day. My thoughts of R are like background noise or wallpaper. They’re always present but I don’t actively monitor them. After all, some things stay exactly where you left them. But, the memories still fly into the foreground at least once a day, unbidden, a freak wave splashing over the bow, leaving me shocked and spluttering, questioning the certainty of anything in my life.

Here are some of those moments from the past 24 hours along with other thoughts I had while contemplating ‘right where I am’.

While Peering Hopelessly into my Closet

It’s hot and sticky here in the mid-Atlantic. I’m finding that my wrinkle-proof, working-mom wear is making me a little too sweaty on my daily walk to the commuter train but I can’t figure out what else I should wear. The new girl at work, who speaks of fabulousness as a glorious island nation that I too could inhabit if I’d just use the right navigational equipment, mentioned that she’d purchased her chic linen pants (size 2) on sale at Banana Republic. I’d check it out but I prefer the “Frumpy Barista” collection at Penney’s for the elastic hidden in the waistband of most pants.

Stores are full of sparkly, flowy, brightly-colored clothes for summer and I can’t imagine wearing any of them. I don’t feel sparkly anymore and flowy is terrible on the playground. I can’t see the point of smart, sporty clothes that can go from office to rooftop happy hour.

I need something that says I’m no longer a frivolous person who uses precious brain cells on wardrobe development. A cloak or a monastic robe might work but, it needs to be stain resistant and have a skort built-in for the playground. The statement would probably be undermined by lollipops and princess stickers adhering to the hem anyway.

Looks like it’s going to be mom-slacks and cardigans for another few months.

While Driving

I dropped C off at daycare earlier today and almost smashed into a carful of teenagers making an ill-advised left turn. 21 years and a few months ago my brother was almost killed in a similar situation at the same intersection.

Luckily he escaped with a concussion and a neck sprain. A few months later, we sat the kitchen table and I helped him turn the incident into a compelling essay for his college applications. I’m not sure that a 6’2” varsity football player and home run derby champion needs to write a slam bang essay to get into college but it’s certainly a better ending to the story than what could have been. How would my life have been different if my brother had died or become an invalid that night? He was riding in a car with 2 other boys who only had one sibling. I was friendly with all of them. What would that have been like if we’d all become instant only children?

We had a tearful night last night. C’s cousins (the ones who wouldn’t exist if my brother had died) stopped by just long enough to set up an elaborate game of house/school/doctor. The 8-year-old had just prepped C for surgery and the 6-year-old was setting up the post-operative tea party when my SIL announced that they had to go home for baths and bedtime. It was hard to catch all of the words during C’s ensuing meltdown (C inherited my tendency to hyper-ventilate when crying) but I made out that she’s lonely and jealous that her cousins get to go everywhere together.

As we sat and tried to calm her down, T shot me a look over her head. You know the look I’m talking about. Well, maybe those of you who conceive easily don’t. It was the look that says hey-we-can-skip-the-Barry White-because-you-seem-to-be-infertile-now-but-maybe-we-should-discuss-our-other-options---sexily. I answered with the look that says, “Nope.”

I’m happy with our life right now. At least I feel like everything we have going on is manageable. I can see all of the ways that another child would be earth-shatteringly awesome and I can see all of the ways it could be heartbreaking. The awesome just doesn’t outweigh the heartbreak…yet…maybe not ever.

But, it does hover there in the back of my mind. What would it be like if we added a brother or sister for C?

Or, as I skidded toward a carful of oblivious children this morning, what would it be like if that new sister or brother died in some horrible manner?

While Playing with C

I can talk about R without getting even remotely teary or emotional now. This area has a nice, thick callus and I feel good about that callus. I remember sitting and rocking for hours with infant C and wondering how she would stand growing up with this hollow shell that called itself ‘mommy.’ I didn’t resolve to get over it or be strong for C’s sake. I figured that I’d always be sad and C would have a great career as a memoirist after she grew up and escaped.

But that’s not really how it’s turning out. We function just like any other family with one child and two parents who work full-time outside the home. C and I sit on the floor coloring together in the evenings while I assuage my guilt about spending so much time apart and the laundry piles up and the bacteria colonizing my bathroom threaten to devour the entire house.

Maybe I’d be more super-mom-ish if I didn’t grant myself the space to enjoy these small pleasures with my surviving daughter but that seems like the road to ruin for any mom. I can almost allow myself to think that grief has improved me in some ways. Of course, I probably would have improved in some ways as the mother to twin girls as well.

C recently started drawing more recognizable objects during our coloring sessions. First it was faces and stick figures. Then she started adding yellow hair and blue eyes to make them look like her. Yesterday she drew herself and then a copy of herself. She asked if I could draw some strawberries and a pear for R.

“R likes strawberries and pears, just like I do,” she explained and then she started telling crayon-R about all of the other things they could do together if they both lived here with mommy and daddy.

And it occurred to me that we may never be fully present, never completely right where we are. For me and C and T there will always be a little piece missing from this place and time and all of our future places and times. We’ll always face the past every so often and wonder what it would be like if R had survived.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


We moved R's tree to our yard in time for Mother's Day. Technically we did it in time for the other Mother's Day...the one I didn't bother mentioning to anyone. That wasn't the intent anyway. This just happens to be a good time of year for moving deciduous trees.

T commented that he would like something ornamental better--something with showy blooms to breakup the monotony in our yard. That wasn't my intent either.

This is an intention-free zone.

Left to my own notions, I never would have purposely planted anything as a memorial to my daughter. I'm not opposed to the practice. I just dread dead memorial plants. And I'm tired of dread.

But this tree was already dead when I found it, burning through its limited resources, waiting for a taxpayer-purchased weed-whacker to come and finish the job. It turns out that I'm more tired of death than I am of dread.

So, I threw caution to the wind, dug the little tree up with a random stick, and planted it in a vacant spot alongside my mom's garage where it stayed until we could plant at the new house.


At my 6-week post-partum visit, the OB ran through the list of questions that mark the route for his daily parade of interchangeable lady parts.

"Are you sad?"

"Uh, yeah."

"I mean, are you sadder than you would expect?"

I swear there was an audible click as the doorway that stood open between me and the ordinary world closed...forever. I may have laughed a little.

What did I expect? A first time mother to almost died and almost lived. I felt like the entire universe had been crammed into the space between my ears and there was no room left for expectations of any kind.

Going on four years since pregnancy/birth/death, aside from the eternal ache of missing R and my white-hot obsession with C, this is the most lasting effect--I lost my expectations.

I can need and hope and want. I just can't expect.

I think this may actually be an improvement.


R's tree started out like any other red maple. The seed landed, down went the roots, up went the cotyledon. When the resources supplied by the seed were gone, leaves sprouted and photosynthesis kicked expected.

It had a lot of siblings, this tree. In the r-selected world of plant propagation, it's all about the numbers. Because, if it can expect anything at all, a tree probably expects dead babies.

Survival is for the seeds that land in a wooded area with the best soil and a little break in the canopy to let in the sunlight. If conditions are right, a red maple can expect to live for close to one hundred years. It's a relatively short lifespan for a tree but, still.

Pressed up against the post of a playground structure (even one as well-meant as this one) with the maintenance crew breathing down its neck, this tree couldn't expect much more than a couple of weeks.

But, you know, fuck expectations.