Sunday, March 11, 2012

What to Expect...

...When Nothing's Gone as Expected and You are Still Figuring It Out Over 4 Years Later: A Helpful Guide for Mothers of Children with Siblings Who Died in Infancy

Chapter 12 - Pre-K

You should expect to see more exclamation points than you ever thought possible in a paragraph about your dead child.

TO: Pre-K Teacher

Mrs. H,

I just wanted to give you a heads-up that C is bringing a picture of her sister, R, for show-and-tell tomorrow (for 'R' week). R was C's twin sister who died a couple of weeks after they were born. I'm not sure if she'll mention that part. I'm also not sure what picture she'll choose but I'll steer her towards one that has as little medical equipment in it as possible. At the very least, I can guarantee that R will be alive in the photo that C brings in.

I don't think you have to worry about C getting upset. She's pretty matter-of-fact about the whole thing--because there isn't really any other way to be about it, I suppose.

We tried to talk her out of this but, we didn't want to push too hard. We try to be as open about R's death as possible and let C guide our discussions. Every once in a while that means that R gets mentioned in an awkward situation.

My guess is that most of the kids won't even realize what's going on but I didn't want you to be blindsided.



TO: TracyOC

FROM: Pre-K Teacher

Thanks so much for the email. I LOVE how matter of fact children are about death! They are so truly accepting! I was aware that C had a twin sister that had lived for a short time at her birth,however, I did not know her name. I think it is so cute that she remembered R for R week! Don't worry -I am sure the other children will be just as accepting as C is. Thanks for the heads up though-in truth I can't wait to see a picture of R-It will be so neat to see how much they looked alike.

By the way- were C and R born early?(I just want to be sure we have the story right).

I am sure C will do a great job at it.

Mrs. H

I can't really form a coherent thought about this. It's funny and baffling--maybe even a little refreshing. I can't tell if I should be offended. I don't know. Just seemed worth sharing.


  1. I LOVE how optimistic pre-k teachers are, even in situations that demand condolences! Must! Stay! POSITIVE! I just don't think the reply should have contained the words: cute, LOVE or neat.

    It is ironic. I had to write a sister death message to Beezus' pre-k teacher this week too. I had to give it to my sister, because I felt dismissed and at worst, insulted. My sister said it was nice, so you was ME. You have to update us on the show and tell. I really would love to hear what C. says.

    1. I think it was really the lack of condolences that took me by surprise. Even the most clueless people I know are generally capable of producing and "I'm sorry" but, C's teacher is truly an odd duck.

    2. And, show and tell went smoothly as far as I know. Thanks to the power of the internets, C knows that she isn't the only kid with a dead sister (in fact, she isn't even the only one in her pre-k class). Plus, our attempt to dissuade was more of a brainstorming session that she interrupted to tell us that she already knew she was bringing a picture of R. As far as R knows, we don't think there's anything out of the ordinary about the situation.

      It could be that this really isn't out of the ordinary in pre-k land. Maybe someone brings in a picture of a dead twin every year and no one bats an eye.

  2. Jesus man. I feel you on the confusion. Should you be pissed, like WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? or should you laugh at this teacher's innocence and forget all about it?

    Either way, it was worth sharing, if nothing else but to say that it happened and that it was so damn confusing.


    1. What the fuck? That's almost exactly what I thought when I first read it. It's like an email from a different species. Then again, I suppose my message isn't exactly perfect either.

  3. urmmm, ok, I'm really not sure what to think about that either, what a strange note for her to send. :0/

    1. Yeah...I keep looking at my email, wondering where I went wrong with it. I'm a little cringe-y about the part about how R is alive in all the if a picture of a baby who has already died is such a terrible thing. My note is strange. Her note is strange. Sigh.

  4. OMG such cringing. I admit to being recently cured of the perkies, being a former K teacher and all. But I would like to think my reply to your email would contain far fewer exclamation points and at least two I'm sorrys.

    But heck. At least she didn't freak out and tell C she couldn't bring in the picture.

    It's still such a weird response. Your email was great.

    Lots of love. Hoping next week's show and tell is a little less . . . fraught? Confusing? I don't know.

    1. I taught middle school for a few years and this email exchange makes me wonder how many times I shuffled off an important, emotional moment for a parent under a wave of can-do perkiness. Cringe-fest.

      At the same time, like you, I don't think I was ever quite so clueless as to completely forget the 'I'm sorry.'

  5. It's the exclamation points!! And CAPITAL LETTERS! And "cute" that she "remembered". This all left a weird taste in my mouth, so I can only imagine how it made you feel.
    Ugh, is all I can say really. Though that said, I think she tried to be compassionate, has just come up a bit short.....

    1. Yes. It's just a little short...or maybe wide...of the mark. Luckily the school year's just about over.

  6. Ummmm, I really think you need to publish that book. I need this kind of warning flare. Seriously.

    I've already broached the dead twin subject at nursery and preschool. Mainly because Jessica sometimes mumbles away about 'Baby Georgie' and I didn't want them thinking that Jessica either (a) wasn't saying Reuben's name correctly or (b) thought that Georgina was some sort of imaginary friend or a doll or something. I find the latter almost unbearable for some reason.

    That reply is . . . puzzling. Like you I'm thinking, are you perhaps a different species?! That positivity is way out of hand lady! As Angie says, enough with the cute, LOVE and neat. But there is also something about this reply that I almost like? As you say it's a peculiarly lurching mixture of baffling/refreshing. Perhaps because she is just charging right on in there, where angels fear to tread?

    I do say to Jessica that they are other little girls out there, in the world, with dead sisters. I've even told her about R and C, hope you don't mind? I don't know if she really understands. She has one real life chum (who's seventeen!) who is also a surviving twin. Always makes me feel a bit giddy to see them together. Like strange double vision. But not.

    I'm glad that C's show and tell went well. I just feel that C would have handled it as only she could. R. A sister who flies. For R week.

    1. I have to respect this woman for just being 100% herself in this situation. She always comes off as someone whose emotions are only like an inch deep. I don't know if it's because of deep suffering or no suffering.

      I tell C about Jessica and Georgina all of the time (and all of the other blogland kids with dead siblings). I figured that was the whole point of this blogging business and never even thought it would be a problem for anyone. Guess I may be a little short on social niceties myself.

      One of my mom's friends is a surviving twin and a BLM too. I don't get over to see her enough but I have such a feeling of ease around her. Someone who has been where C is and where I am. Maybe I should have emailed her about this instead...

    2. You are not short on social niceties at all. It was just a passing thought along the lines of, here I am, rambling on to Jessica about C and R and I haven't even checked with their mom!?! Slightly crazy no? But yes, you're right, that is kind of the whole point of this blogging lark. Just a momentary panic.

      As you know, I'm impossibly glad to have found you and your girls. It makes me feel comforted to think of our feisty apples, J and C, bobbing around on opposite sides of the pond.

      I've been thinking about this email during pauses in number crunching at work. I'm still totally puzzled but I agree with you, this could come from true shallows or depths so deep they look like shallows? Or perhaps I'm overthinking and it is entirely the former?

  7. Mary Beth, I refuse to buy - perky past, even if - that you would have acted this way. Ever.

    Whatever ability I might once have possessed to move, sighing, past an email like this one



    And ten years out, any illusions about such emails being rare ~

    well, they're not.

    Sometimes I wonder if my attitude is permanently wrecked.

    Excuses, no; sorry, not accepted:

    {they're a) ignorant, b) cutesy, c) perky, d) shallow, e) spoiled, f) well-meaning, g) dumb as posts}

    Sometimes it feels like the whole human race is falling through slats of expectations I should ditch but can't.

    Last week I got a group email from a girl who had the flu for less than a week. She wanted us to know that she was PRAYING THAT NOTHING SO TERRIBLE AS SHE HAD GONE THROUGH WOULD EVER HAPPEN TO ANY OF US!!!!!!!! BECAUSE WE JUST COULD NOT IMAGINE WHAT THOSE FIVE DAYS HAD BEEN LIKE!!!!!!!!!! AND NOW WE SHOULD BRING MEALS AND SHE WOULD TELL US WHAT SHE WAS IN THE MOOD TO EAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    (Noted: far less in the way of end marks than the original, and let's bold those caps.)

    So, wrapping up, your daughter's teacher frosts my pumpkin, wickedly. You are far more forgiving than I.

    To my shame.

    Cathy in Missouri

    1. There's a tiny part of me that feels pretty frosted but the larger part is still willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. She didn't swerve into my lane all of the way. If this email had arrived unsolicited or if she had refused to allow the photo--then I'd be pissed. Like paint my face blue and storm her house with a screaming horde pissed.

      Along the same lines as your flu-ridden friend, I had a conversation with a mother of twins last week. She said that no one should ever complain about keeping an eye on just one kid because twins are so much more work. I bit my tongue...and almost bit it right off.

      I'll tell you, some gifts just keep on giving.

      Thank you for the support, btw.

    2. You know, I think my expectations are fairly low to begin with, but I nodded to this:

      "Sometimes it feels like the whole human race is falling through slats of expectations I should ditch but can't."


      Tracy, that email is insane. Agreed with Angie. The words cute, LOVE or neat don't belong here. But this did make me snort: "I LOVE how matter of fact children are about death!"

      Isn't is just AWESOME??

      The absence of any sort of condolence is shocking. But I suppose its good for C. to interact with these sorts of folks early on. So her expectations are equally muted.

      You can't ask for apples from an orange tree, or something like that.

      In other news, there's a new hidden (WTF) emoticon in the newest version of skype that has dramatically improved my quality of life. People, try it. (WTF) It's a beautiful thing, and a fitting response to an email like this one.

    3. Ooooo...WTF. Maybe I'll just rename this blog with the emoticon and see where it takes me. I have a feeling that there's plenty more of this in store.

  8. I keep coming back to this and my mind still boggles. On the one hand, it's good, I guess, that this teacher is so open. As you say, it's refreshing. On the other hand, the chirpiness is so blatantly inappropriate that all I can think is "Really? Really?"

    I'm glad C's show and tell went well. I'm glad this person is her pre-K teacher and not her junior high teacher, or even her first grade teacher, though.

    1. Really?....That's about right. I'm just glad that this played out via email rather than some horribly awkward face-to-face conversation. I have no idea how I would have reacted without the space-time lag of email.

  9. Wow, what a strange response. Not quite sure how to categorize it, but there is something missing there, like an 'I'm so sorry your baby died' and also possibly a little less enthusiasm about the whole situation, know what I mean? Weird...

    Although it is refreshing that she seems so comfortable with C bringing that topic up in class. My daughter's pre-k teacher is not to welcoming to discussions about dead babies.

    1. Sorry to hear that your daughter's teacher is close-minded. Ideally there'd be some sort of happy medium between "delighted by death" and "burying head in the sand." I guess it just takes all kinds though. I suppose this type of thing will just be part of growing up for our living children.

  10. I think my own response to this might be a little inappropriate too but here goes...I laughed. Full on chuckles and snorts because talking about dead siblings is always so LIGHTHEARTED and deserving of lots of exclamation points and capital letters!!! If she had just given condolences (personally I've noticed many people seem to be incapable of this) it could have been a sweet email. I'm gonna have to give her a B- on this one. Good effort though.

    1. Honestly, I laughed too. If I take a step back from the whole thing, I can see that there are actually a lot of funny things that people do when confronted with dead babies. It's like a short circuit or something. But, in an email? Isn't that what the delete key is for?

  11. You know, I think the note is okay.
    The cute, however, is not. It's not 'cute' that C 'remembered'. It's essential.

    1. I agree that it's essential for C (and all siblings of deceased children) to remember and to be granted space to remember. Maybe some aspects of remembering are cute sometimes...I don't know.
      So, I guess she got it half right. And I give her a lot of credit for even sending a reply at all.