Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Letting go

I keep sitting down to write about late December and finding myself talking about letting go. Not about letting go of Henry or sadness or even the actual stuff that he used (or didn't), not about that kind of letting go that I struggle with so much. This month has been about letting of my lists and expectations.

I let go of getting all the Christmas stuff out. The tree, Henry's tree, the stockings, wreaths on the doors. A red and green mat with a candle and some greens on the table. Enough.

I let go of baking Christmas cookies (and made just the chocolate orange cookies I love and kept them for myself).

I let go of sending out Christmas cards and with it the struggle for both the "perfect" picture and a way to include Henry that felt right to me.

I let go of the idea (dream) of fixing up my old dollhouse for Kathleen for Christmas. Instead I latched on to her sudden and unexpected idea of having a toy toaster. Whenever people ask her if she had a good Christmas, she (unless she is taking a turn at being shy), says, "I got a toaster!" And I smile.

My jams and pickles are still sitting on the futon in my office, sticky notes designating where they are going. They still need to be packed and mailed or wrapped and delivered. I've doled out a few as I've seen people, but I let go of getting them all out in time for Christmas.

I'm not usually good at this, this letting of of to-do lists and trying to do far too much. Even when I try, I do so grudgingly and keep looking at all the things I want to be able to do. This year, like the year when I was pregnant with Henry and so tired, I really let go of all these things and took joy in tossing my undone list in the recycling. Some of that thinking and talking about prioritizing over the summer must have sunk in.

One more holiday celebration (and I am remembering the final project I wanted to do, that maybe I can pull off tonight, or maybe I'll decide to let go of . . . hmm, it would make a good birthday gift for my dad. Yep, just crossed that off the list) and then we settle in for winter. I'm looking forward to the slow down that seems like it should come after the bustle of the holidays, because they are busy, even when you let go and toss out your lists.

Monday, December 19, 2011


I'm exhausted today, less drained perhaps than years past, but more drained than I thought I'd be given how "well" the day went.

Yes, yesterday was manageable for the most part. We actually went out in the evening. To a holiday party. And it was okay. In some ways having something to do helped, and it was hosted by my first ever babylost friend so it somehow felt safe.

Just before bed, Brian asked me what we did after Henry died when we left the hospital. I told him we went to his parents house. We ate meatloaf. My parents, his parents, and his brother were there. I think this is true, but it could be a false memory or a mixed up one from some other time. We ate meatloaf and then we went to bed in his sister's old room.

He talked about how sick he'd been, how sick so much of our family had gotten.

Then I mentioned standing by the door at the hospital, waiting for a ride, and he said he remembered that. I didn't know, couldn't remember if he was there with me or not. I felt so separate from everything around me.

Then we said goodnight and he rolled over and then I felt myself break, the shattering I had expected at any point during the day. Before I was waiting by that door, I walked out of a door upstairs. I left by baby, just his body by then, on the bed with a nurse. I walked down a long hall, took an elevator, and stood there, arms empty.

I put him down and I left. And I don't know how I did that, how I came to have to do that, how this is my life, how he is not here.

I split open and everything flooded out. I didn't cry long. Today I didn't have that crying hangover of stuffy head and puffy eyes. I was just tired. I wanted to curl up and take a nap, and perhaps if we didn't have Christmas to celebrate with Brian's family and if I didn't have an insane deadline tomorrow, we might have taken turns getting a chance to do that. But it—life, the world—doesn't stop because I'm grieving, because I'm wiped out and need a break. It never did, never will. (But man, wouldn't it be nice if it did?)

I'm more than halfway through December. I got through the worst day and it's aftermath, tired, but standing. (And every kind word I've received has helped keep me standing and opening to the joy and light that shines alongside my darkness. Really. Thank you.)

Friday, December 16, 2011


Four years tomorrow.

I slept with his blanket last night. It was cold in the house (I woke up in the morning to find the front door ever so slightly ajar) and Brian wasn't home and the 17th was looming. I slept with his blanket last night, like I did every night that first year. Like I did for many nights after that. Like I haven't done in a very long time.

His blanket is yellow, like lemon chiffon. My grandmother made it, one of thirteen she has made for her great-grandchildren. I didn't use it because he always had velcro on him somewhere and it snagged on the knit blanket. But when we went to the hospital for the last time, I brought it. It is what he was wrapped in when we held him for the last time.

I slept with his blanket last night.

Tonight, when I sang Kathleen the "Kakeen" song, the lullaby I made up just for her, my voice cracked and I choked through tears when I got to the Henry verse.

Kathleen, my baby, your brother is Henry. 
He is an angel who watches over thee. 
He is no here with us upon the earth
but he's watched over you since before your birth.

He is not here with us upon the earth.
"We don't have Henry," she tells me sometimes. "No. No, we don't."

Brian and I went through the timeline again tonight. The discharge into the snowstorm on the 13th. Actually getting home on the 14th. The visiting nurse's stamp of approval that all looked well on the 15th. The fever and vomiting and diarrhea and frantic phone calls and exhaustion on the night of the 15th. The pediatrician, the ER on the 16th. The drill into his leg. The sighing over the weeks it would take to ween him off the ventilator again. Going home for a couple hours. The phone call. Back to the hospital. Brian wrung out sick and needing to leave somewhere in the wee hours of the 17th. The unfamiliar beeping. Singing him out, singing him love. Brian arriving too late, seeing my mom's face and knowing.

I have no idea what time he died. I have looked at his death certificate just to find out, but I never remember. Time had lost all meaning then. And it was the time of year, this time of year, when darkness falls so early and grayness sometimes conveys dark. Had I been looking out the window, it wouldn't have helped.

I am past the joyful days this week. I am not far from the day. I have been feeling it coming on today, even as I worked and read Christmas stories and delivered jams to our church and cooked dinner.

Four years.

I don't know what to do with that. Four years. I've come so far, but come these days of December, I am still standing there by the revolving door at the hospital, waiting, arms empty, for somebody to come to take me home. I don't remember if Brian was beside me or behind me or with me at all at that door. I was numb and searing and separate from everything that flowed around me.

I think I will go hold his blanket again and check on my girls and feel them breathe. I will go to sleep knowing my neighbors have been holding me in their hearts and my friend Tricia has been thinking of me this week sending big hugs. I'll go to bed knowing my friend Michelle will listen to You Are My Little Bird with her daughter tomorrow and remember Henry. I'll pass by my tree and see the ornaments others have made to remember him. I'll go to bed and hold his blanket knowing his place in the earth is marked.

I'll go to bed and wake up and it will have been four years and a new year will start.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


It has been a week of celebrations and cake, but we couldn't let today go by without one more.

It was a small celebration, but she's a small girl. The cake was left over from earlier in the week, but I cut a fresh slice and lit a candle and we sang. Kathleen helped Elizabeth blow out the candle. Elizabeth helped herself to the cake.

They opened Elizabeth's present together, a copy of Jamberry to symbolize the blueberry bushes we will plant for her next summer (along with the ones we are overdue to plant for Kathleen). Kathleen pouted momentarily that she didn't get a present.

When Kathleen turned one, I breathed a sigh of relief. It felt like her first birthday was more than a year in coming. The journey to that first birthday started in the fall of 2006 when I found out I was pregnant for the first time. Robbed of Henry's first birthday, getting Kathleen to hers seemed like a momentous feat. While I don't take for granted that my children will live, I am able to believe again that they will. Elizabeth's birthday was much more a regular first birthday. It's still amazing though, isn't it?

My baby is one. One!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Run away

I went for a run today. 40 degrees and mid-afternoon sun. I started out wishing I had another layer, grumbling and swearing I wasn't bringing anything to bring to the potluck dinner tonight (I had warned Brian it was on him.)

And then I ran and got warmed up and pushed past my usual turnaround point. I breathed deeply, or as deeply as I could as I ran on and on. I noticed that my run started and ended at a funeral home and my turnaround point was a cemetery, not intentionally, no significance. I didn't think about the hills. I'm not sure what I thought about. I counted. I considered an alternate end to my route. I took that route, extra hill and all. I finished strong.

I got back home and took my shower. The girls and Brian were still gone. I finished the first pass of my chapter for work. I looked at the clock. It was 5. I got up and made the chowder to take to the potluck. It was ready at 5:33, just three minutes after we should have been out the door. Kathleen had fun. Elizabeth didn't get to cranky, despite the late dinner and the third night in a row past bedtime.

I ran off the sadness and anger and frustration. I came back with more energy than a nap or another cup of coffee would have given me. I need more of this. I knew it, but today really reminded me how much good running away does for me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A crack

There is a crack in my armor. I am not invincible against December, though I was starting to feel like I was.

It started just a hairline last night. I stepped out of my office and saw both my Christmas trees—the full tree and Henry's little tree—glowing. The house was quiet and a glow filled the darkness. I took it in. I smiled. Peace and joy and love.

And the memory of why I have that small tree covered in cardinals and hearts surfaced. It's not that I forget that Henry is dead, but sometimes I don't have to really think about it any more than I have to remember to breathe. But sometimes like last night, it hits me. A gasp, a quick sob. No lying on the floor. No crying for hours, but a crack.

Today, all my efforts to keep things simple fell apart. Brian introduced all kinds of projects into the day despite my efforts, and I ended up doing alone what I thought we would do together and finishing up one of his projects. So I spent the afternoon in a pissy mood and cried some more.

It doesn't help that I'm tired. It doesn't help that I feel fat and most of my clothes don't fit and I can see in pictures how I've gained weight since summer. It doesn't help that despite my best efforts and intentions I'm coming into some tight deadlines for work. It doesn't help that the 17th is drawing nearer.

But I'm not lost yet. As I sat in the car, taking deep breathes, waiting to pick up our pizza, I remembered all the kind words of support I've received this month. While I was gone, Elizabeth took her first steps. My behind schedule author sent me an email telling me how amazing I am. And now my work files have uploaded. I'm going to go sit in the glow of my Christmas tree and light a candle for my boy and drink some chamomile tea. And tomorrow I will do my work and take a run and try to take care of me some more.

It's still December. I'm cracked open, but I'm still standing.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


My big girl is three.

I remember when Henry's third birthday rolled around feeling suddenly the difference between baby and kid. I realized he would have been a little boy and what I was missing, would miss hit me in an entirely different way.

Today, Kathleen's third birthday is here. And I see that I am right, that three is so much bigger than two. She is a little girl, not a baby. Even since last year, her face and body have thinned out. She uses the potty, and without her big cloth diaper butt sometimes she wears jeans. She gets the silverware for dinner and loves this little job. She explains things to Elizabeth: You have to be buckled in, sister. I'm buckled. Mommy and Daddy are buckled. You have to be buckled too! She plays, sometimes by herself and narrates her play (often interrupted by me thinking she's talking to me).

And sometimes she is still my baby who sits in my lap and wants to be held. But not too often. She's busy that big girl of mine.

That three year old of mine.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

This week

This is the week.
December 11–17

I knew my joy-grief was packed tightly into this month, but the alignment of the calendar brings that so into focus this year. One week to mark birth birth death.

Sunday Kathleen turns three.
Thursday Elizabeth turns one.
And Saturday Henry will have been gone four years.

We have a busy, but low key week planned.
Tomorrow evening, if we can, a train ride through the park to see the lights. A cupcake she doesn't have to share. A gift. Monday birthday dinner with neighbors. Tuesday more cake with friends. Thursday. Oh, my. I haven't planned anything special for Elizabeth's actual birthday. More cake? Something to open (her real gift will be blueberry bushes, as was Kathleen's on her first birthday, though they have yet to be planted). Poor second/third child. I was okay with not giving her a big party, but perhaps, I should do something to mark that day.

And Saturday?

All I knew was I didn't want a birthday party that day, for my girls or anyone else. It was one thing I didn't think I could handle. But we got invited to two holiday parties. We could easily have bowed out of either, but we're going to both. Part of reclaiming this month. Part of reclaiming our lives. And right now, it feels okay, good even. I need to go to the cemetery in the morning, so that we we head out in the evening and drive by his grave, I'll have been there already.

The next day, the 18th we start the Christmas cycle.
But first, this jam-packed week.
And to start that week, a birthday.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The stories of the tree

For as long as I can remember, I have loved Christmas. There was that Christmas when I was thirteen or so, an awkward age, and I lost the magic. But it came back, and I loved Christmas again. Until 2007, when Henry died on the 17th and we buried him on the 22nd and somehow managed to visit with family on the 24th in a blur. 

It wasn't that I hated Christmas after that. I just couldn't do it. Couldn't listen to carols or put up a tree. I stumbled through presents and probably baked cookies, but none shaped like Santa or reindeer or trees. 

I made excuses in the years following: I was tired and pregnant and we'd have a baby two weeks before Christmas; we had a cruiser who would surely just tip the thing over; I was tired and pregnant and we'd have a baby ten days before Christmas. But this was the year, I decided. I'm not pregnant. We have a cruiser who will, given the chance, surely knock the whole thing down. But we also have a little one who is starting to notice and remember and want her to have the magic I had. So, at the bottom of the stairs, behind the makeshift baby gate, we set it up. 

Over the past two days, I decorated. Yesterday it was just the tree and the lights and two ornaments that wound up in the wrong box last year—a cardinal from my aunt and one from Amy, a surprise gift last year. 

Tonight, before Kathleen went to bed, she helped me put a few ornaments on the tree:

This is Henry's heart, and one for Kathleen, and one for Elizabeth. The first year of the Buddy Walk, I used the leftover felt hearts we pinned to our shirts to make ornaments, and then, I made one with Kathleen's name on it too. This year, I added one for Elizabeth. 

People gave these to you your first Christmas, I say of the pink baby carriage and the peas in the pod. 

And then after she went to bed, I added others:
This was from Amy for our wedding. Two become one (and Brian adds, "As often as possible") and this one with the picture of us kissing 

I got this one for a report on Denmark in middle school (a straw star)

Here's the Mount Washington marker ornament. (I wanted Carrigain but they didn't have it.)

Aruba—Did we buy this or did your mom bring it for us? I'm surprised I can't remember how we came to have the little painted glass ball with sand in it, but Brian reminds me we bought it at a little market near the pool.

Oh, Bandit, I sigh at the little dog bone I made of clay and tied up with Christmasy ribbon

And this one's from my fifth grade teacher, I remember as I hang the glass clown with a glass balloon. 

My earliest ornaments, a wooden gingerbread man, a string covered ball with my name and squiggles in glitter, a shiny red ball with my name and birth year, also in glitter

These brass ones are from my friend, Tina, and my friend Erica made this mussel shell angel and hung it around a wine bottle (years and years and years ago).

Cookie party, more cookie party—For years I hosted a cookie party where friends would come over and bring a dough and we'd roll and scoop and bake and decorate. It got a little insane eventually and then fizzled (though we've talked of reinstating it with kids). But from that era, I have gingerbread ornaments and cookies on cookie sheets and rolling pins

Here's the canoe I bought you the year we bought the canoe. And the old wheelbarrow and my watering can.
Here are the snow shoes Amy got us. And the snowshoeing Santa I picked for you one year. 
And your AT ornament.
Brian is trying to read in front of the fire. It used to bother me that he wouldn't help me put up the tree, but this year, I just interrupt him occasionally to point out an ornament and tell him its origins or significance. The rest of the time I tell myself the story of the ornaments, because that is one of my favorite parts of the season. 

In years ahead, I foresee more cardinals and hearts, and I will tell their story too. This is for Henry and I'll tell who made it or where it came from. 

This is the star somebody from Canada made for me the year Elizabeth was born. Nana and Grampy brought the package to me to open in the hospital. 

This is the red bird, this is the heart that somebody sent me from Indiana, the year we had a Christmas tree again. 

Yes, this is my favorite part of decorating—the traditions and the stories and the remembering. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Reclaiming this month

Perhaps it was a bit melodramatic to say that I feel like I am being challenged to simply survive this month. I've tied too much importance to December this year, but December 2009 scared me. I don't want to be in that place again, so I've made this the test, as if it will determine what every December here on out will be like.

But as I stumbled through draft after draft of a post last night that never came together, I realized that I'm not waiting for the month to test me. I'm stepping in and trying to reclaim it. I want to be able to listen to Christmas carols and put up a tree and host birthday parties and wrap gifts and bake cookies. And I want to enjoy all these things, not just go through the motions.

I want the 11th and the 15th and the 25th to hold their own against the 17th.

I want joy and peace. I want light in my darkness.

So I came into this month ready to battle my December demons. I came in armed with space carved out by turning down quick turnaround jobs and postponing pediatrician appointments and getting much of shopping done early. I carried a plan for simple birthdays and marched in with December 17th left purposefully empty on the calendar. I have candles to light and chocolate to eat and red wine to drink. I am moving forward planning birthday cakes and thinking about little hands plunging into Christmas stockings and the nip of a Christmas morning hike. I am enjoying the preparations, my crafting and shopping and figuring out where to put the tree. I don't quite trust this month still, but I'm trying to take it back and hold the peace and joy and light while knowing the time will come to sit with the darkness.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December 1

It is here, the month of dark and dread. All year, I face it with trepidation or push it off when I can. I have faced three Decembers since that day when he died. Two were tempered with life and joy and love  and welcoming of new little lives. One almost drowned me. One took me deeper than I thought I could go. There is no new baby this year to soften the blow, distract me, throw me a lifeline, and it feels like a test of sorts to survive this month, to do better than survive.

Today I skipped our music class because we all have colds
I read stories with Kathleen
sipped the garlic chicken soup I froze months ago to stave off our first winter cold
sorted through my old dollhouse furniture to find the pieces appropriate to pass on to Kathleen this Christmas
prioritized my Christmas list and got ready to let go of some pieces
gave myself time to sit and read
worked on an ornament for another mom
really looked at Henry's face in the pictures in Brian's office, different pictures than those I look at every day

smiled as my girls induced big belly laughs in each other

thought about my friends who have reasons to pause in December as well.

I changed my calendars today. It is December. So far, so good.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A few days late

I'm grateful for family
and traditions
and the laughter of Thanksgiving night, after the crowd has thinned and the turkey has been put away.

I'm thankful for my neighborhood, where people share and help and look out for each other
and for the beauty of this area and bounty of my garden. 

I'm so very grateful for this community and this space, 
for people who listen and read and nod and say "me too" and send big hugs when I need them most, 
for the amazing people I've met because of Henry
for the wonderful people I knew who I got to know in a different way because of him. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Who we were

Saturday night we danced, Brian and I, at my cousins wedding. We smiled and laughed and kissed and danced. It's been a long time since we danced.

We dance every night with the girls, but that is all about getting out extra energy and swinging Kathleen around and spinning her. We have danced a few lines of a song in the kitchen while cleaning up after dinner. But it has been years since we really danced.

We are not particularly graceful or skilled dancers, but we dance together with the abandon of people who don't really care. We sometimes look better than we should because we don't worry what we look like. I suppose sometimes we look like asses out there, but asses having a good time.

We both noticed, how light it felt and easy and . . . like us.

I'm not quite sure what to do with that now, because it was a good reminder of who we were, who we could still be.

Over the summer, I took my niece camping at a local state park. It poured the one night we were there, and as I was standing in the rain heating water for our dinner, the smell of the gas and powdered cocoa and the hiss of the stove made me suddenly miss backpacking with Brian.

I was perhaps nostalgic, forgetting how tired my legs would be, how achy my back, how heavy the pack. I forget about my tent anxiety (perhaps a mild case of claustrophobia that I had to overcome each time we went).

I remembered how good the food tasted when you've worked for it, how cool the breeze feels on your sweaty back when you take your pack off. I remember taste of boiled water and the watery dregs of hot cocoa as I drank the water that cleaned my mug and the taste of oatmeal mixed with a leftover tang of chili in the morning. I remember the smell of the open outdoors and the musty tent, despite good airing and drying practices. I remember the snug feeling of slipping into my sleeping bag, my sleeping pad shifting under me as I rolled trying to get comfy. (Comfy is a relative term in the woods.)

Standing there in the pouring rain, in my Gore-Tex coat (it's more than a coat, it could save your life, Brian says) with the well appointed hood, tending the stove that I lit for the first time ever, I got nostalgic. I missed the damp, dewy mornings, the hustle of setting up and settling in in the evenings, the hard climbs, the good views and pack off breaks, dreaming about what we would eat when we finished.

Did I really miss all this? Or did I miss that time with Brian, the sense of adventure? Do I miss who we were then? Do I miss the time we had? our innocent, unscarred selves? Do I miss my body that seemed more invincible? It seems somedays we are both falling apart.

If we had a chance to go away, I would be inclined to go someplace with a cushy bed, perhaps a fireplace, good food, wine. But part of me would collect all the gear, tent and sleeping pad, sleeping bag and stove, cook pot, plastic mug, sturdy spoon, stuff sacks and synthetic clothes. We'd get it all in our packs, purple next to black, and go. Tie on our boots, hoist the heavy packs, tighten straps, grab our poles and go. Left, right, left, right. Go.

Brian would lose me on the uphills, and coming back down too. Much of our day would be spent in solitude with breaks to chat and the longish night together. I would not come home well rested (oh, like that wedding on Saturday), but I like to think I would come home restored.

Brian has always lamented that I don't do winter backpacking, so we have a long winter and mud season to get through before we might even venture out. I think we need some time though and that reminder of who we were, who we still are underneath the tired grief and lack of sleep and daily grind of diapers and laundry and groceries and bills and dishes and bedtime. Maybe a day hike soon (like we did on our first date) would do the trick.

Or maybe we should just crash a wedding and dance.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Henry's castle

Just down the street on the way to the playground is an old cemetery. We walk by it frequently and sometimes we stop, because Kathleen likes to visit the "castles." It is not a particularly ornate or ostentatious cemetery, but some of the monuments are tall and there are some family plots with steps and one with a decaying wrought iron gate.

While Kathleen climbs up and down the steps, I walk the rows, reading the aged stones:
11 months
10 months
8 days

I like that they make it easy for me. No math, no wondering if 1871–1871 lived a day or a year. I considered (though not seriously) writing 203 days on his stone or 6 months, 18 days. We didn't though.

 Our family name. His name with hearts on either side. His born and died dates. Son of Brian and Sara.

It's a rough, imperfect stone. I love the stone itself. I'm happy with the carving. I'm getting used to how it looks next to the more polished stones. I accept that it is not right over him (we were warned of that long ago when they first put him in the ground), though a little closer would have been nice. Still, he is marked. You can find him. We can plant things, place things for him. Henry's stone, his castle, was installed today.

I stopped today on our way to music class to see where they were placing him and what the stone looked like. "It looks good," I murmured. "Pretty soon it will be all set, in forever," the guy told me. Ah, yes, forever.

When I got back in the car, Kathleen was asking questions and wanting to see them work, and perhaps we could have stayed and watched the process, but. No. I couldn't. As I fielded her questions and focused on the road, hiccoughing sobs wracked through me. There it was, written in stone, the brief time he had with us. There is was, written in stone, my baby is gone. Not that I don't know, but there it was.

I met Brian there after work and we looked and commented on how it came out and I cried again in the gathering dark and the misty rain. I'm glad it's done. I will appreciate having it there when we visit. But, it's a grave stone for my baby, calling it his castle doesn't disguise that.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Love for today . . . and tomorrow

A few weeks back, the Dragon Mom article kept popping up on Facebook. I gave a heavy, knowing sigh when I read, "finally do the hardest thing of all, a thing most parents will thankfully never have to do: I will love him to the end of his life, and then I will let him go." I know what it is to do that, but I don't know what it is to live through my son's life knowing I'll have to do that. 

Instead, I had a really sick baby who was expected to live. There would be meds and follow-up appointments and perhaps more surgery or other procedures. There would be equipment to figure out and insurance and other programs to navigate. It would not be easy, but we worked under the assumption that Henry would make it. He'd get through the ups and downs and interminable hospital stay and be okay. The definition of okay kept shifting, as much as I tried to pin it down, but okay kept being the assumption. 

I loved him constantly, but I had to remind myself, more than once, to live in the day. Before Henry's surgery as we were struggling with the oxygen monitor's frequent beeping and trying to fatten him up, I kept looking ahead, counting down days, weeks, months til he could have his surgery and lose the oxygen and we could really start our life. Except the clock was already ticking. "I'm wishing away his life," I realized, long before I knew how short a life he would have. So I reset and focused on enjoying him as he was. I hated that oxygen monitor, but I loved my boy and our peaceful mornings. I focused on what he could do, not what his peers were doing, not what he couldn't do. And at the same time I set up Early Intervention to help him do all that he could do.

When Henry was in the hospital later, I at first refused to bring things from home—blankets, clothes, toys, music. Having stuff at the hospital felt like admitting we were going to be staying, and all I wanted to do was get my boy home. It took me a long time to realize that I was doing it again, wishing away his life in wanting to get out of a sucky situation. "This is his life," I reminded myself. As much as I hated living there, hated the anxiety and the separation from Brian and the machines and the lack of privacy, it was his life, and with that realization I changed. I read to him more and played music and set up routines and took pictures. I brought blankets and clothes and hung up the cards people sent us.

Even as I settled in, I told him about what we would do when we got out. I told him about the friends he would meet and the farm down the road. I told him about riding the school bus when he got bigger and working in our garden. I told him about where we lived and about the vastness of the ocean that he would finally see some day. I loved him for the day and believed the future for him. 

I had stripped down my dreams and expectations, but I believed he would come home. I believed he would one day go to school. I believed he would visit my family. I believed he would live and grow. 

We don't know how long we have with our children. We should love them right now, today. But, unless we know they have no future, parenting isn't just loving them here right now, part of parenting is believing they will grow up and helping them along the way. 

The idea of just loving them today, noble as it sounds, isn't possible long term. Or rather, loving my children today is possible, but acting solely on that isn't. I have to say no sometimes because things aren't safe or healthy. I have to say that I'm working sometimes, not because I'm attached to furthering my career, but because part of parenting is keeping a roof over my kids' heads and putting food in their bellies.

I try to find balance. I try to do my work and get food on the table and clothes clean and still say yes when Kathleen says, "Wanna play play dough?" or "Read a book" or "Let's put on crowns and take pictures." I love my kids today. It's why I set up a cozy corner under the dining room table and lay down with them to read story after story after story even as I felt my back seizing up with the sciatic problem that's plagued me since my first pregnancy. It's why we turn up the music and dance together as a family most nights before bedtime. It's why even when Kathleen doesn't get a story before bed because of all her stalling tactics in getting ready, I sing the "Kakeen" song to her, the song I made up that tells her how very loved and wanted she is. 

Yes, by all means love your child today. Take time to notice them as they are, as they grow, as they change. Take time to snuggle and sing and read stories and listen to them. But, unless you have a reason not to, believe that you will watch them grow and change. That belief is hope and love too. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My pumpkins

When Kathleen was a baby, approaching her first Halloween, somebody sent me a baby pumpkin costume, which I promptly passed along, because I couldn't imagine having another pumpkin.
When Henry was in the hospital, I decided he would be a pumpkin. It was hard to dress him with his IVs and monitors and oxygen and other tubes, so I decided I would make something like a large bib that would cover him from neck to foot. Despite my vision and desire to make is costume (and the fact that I spent a long part of my day just sitting in his room), I couldn't quite get to it. People wanted to do thing to help, so my mom had one of her friends make the basic pumpkin (hemmed orange fleece with a ribbon to gather the top). My mom bought a pumpkin hat and I cut a face out of felt.

After a long day of waiting for Henry's fever to break, his nurse told me he could have his costume on for a bit.

So I never planned to have another pumpkin. Until Kathleen picked pumpkin.

I suggested witch; she thought cookie monster, then giraffe, then pumpkin. And there she stuck. Again and again I'd ask, and again and again she'd answer pumpkin.

I still had the orange fleece blanket, but I didn't want to tie it around her neck (fears of strangulation). So I sewed up the sides, cut a slit in the center for her head, cut the face a bit smaller and sewed it back on, and made running stitch to gather up the bottom. Instead of the hat, I attached a felt pumpkin top and stem to a headband.
I had a night of frustration when I tried to sew her costume on my machine and spent almost two hours fiddling to get it to work. The next day I gave up and sewed it all in less time than I had wasted. My sister had offered to send me a choice of pumpkin costumes, but I really wanted to make it. There are so many things like this that I've wanted to do since Henry died, but when it came time to do or make or create, I ran up against a mental block or energy drag. So making this felt like a step forward. 

So there you have it: my two pumpkins. I actually love that I reused Henry's costume for Kathleen, and in two years I will suggest to Elizabeth (who wore Kathleen's recycled kitty costume) that she should be a pumpkin, though by that time she may very well have ideas of her own. 

Friday, October 28, 2011


It's been nearly four years since we buried Henry. It was too late in the year to install a stone and too much to think about one anyway. He's squeezed in at the edge of a family plot, too close to the road, next to Brian's grandfather. It was important to me that he wasn't alone. We didn't have his name added to the family stone (the wording of the relationship seemed to cumbersome and confusing and besides be planned to get him his own stone).

Last November, we drove up to visit my parents and chose a stone, a rough piece of granite, from the yard of a family friend. Last week, my cousin drove it out to us. Now, we are waiting to find out if we are allowed to have a raised stone for him or if it will have to be a flat one. We need to find out if they can carve the stone. We are still fine tuning what we will say. (Last name above first and middle name? First name and middle initial? Months spelled out or in numerals? Is there room for our names, to say son of Brian and Sara?)

Everything about this process takes time. And energy. It is one of those things I want done, but how I struggle to actually takes the steps to do it. I will be relieved when it is done, when his name is there, when I have a place to put whatever it is I bring to the cemetery. Until it is done, I will become weary every time we try to make it happen. I will feel weary and guilty that it has been this long.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hindsight, or Music and Me as a Mom

Last night, just after midnight, I sat in a steamy bathroom with Kathleen. We read stories until we finished our stack, and then I began to sing to her. I started "One Man Shall Mow My Meadow," a song I like but that she usually doesn't have patience for, but being tired and not feeling 100% right, she snuggled onto my lap and let me sing verse after verse. 

I learned this song when Kathleen was a baby, maybe four months old, from my friend Carol, who hosted an informal music class at her house. Every week we'd go and sit in a circle in her living room and she'd teach us songs and lead us in songs we had already learned. Kathleen was one of several babies in the group made up mostly of slightly older kids. There was a mom I had met at baby group and another I had met at Carol's support group. 

I smiled and sang and changed diapers and gave bottles and and talked to the other moms. I thought I was doing fine. I thought I was comfortable as a mom, not overly worried or sad or nervous. And I suspect for who I was at that time, I was doing great. 

Looking back I see that me so differently. 

Carol is again hosting a music "class" at her house. We went last week for the first one, me and Kathleen and Elizabeth. I smiled and sang and changed diapers and gave bottles and talked to the other moms. And it felt completely different. 

Three years ago, I was still really struggling to figure out how to talk with other moms. To be able to talk about being Kathleen's mom, I needed to talk about being Henry's mom and I was never quite sure how to do that. Even there, even in that house where pictures of a much loved daughter who never took a breath line the walls. Even there where more than one person knew my story. 

I thought I was relaxed, comfortable in my parenting, but I think I was more anxious than I knew, wanting, needing to do it right. Believing very much that everything was different this time around, but too aware of what it really meant if things went wrong. I was defensive about how I gave birth even as I truly believe that the outcome, the healthy living baby is what matters. I was defensive about bottle feeding, even though I truly believe I did the best I could. 

A lot of what I was going through was typical new mom kind of stuff. Even though Henry lived six months, and we were still within that timeframe for Kathleen, I was a brand new mom in so many ways. 

So last week we went back to music, me and Kathleen and Elizabeth. I was relaxed enough that Elizabeth crawled into the other room before I realized she was missing. I handled Kathleen's near meltdown because the toy kitchen she remembered wasn't there. I gratefully accepted a pretzel for the ride home to keep her happy, and I laughed about something as I said my goodbye to Carol and ushered Kathleen out with Elizabeth on my hip. And as I got into the car, I noticed how very different it felt from those days when I buckled Kathleen into the baby seat. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Swing

I'm looking forward to getting rid of the baby swing. It takes up such a big space in our not so big living room. I imagine putting a cozy reading corner in for Kathleen or a real bookcase to replace the milkcrates housing her books right now or some kind of toy storage or . . .

I'm almost ready to ditch it (give it away, put it up in the attic for that tag sale we'll never have). I barely ever put Elizabeth in it. She never took to it the way her brother and sister did. When Kathleen grew too heavy for it, she went from a three hour nap to a twenty minute nap. I swore I wouldn't make that mistake again, so Elizabeth didn't swing much.

I started saying I was almost ready for the swing to go more than a month ago. It's still sitting here beside my chair, though. Now Elizabeth's far too big and too eager to be moving around. The last time I put her in it (a month ago? two?) she grabbed for the mobile pieces that circle around the top, so I took her out.

I thought it was one of the things I would have no trouble getting rid of.

Then I remembered.

December 14, the night we finally brought Henry home from the hospital, we put him in the swing, which he had always loved, and turned it on. His oxygen tubing tap, tap, tapped on the floor in the swing's rhythm. Henry looked at himself in the curvy mirror above him. He seemed to notice the mobile for the first time, not odd as he was six months old, not the three months he had been when he left the swing behind for the hospital.

Brian wanted to get some video footage of Henry in the swing, but before he did, Henry fell asleep. Our footage pans back and forth between our content, sleeping baby in the swing and me telling the story of our homecoming. I am deliriously exhausted and relieved and happy to be home and terrified at the prospect of keeping up with Henry's meds and keeping him healthy and haunted by what we had just endured. My story ends with us all home, getting ready for a busy med schedule, but all doing it together.

Brian focuses the camera once again on Henry, wishes him goodnight and then says More footage to come.

I didn't remember he said that until afterward, when we finally sat down and watched all of our video of Henry.

More footage to come.

And the screen goes blue.

The swing is just some metal and cloth and mechanical bits. And the very last place my baby was okay.

My to-do list f has us putting the bassinet and the swing up in the attic later in the week during Brian's time off. I've made a mental note to remove the batteries from the swing. I'm mentally cataloging space up there wondering where it will go. I'm ready, to get it out of the living room, not quite ready to get rid of it, though.

Someday. For now, I hold onto the swing and hold onto this:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Before the frost

There is a frost/freeze warning on tonight, so between my run and dinner I hustled out to the garden to pick whatever was left.

Now basil and parsley is chopped and in the freezer. Hot peppers are ready for drying. Tomatoes are freezing or waiting for a bit more red to color their cheeks. Chard, mustard greens, and beet greens are in the fridge. Green beans are blanched and in the freezer. Flowers are on the table and the window sill and in my office and between Henry's picture and memory light. Extra sage and parsley are tucked in among the zinnias and dahlias, just because it was there. 

Maybe it won't freeze tonight and we'll eke out a few more nice days. Perhaps I'll pick a bit more parsley tomorrow or find some peppers I left in my haste. Maybe we'll get a handful more green beans (or not . . . I'm getting a bit sick of them). If not tonight, soon. Really, the garden is done, but for the clean up. 

My neighbors have returned from their summer cottage in Maine. The leaves have been coming down for a while now, though they still have a way to go. 
It smells cold and I put on layer after layer. I long for shepherd's pie and butternut squash soup and roasted beets and pork pie with apples. I've switched to red wine (or dark beer or hard cider). 

I'm settling into cozy. 

In 2007, summer lingered into November. The days were strangely warm. The leaves stayed green. I was at the hospital with Henry, and the unseasonal weather was part of the surrealness of my life. It was if summer knew my boy only had one growing season and gave him everything it had. 

I remember bending over my big belly in May, using hand tools to loosen the soil, turning over little sections bit by bit, sprinkling lettuce seeds, setting tomato plants from the farmer's market. 

I don't know what else I planted that year, but I remember thinking that if I could just get some things into the ground, we'd be able to eat something later. I didn't think I'd have much time for our garden. I expected to be too busy with a newborn. I didn't expect doctor's appointments nearly daily or oxygen or surgery. I didn't expect to be living away from home come tomato season. 

Instead of running out to my garden for some greens or a bit of basil, I walked busy streets. I discovered a rose garden in a city park. I watched the leaves stay green and imagined it wasn't really fall. 

I was not listening to the news, so when the weather forecasters said It's going to be a cold one tomorrow and Bundle up I missed the message. I went to bed in summer, got up the next day and dressed in my usual capris and sandals, and started over to Henry's room, only to be greeted by a blast of cold air as the morning shift hurried in in winter coats and hats and mittens. 

The change is not that dramatic this year. Fall has been creeping in with cooler days, mostly, and yellowing and browning leaves. The garden has been slowing down. I'm ready for fall. Still, that it is October surprises me. Weren't Brian and I just outside in a cold rain rototilling the garden? Wasn't Henry's birthday and my careful tending of his garden only yesterday? 
When was it that I hovered over his bed on a strangely warm October day? It seems so near and far. He came to me in the tenderness of spring. I said goodbye to him in the darkness of deep winter. Sunmer was fear and the golden glow of fresh beginnings. Fall was not garden clean up or glorious cool days but fear and hope and hope and hope. I did not see it for the winding down that it was. 

Fall is still woods smoke and crunchy leaves and crisp apples and orange pumpkins, but it is also hand sanitizer and the beep of monitors and cafeteria food and watchful waiting and believing. Fall stirs up this part of my memory, but doesn't drag me down. I still revel in being here at home clearing out the garden, pulling clothes out of the attic, popping casseroles in the oven, planning Halloween costumes, planning hikes and apple picking and baking. Fall is settling down but invigorating too. I'm ready. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Stomach bug

It turns out, your child doesn't have to be in the ICU for you to feel completely helpless as a parent.

Kathleen has a stomach bug. It started Saturday night and continued through dinner time tonight. I'm waiting to see what's next. She hasn't been puking constantly, just every time I think she is starting to feel better.

Until mid-day today she seemed fine in between losing whatever she had eaten. Today, though she looked sick. I don't know what it is, but eyes are the indicator to me and she had sick eyes. That and she just wanted to sit on my lap most of the day and voluntarily went to lie in her bed at my mere suggestion. In the morning, hours and hours and hours before her usual nap time.

So we sat and read books and we sat and I rubbed her back and we simply sat.

To her requests for orange juice and pizza and onion rings (a hoped for lunch with the neighbors) and chips (Daddy had some after work) and more crackers and her big water bottle, I had to say no and no and no. Or wait. Or just a sip. Because when I said okay, just a little, maybe a little more, it all came up. So we tried again. S l o w l y.

Popsicles and a video and a bath at the end of the day and that sitting. It was the best I could do to make it better, and it didn't really work.

Hovering around the periphery of my thoughts is the memory of a night in December 2007 when Henry's stomach bug erupted full force. We could not keep up with changing sheets and him, so we left him in his diaper on a blanket while making slightly hysterical phone calls.

This is nothing like that. They are both stomach bugs, but the similarity ends there. Still, that memory hovers hazily as I go about my day comforting and cleaning up after my sick girl. The memory is hazy only because I refuse to bring it into focus. It is, I think, the one night I do not revisit and review and process again and again and again, the one night out of all 203 that he had that I let lie in the darkness.  I still stand behind my decisions of that night and believe the outcome would have been the same, but perhaps more prolonged. But sometimes I wonder.

Without that night, I would still be here, wishing I could make my little big girl feel better, wishing there was something else I could do. Without that night, I would just be here, wishing there was something else I could do.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Just last year?

Kathleen has been climbing on the plastic play structure in our backyard. She climbs up the ladder section and right up over the top. "Look at this!" she calls me. Eventually she goes down the slide and climbs back up again and again and again.

Last summer, she could not climb the play structure. She wanted me to pick her up so she could slide, again and again and again. My belly was big and my back ached and I would pick her up a few times and sigh enough. Often a neighbor would take pity on me and help her up more and more and more until I convinced her it was time to go in.

Just last year.

Yesterday I stopped at the outlets on my way home from my sisters to buy pajamas for Kathleen and see if there were any other good deals. Kathleen ran around hiding under racks of clothes and played at the Lego table; Elizabeth checked things out from the Baby Bjorn.

As I poked through wintery, Christmas sleepers, I remembered searching last year for matching winter-themed pajamas for a newborn and a 2-year old, something not too girly in case that newborn was a boy.

Just last year.

Elizabeth roams the house on hands and knees, pulls herself up to standing anywhere she can, and jerks around whenever she hears her sister's voice.

Last September, a baby kicked and rolled and squirmed about as Brian read The Hobbit to me.

Just last year.

Nine months in seemed to fly by and take forever.
Nine months out has simply flown by.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Lately I've been listening to "So Glad I'm Here" from Elizabeth Mitchell's You Are My Sunshine every morning. It's been going through my head for over a month now, and it feels like a really positive way to start the day. Because I am. Glad I'm here, that is, and I'm trying to let go of the need to hold onto the hurt.

I have been, holding onto the sadness, without even realizing I was doing it. It's like when I would swim at the pool wearing my rings. I'd come out with a hand cramp from inadvertantly clamping my fingers together for fear one would slide off and be lost. For a long, long I didn't have to hold on. The sadness was just so big and heavy it wasn't going anywhere, but now, almost four years down the road, when I stand in the light again and smile and laugh and feel as well as see the beauty around me, I find I still cling to it sometimes, holding it out to anyone, who might think it is gone. It's what prompted my bitter grumblings. It's what makes my smile dim just briefly when somebody tells me I have a beautiful family. It's what makes me prod around inside sometimes to see if something is going to bother me.

It isn't gone. It isn't going away, but I don't need to call it up. It will visit me on it's own. So right now, I'm facing the sun, seeing the light, feeling the warmth, enjoying the brightness of the world, knowing that my shadow is behind me whether I look at it or not.

I still face December with trepidation, not sure how it will hit this year, but for now I'm not revisiting four years ago. I didn't race down the road in the back of ambulance on September 11, didn't rewalk in my mind the labyrinth of halls from the ambulance entrance at Children's to a too bright room on the eighth floor on September 13. I went for a run on a cool, dry, clear day and thought perhaps I could run forever. I shopped for groceries and sorted clothes and gave Kathleen high fives for using the potty. I lived, I didn't relive.

My zinnias are still blooming, three shades of pink and a little orange. The leaves are starting to pile up. Tomatoes fill my counter waiting to be cooked down, and in a minute I will brave that late batch of mosquitos to pick green beans and see what else is ready in the garden. This is the September I love.

I am opening to the golden days and the gladness. I wish he were here, but I don't have to tell you that. I'll always wish he were here, but it doesn't stop me from being glad that I'm here, so glad I'm here enjoy these golden summer-fall days, so glad I'm here with Kathleen making up songs and Elizabeth chewing everything she can find.

Thanks to Kathleen and Elizabeth for bringing joy to my days and to Mandy for giving me the song and to Angie for Right Where I Am, which I keep circling back to, and for asking for questions, which prompted me to start answering my own, and to Barbara for helping me remember to notice good things and to open this space up to them, and to Liz for making me think about being open to and seeking joy, even if it made (and may make me still) grumbly. Thanks to you who come here and listen to me grumble and glow. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Since late June, they've been stacking up in my office closet, boxes of canning jars filled with jams and pickles and sauces:
strawberry, strawberry rhubarb, strawberry vanilla
raspberry, raspberry rhubarb, raspberry chocolate liqueur sauce, raspberry with orange liqueur, raspberry peach
dilly beans, lemon beans, Asian (soy-ginger) beans
blueberry, blubarb, spiced blueberry
dill pickles, bread and butter
peach, peach raspberry, peach ginger, peach tomato salsa
mild tomato salsa, bruschetta

16 boxes of jars, 180 jars in all, not counting those I've already traded or given away (or eaten), and I don't think I'm quite done yet.

I've loved picking in the sun and the heat and the humidity and the rain. I've loved standing in the steamy kitchen with juice dripping off the counter on to my toes, standing until my legs and back ache. I love the ping of a good seal and the early tastes of the jars that don't seal. I love my weekly canning date with my friend and her big garden and raspberry patch and two kids. I love my new canning friends and trading goods. I love thinking ahead to winter and what we will eat and what I will give away. I've loved simply watching them stack up, seeing the fruits of my labor, tangible proof of how I spent my days, the abundance of it.

I chafe often at not having time to do so many things I want to do. Writing and craft projects and bigger cooking projects and gardening and reading pile up underneath the dirty diapers and the laundry waiting to be folded. I sit down at night, too tired to get motivated. So I grumble and I look with amazement at other people with as many or more kids as me. I see them write and tend a big garden and chickens and well-maintained blogs. How do you do it?  I always want to know, but I realized after I posed the question to Angie (who answered today) that people have been asking me that all summer as I posted on FB about my canning escapades.

So I started thinking about how I do it. Sometimes Brian takes the kids, but usually I have both girls in tow, and the friend I usually can with often has both of hers. How did we do it? Occasionally there were extra hands or kids not there. Sometimes the babies would nap. We put babies in backpacks and offered lots of homemade popsicles. There was a sandtable and a trampoline and a hammock and a tricycle. Kathleen ate goldfish crackers and drank more juice than I ever allow (or even have) at home. Kids (the four year old and the two and a half year old) helped wash jars and pick berries and snap beans. We had painting projects and stories at lunch and ice cream when we were all done. We sang and cajoled and took turns refereeing arguments. And every now and then, we just had to laugh as four kids erupted into tears right at the point where we just needed to get hot stuff into hot jars.

I made it a priority. I hate people telling me that to do something I really care about I have to make it a priority (even though I know it's true). But because I know it's true, I've been working on choosing.

I have prioritized running, because I want to get back in shape and because it helps clear my head.

I have prioritized writing in the mornings that Elizabeth is up at 5 and everyone else is sleeping. I feed her and then (if I don't fall asleep on the couch with her), I make myself coffee and I write. Even if the dishes are piled up in the sink or diapers need to get in the washer or I'm behind on my work. I write until one of my girls needs me. It doesn't feel like enough really, but it feels like the right balance for now.

I prioritized canning this summer. At least once a week from late June to the last days of August, I met with my friend and put something into jars. Because I love doing it, because I love spreading jam on Kathleen's toast when she asks me for some "blubabane" jam. I love giving jars of jams and pickles at Christmas. I love tasting summer on cold winter days. I love being connected to my food and the past.

I can look at the list of projects still untouched or my weed filled garden or the mess of my office and sigh about what I can't seem to do, or I can look at that stack of boxes and the notebook filling up and my sweaty running clothes and realize I'm doing okay. And I can listen to Kathleen making Elizabeth laugh and laugh and laugh. I can snuggle with my girl at nap time. I can say yes when she asks for a story or to do music or to sit and color with her. I can have all this abundance of life. Sometimes I just have to remember to see it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Waiting for the Bus

Today is the first day of school here. I made muffins and a little extra coffee for my friend J. and her kids who wait for the bus outside our house. Kathleen and I went out in our pajamas, Elizabeth in a hooded onesie and legwarmers against the morning chill. We waited for the bus, always late on the first day as routes become familiar and proud parents snap pictures, and had our breakfast party.

The other day we were talking  about the start of school, and J. said, "Sara and Henry used to come out and wait for the bus." For less than two weeks, we were out there every morning to see, but in neighborhood/friend lore that is "used to" and I love her for remembering. 

I have sat outside my house for five Septembers—with Henry, with a big belly and a ghost, with Kathleen, with a big belly and Kathleen, and with Kathleen and Elizabeth—to watch these neighbor friends of ours off to school on the first day. I thought I'd watch them get on the bus with Henry in a few years (that is now suddenly next year). Our older friend will have moved on to the other school by the time Kathleen boards the bus as a kindergardener, but our younger friend will wait with her and Elizabeth too. 

This morning we were out in a classic September morning, sky blue, grass dew wet, with coffee and muffins and another neighbor and her dog. It felt a little like a morning block party. Festive.

And as our friends got pictures taken in their first day of school outfits and new backpacks, I found myself thinking not of Henry who would be in preschool (preschool!) this year and ready for the bus next year, but of Kathleen, who is already clamoring to get on the bus. Not yet, my little big girl, not yet, but you will. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Your brother Henry

Angie's answering questions about talking with your living children about their lost sibling at Still Life with Circles, and I thought I'd chime in.

Right after Henry died, I worried about how we would keep him as part of our family as our family grew (which I hoped it would). I didn’t worry about explaining what happened to him to other children we might have, but I needed to know that they could somehow accept this person that they never met as part of our family. I was desperate to figure out how to do that. Then I met a mom, a little further down the road, who really seemed to have integrated her daughter into her family, even though, like me her firstborn had died and her other children never met her. I decided it was enough to know that it was possible and that I would find my way once I had another child to hold in my arms, not just my heart.

Henry, I lost my orange blanket at Zoey’s house.

I’m not sure why this it the thing that Kathleen chooses to tell Henry, over and over and over. The blanket was lost and found much earlier this summer, but it is what she says to him often, when I do the bedtime routine. 

Brian talks to Henry about praying for our family and others who knew him. I simply ask if she wants to say good night to Henry. If she says yes, I bring down the picture. Sometimes she kisses it, sometimes she says goodnight or I love you or I lost my orange blanket

I don’t know how this nightly ritual started, but it is as much a part of the routine as brushing her teeth. I accept that there may come a time when she doesn’t want to say goodnight to Henry or when she wants to do it in some other way. This is about how she interacts with her brother.

We had a new babysitter here on Tuesday. While I was getting Elizabeth dressed for the day and Kathleen and H. were playing, I heard Kathleen say, “This is Henry.” I looked out and she was showing her picture blocks with immediate and extended family members, and the first person she decided to show was Henry.

I made Kathleen an alphabet book for her first Christmas. Or I intended to. I only completed one page in time for that Christmas. On the H page, I put Henry’s picture in the middle of a big heart. H is for Henry and hearts. Henry is in heaven, but we carry him in our hearts.

Brian has lots of photos and little video clips on his iPod. Kathleen likes to watch the video of her going down the slide, but she likes the one of Henry smiling too.

In late May, Brian told Kathleen that the next day was Henry’s birthday, and she said I sing “Happy to You” to Henry.

Should we have cake? I asked. But of course. 

I had made cupcakes for his first birthday, the only one we marked with our family, but I hadn’t made cake for him since. This year we had chocolate cake with sour cream frosting, and we sang to him.

We have pictures of Henry in almost every room of the house. He’s in Kathleen’s alphabet book and blocks. We have photo albums of him as we do of Kathleen and Elizabeth. We talk about him. We talk about memories and missing him. We tell Kathleen about things that she used that Henry used just as we tell her about things that Elizabeth now uses that she once used. We talk naturally about him, and so far it seems she does too.

People have asked me if I will talk to Kathleen and Elizabeth about Henry. I tell them I already do. I can’t imagine how I would not. 

So we talk about him, but how do we explain what happened? We’ve told Kathleen simply that he died. We have pictures and stories and we love him, but we can’t see him. We tell her he is with Auntie K and Bandit. We will, I suppose, add more as they asks more and understands more. 

I just revisited what I thought about talking to Kathleen about her brother in her first year, early on  and later. We're doing the same things, but they have evolved more into part of our routine now. I worry less about Henry's role in our family. My questions about how he and his siblings will interact evolve too—will they ever resent him? feel like we love him more? how will they share him with their friends as they get older? what will they want to know about him dying, about death, about where he is? Or maybe they'll have completely different questions. We'll talk about them as they come up. We'll continue to talk about our son, their brother. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

8 Months

She's 8 months today, and as if on cue, to mark the event, she started crawling.

Oh, she's been on the verge for a while now, up on hands and knees, rocking back and forth, moving one hand, flopping onto belly . . . back up onto hands and knees, experiment with hands and feed on the ground . . . nope, back onto belly. She had quite mastered a very purposeful slither to get to what she wanted. But tonight as I sat trying to edit a chapter on game design, while she refused to sleep, I caught her out of the corner of my eye. "Is she . . . " but, no, as I turned to watch, she dropped on her belly.

Two minutes later she was back at it though.

Then she cried because she got stuck under the swing in the corner by my chair.

Then I put her back in the middle of the room, where she sat and smiled at herself and at me, clearly proud of her accomplishment. Then she crawled some more.

And I sat and watched, because crawling is new and exciting, and she is not very fast yet, and soon I won't be able to sit at all trying to keep up with her.

8 months and on the move

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The little things

The box was sitting under the phone table. My friend dropped it off a couple of weeks ago—medium diapers for Elizabeth. I have a set of all-in-ones from another friend that I love, so I haven't bothered to unpack the box yet. Tonight, though, I was putting things away, tidying, clearing spaces in the clutter, so I opened it up.

I was headed to the bathroom to pull the last of the small diapers out of the drawer where they have been tucked in the back.

Good, I thought, now I can freecycle all the smalls . . . visions of clearing out bags and boxes of tiny diapers to make room in the attic and my office faded.

Instead rose the image of me, early spring 2007, my belly big, talking to my friend K., the one who gave me the diapers. Our due dates were weeks apart. Her mom was so excited about her coming grandchild that she bought diapers and covers and more diapers and more covers. We planned to cloth diaper too, but I thought we'd start with a service, see how it went, then maybe buy diapers once the baby was a little bigger. Such hope. Such simple belief that things just work out.

It amazes me sometimes how hard it can hurt all of a sudden, how it can still make me gasp. I sat at my kitchen table sobbing, for Henry not being here, for my rocky entry into motherhood, and not least for that lost hope and innocence.

A diaper, dammit. No birthday or anniversary or missed milestone or thoughtless word. Just a diaper.

Earlier, while puttering about the kitchen making a blueberry cake, I was smiling, feeling like I'm in a good place right now. I've settled into caring for two kids. I've settled into a more comfortable way of talking about being a mama to three. And then I picked up those diapers. The storm has passed now, leaving me just a little tired, but after my cry, I got up, took the cake out of the oven, finished folding the laundry, took a shower. This is where I am right now—3 years, 7 and half months later. I'm in a good place right now. Not a perfect one, but a good one still.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Notes from December 2007

I'm cleaning my office and in the file holder next to my desk, I got rid of folders for Christmas 2009, a prospective client that got bought out by another company, a project that I finished too long ago to remember. Then I got to a folder of a company I never worked for, though I accepted a project from them. Inside were two sheets of paper, one full page of my notes from a conversation on December 11, 2007. The other has no date. It has half a page of less detailed information about the project and a list:

BCBS form mail
get sympathy cards—Amy & her mom, Heather & Pat
TY notes—Henry's hand, list from mom
finish bears
finish elephant
make heart—Henry

During those last couple of weeks Henry was in the hospital, I was thinking about starting to work again, dealing with insurance, sending thoughts to others who had lost a loved one, thanking people for the many kindnesses they had done for us. I was making ornaments for Christmas gifts. The bears were for my nieces and nephews to go with the book Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, which I had already bought for them. I think the elephant was for my aunt (her version of my cardinal), the heart was for Henry. I think the penguin was for my friend Tricia's daughter, who was a penguin for Halloween. (That came to me just as I was writing that I had no idea who the penguin was for.)

I was not thinking that my son was going to die.

The list doesn't say how worried I was to bring him home, how terrified I was that he would get sick and we would end up in the hospital again, how anxious and exhausted I was.

On the other side of that paper there is a list of things for parents on one of the other floors—massage and reiki twice a month, yoga once a month, snacks, acupuncture, pizza, community art, coffee and Sunday papers . . . the bottom of the sheet is cut off. I remember how hard it was to start to find out about these things. You needed to be in the hospital a long time. You needed to hang out in the family center or the parent/patient resource rooms and talk about needing to get out or have a break or de-stress. There were times I felt like there was a secret language I didn't know that I needed to know in order to get help. Then coordinator of the parent coffee hours on our floors started offering me a slot for reiki whenever it was available. One day, I didn't make it to coffee hour and she left a cookie at the nurse's desk outside of Henry's room for me. It made me cry, that simple kindness. All of this rushed back with this not quite full page of events and times.

I  opened this folder expecting to find useless info about a project that never happened, pages I could easily recycle, but instead I found notes that showed where I was weeks, days, before Henry died, busy, hopeful, looking forward to Christmas, deciding I really should try to get back to work, and completely oblivious to where I would find myself on December 17.

I'll tuck these pages back into my file holder, and next time I clean out my office I'll look at them again. Maybe then I'll be ready to toss them or maybe I'll hold on to them, useless and mundane as they are. Sometimes a to do list is hope incarnate.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


I have opened up to joy again. I find beauty and love and sweetness in my life. I smile. I laugh. I congratulate new moms—and mean it.

I don't want anyone to know the world shattering pain of losing a child. But I get jealous, even a little bitter when I read or hear gushy stories about perfect births. I get that way too reading about people feeling strong and amazed with themselves after coming through a dangerous patch with their baby, health issues that have been resolved or seem to be resolving.

I feel petty saying it. I feel the need to apologize to all my friends who have lost a baby and then lost again or waited and waited and tried and tried. I feel the need to apologize to my friend Tricia who is an amazing mom who deserves to feel strong and amazed with her self for what she went through with her baby, who has been doing quite well (last I heard, knocking on wood and like safety measures) and whom I don't feel bitter at at all.

Maybe part of it is the gushiness. Certainly part is what I didn't get, but maybe it's the gushiness that feels like the naivety I lost even when the gushiness comes from somebody who knows how fragile life is, who had a far from perfect birth, who had a rough start. And maybe all this bile rises in me because of a sliver of life I see in a blog, the bit that somebody wants to put out there being the pride not the pain, the loveliness not the lost.

I've noticed lately that I still get jealous and bitter and even angry sometimes about what I don't have. Despite what I have. Despite feeling the love and the joy and the beauty in my life. Despite liking to think that I'm "better." Despite feeling a little bit gushy myself when I see Elizabeth laughing at Kathleen.

Monday, July 18, 2011

These days

These days I've been . . .

picking raspberries and making jam (raspberry alone, with rhubarb, with Cointreau) and sauce (raspberry with chocolate liqueur—so good on ice cream).

loving Elizabeth's belly laughs

smiling at Kathleen making Elizabeth laugh

struggling with a 2 1/2 year old's tantrums

chipping away at weeding the garden

pretending I have the summer off (dreading my next piece of work coming in this week)

enjoying garden meals (even if they are from a friend's garden, not my own)

watching Elizabeth getting ready to crawl (may be a while yet, but she's practicing)

turning watering the garden (a chore I usually hate) into a mediation of sorts

waiting for the red dahlias to pop in Henry's garden

remembering having Henry out with us, oxygen tank in the bottom of the stroller, while we worked in the garden

eating drippy homemade popsicles outside

sorting and cleaning and starting projects and making messes

staying up too late to enjoy the quiet.

What have you been up to these days?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Necklace

The day before we left for vacation, I bustled about cleaning things up in the garden, and the pear tree reached out and grabbed my forget-me-not necklace. The one that has survived two babies' grabby hands. The one my sister gave to me just after Henry died. The one I wore at first just on what I expected to be hard days. The one I at some point started wearing pretty much all the time.

For a long time it was a talisman against the world that didn't know I'd lost a baby. I'd put my hand to it frequently for comfort, for something to do when I told that news—or didn't. Now, as I find myself putting my hand to my bare neck again and again, I realize just how much. I probably have another silver chain somewhere that I could use with it, but I haven't had time to look.

I spent most of my pregnancy with Elizabeth feeling like I couldn't breathe. Some nights the necklace felt like it was constricting my breathing. I'd take it off, only to put it on again the next morning. I worried about the instructions not to wear jewelry to the hospital in my pre-birth anxiety I feared they would make me take it off. 

Yesterday, Kathleen noticed I wasn't wearing it and wanted to know why and where it was. She asked over and over and over and over as a two and half year old can. 

She wanted to see it, so I showed it to her. "Put it on, Mumma." I told it was broken, that I couldn't wear it until I fixed it and she lost it. For over an hour, she screamed and cried and kicked. She didn't want me to wear another necklace. She didn't want to wear another necklace. She didn't want to go up to her room with her dolls and special animals to hold. She didn't want stories or songs or other distractions. Finally, after some time with me and some time alone and some time with Brian, she agreed to come down for bacon. 

Even calm, she asked me again where it was. She heard me though and said, "Got stuck in pear tree." 

I don't know why it bothered her so much. I don't think she knows the significance. I don't know if she is just used to me wearing it and she was reacting as she might if I lost my glasses or got a drastically new haircut or if it was just the random thing at the moment that opened flood gates. 

The thing is I kind of like not having it on sometimes. It is like a haircut—it's surprising how cool and light it feels with it off. I have two chains upstairs, either of which will probably work, but I haven't made the switch because I'm not ready to put it on again. Maybe it's time to take it off, maybe replace it with a family necklace that represents all three of my babies. I know where it is if I need it. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Early Summer, 2011

There are strawberrys—whole and sliced with sugar and pureed for strawberry margaritas in my freezer—and jars of strawberry jam and strawberry rhubarb jam and strawberry-vanilla sauce in my closet.

Dinner tonight was pesto chicken (last years pesto from the freezer) with greens from our garden and peas from a friend.

Henry's garden is lush. My day lilies and Peter lilies are blooming. My delphinium is on the verge and my dahlias are growing, growing, growing.

I was out in the gardens today, tying up tomatoes, pruning shrubs, weeding just enough to be able to see what I've planted when I get back from vacation.

Tomorrow I will go to the coast to see my family. I'll feel the rhythm of the waves and breathe the salty fresh air. I'll be grounded and balanced again. I'll sit in the late afternoon breeze and wish I lived by the shore.

I will watch Kathleen run in and out of the waves, see her splash with her cousins, and I'll try to keep Elizabeth and her red-headed fairness and tender baby skin out of the sun.

Elizabeth will sit (new yesterday!) until she gets tired and takes a face plant. Kathleen will not nap and be fussy and tired like all the other kids. She will eat donuts and ice cream and all manner of things not good for you. It's vacation.

I will stay up too late with my mom and sisters and eat too much ice cream and play games and laugh and laugh and laugh until somebody pees their pants.

I will come back and call my friend and we will find a time to pick and start to fill jars with raspberries and beans, then tomatoes and blueberries and peaches and pickles. Because strawberries are just the beginning.

Happy summer (and for those of you not in it, look forward to it. It will come soon enough).