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.