Thursday, September 6, 2012

Comedy of Errors

It's the first day of school.

Henry should be starting kindergarten today. He should wearing a new outfit and a too big backpack and a huge grin or maybe a nervous, tentative face. Back in mid-August, I sat at my desk one night picturing this morning, and I sobbed. Sobbed.

In reality, I would have dropped him off today a bit later than the bus. In reality, tomorrow would be the day I would see him climb on that big yellow bus for the first time, see him holding M's hand. Even though she sometimes rolls her eyes these days in a double-digits tween kind of way, I know she would follow through on that promise to get on the bus with him and make sure he wasn't scared, the promise she made five years ago after she climbed on the big yellow buss for the first time, while he was a baby, sitting in my lap watching. That's the image of the first day of school that has haunted me each September. Now it's here.

Five. Kindergarten.

Today is the first day of school, but not for us. Henry isn't here to get off to kindergarten and Kathleen's preschool starts next week. Still, we have a habit of seeing the kids off on the first day (and most other days too). Last night I made banana chocolate chip muffins like I did last year. This morning I brewed extra coffee. And at about 7:37 as Kathleen was saying we should eat the muffins with our friends, the bells on the back door jingled.

Despite the gray damp, I carried the muffins outside. We were just sitting down at the picnic table, reaching for our muffins when my friend J called out from down the driveway. "Where are the kids? Bus?!"

M ran into the house for her lunch box.

J ran across the dew-wet lawn in her wedge sandals trying to see where the bus was going.

Kathleen darted this way and that following M and J.

"This way!" J called and we were all off to the corner. N doubled back to grab a muffin off the table. I scooped up Elizabeth as we headed for the busy road.

"Oh, he's turning!" So we all looped back up around the house to the driveway where the bus had picked up the kids last year. M and N had crossed the road and were climbing the steps onto the bus by the time I got there.The bus roared away.

"I didn't get pictures!" J said. And she didn't. There was no excited, nervous, happy, grumbly waiting. No hugs and kisses before the bus actually got here and friends might see. No picture of smiling kids in new outfits and big backpacks waiting for the bus.

Maybe that was my saving grace this morning, that I didn't have to watch it all and think about what I wasn't doing, that I didn't have to see M actually get on the bus, or maybe this is yet one more milestone that is harder in the anticipation than actuality. Three weeks ago I sobbed one night thinking about the first day of school and the ghost of my boy getting on the bus, but this morning didn't even feel like the first day of school. I drank too much coffee and ate too many muffins and herded my girls back inside to start our day. This afternoon, when the kids get off the bus, I'll be on the other side of the river for an appointment for Kathleen. It's the first day of school. Just another September day for us.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Going Under

I'm tired. I find myself staying up too late and having trouble falling asleep and being woken in the wee hours by my early bird. On a good day, she snuggles in with me and we sleep for another hour or so. On my less lucky days, the coffee pots fills and empties early. Last night Kathleen slept out in the tent with Brian and I stayed up until 11 making salsa and sofrito because I had piles of tomatoes that were going to go by fast—and because I like moving about the kitchen with no one tripping me up or interrupting me. I was efficient and productive, but by the time I showered and read a few pages to settle down, it was midnight. Then up at 5:30. I've been doing this too much lately and it's adding up. I'm tired and when I'm tired, everything seems a little harder.

Today we were trying to play some of the video we've taken of Kathleen. Brian put in the unmarked tape that we thought was the right one, and there was Henry, lying on the play mat. He's propped up on a boppy and I'm waiting for him to find the toys hanging over him—something he had done just before I turned on the camera. Eventually his arms start swinging. He bumps into one, looks toward it. I cheer. I had such hopes for him. Even as I let go, or tried to let go, of my expectations and ideas of normal, I saw such potential in him.

His arms fall back to his sides. His chest heaves as if he has just sprinted some great distance. You can see it rise and fall even through his clothes, and I want to readjust the oxygen cannula that has slipped well below his nostrils. He was presurgery. I was scared and waiting, but believing he was going to be okay. You can hear it all in my voice—the hope and anxiety and pride.

I forget sometimes about this part, the home part, the waiting for surgery part, because the post-surgery part of his life was so intense. And then it ended. It kind of pushes a lot of stuff aside.

We turned off the tape, and I tucked that all away and went to a Labor Day cookout, where I spent the whole time helping my girls in the pool or trying to keep them out of it.

While in the water with Kathleen, I couldn't help but overhear the conversation around the side of the pool about two other kids who had had some hospital time. The voices grew more and more indignant as two moms talked about the struggle to find a vein in their kids, and I felt the frustration and anger and pain of every needle stick I witnessed, every one I held Henry for, every struggle for an IV I watched. I remember his red face and silent cry during one particularly difficult effort to get a line in. "Did they ever have so much trouble they pulled out a drill?" I wanted to ask. But I didn't really. I didn't want to try to one up them. I really just wanted to run away so I didn't have to hear or remember, but I couldn't get Kathleen out of the pool. And I wasn't going to leave her. She'd already gone under once.

Yes, despite my efforts they both went under. I didn't see Kathleen (bad mom, not right there), but I was feet away from Elizabeth. She was with me, but Brian was in the pool, and we miscommunicated. She leaned forward and fell and half floated and went under and half floated and sank down again, and I tripped to the side of the pool where Brian was already scooping her up.

She was fine, barely sputtering, but I began sobbing. I sat there hugging her and crying for the near miss and the split second that can change everything and the relief that she was okay. I cried for that me waiting for my baby's surgery and for the boy who can't worry me any more.

It was a long day, a stressful day, a day when I missed the baby who lay on the mat as I rooted for him to find his toys and for the about-to enter-kindergarten little boy he should be today. There are days when that missing is simply part of my story, something I sometimes carry without really paying attention too, but there are days that missing still feels really heavy and I want to put it down and leave it behind. Today was the latter. The heavy days still surprise me sometimes.