Birthdays aren't the same anymore.
If I'm being honest, they are a little morose now. I think of your birthday, how you were already gone. Pretty backwards, isn't it?
Your brother turned four. Oh how he has broken me in. Like a glove, worn me inside out with a love that leaves stains and creases, bending and bursting at the seams just ready to be shared. I remember when I took the pregnancy test, found out you were coming. He was the only person home, the first person I told. "Now?" he asked, mid-jump. I laughed. Of course not, silly. We would have to wait. You were planned, love. So very wanted.
It was completely different with your brother. Your father and I had been together for only a year, nearly to the day. I remember him worrying about the financial aspect, the movings-in and the remodeling, college funds and diapers and dwindling savings accounts.
But me? I was scared of other things. Before your brother I was selfish, though I hadn't quite seen myself that way. A good portion of my pregnancy was spent mourning her, the 24 year old who traveled to exotic places on her summers off, spent years falling in love with her amazing new boyfriend, finally settling down after a ridiculously fun three to four years together and marrying the love of her life. They would pick out the perfect house with the perfect yard and make plans to raise the perfect family there. Someday.
Life had other plans for this girl though, and I saw them materialize with those two pink lines, followed shortly by a mild panic attack. I remember looking at your father as he discussed changing the paint color in the next room. I remember wanting it all to slow down. Hold on, we're not ready for this. We can't be parents.
The raw, emotional vulnerability that comes with parenthood is the stuff of nightmares. The crazy anxiety, the midnight rushes to the ER after tens of temperature checks, F-5 meltdowns in department stores, the moments you are positive you are in over your head and you know you cannot go on. Except that you do.
The night we lost you I remember your father's face as I told him we would meet you, that we could hold you for as long as we wanted. It was incredibly quiet, incredibly peaceful. We held you for two hours. Two hours to make up for the lifetime we had planned. Two hours instead of countless birthday candles and band aids, hundreds of early mornings and sleepless nights. Two hours of hello and goodbye.
Handing you off was something we hadn't planned, something we never thought we'd be able to do. I remember thinking we weren't ready, that we couldn't do this. Except that we did. The strength required to watch the doors close and stumble back into existence is something we hadn't possesed before. It is something you gave us, something we treasure.
I have come to realize that he wasn't wrong, your brother. "Now" is in fact, the correct answer, for you were already with us then. The truth is I felt you long before the lines confirmed it, feel you long after they told me you were gone.
It is something you gave me, this gift wrapped in layers of disguise. This lesson that nearly escapes me on a daily basis. If I concentrate, I can catch it in the bow of his lips as they sweep the candles, in the rain as it dances on their shoulders. It's there in the seconds I sneak away to quiet corners. I can hear you then, this sweet interruption reminding me to breathe it in, every second in this skin. It is something you gave me. It is something I treasure.
So tonight while your brother sleeps peacefully and I can hear your father laughing at his podcast in the bedroom, while I'm snuggled comfortably in my favorite slippers from college let me thank you for this gift. Thank you for allowing me this pursuit, the strength to welcome one more try.
Just in case tomorrow makes it a little harder to say.