Since your brother could talk, we have played this game. It started one night at bedtime as we said our I love you's, when he asked if he could tell me a secret.
"Mommy," he whispered. "I love you more than Earth."
Not to be outdone, I replied, telling him that I loved him more than the universe.
"What's a universe?" I remember him asking.
The game always becomes quite silly, as both of us try to out-love the other. I love you more than sixty elephants. Twelve thousand candy canes. A million ice cream cones. With sprinkles?
Of course with sprinkles. A gazillion sprinkles.
But it always ends the same way. He will giggle and he will look at me and say, "Wow! That's a lotta love!"
The other day he whispered into the baby's ear. "I told Dom I loved him!" he declared, happily.
"Awwww," I prompted. "Tell him how much."
And without blinking, he grabbed your little brother's hand.
"I love you even when you're dead."
Two weeks ago we arrived home way past bedtime. It had been one of those long, amazing, sweaty summer days filled with tons of family, and we pulled into the driveway around ten. Your father and I had driven separately, for one reason or another, and I arrived home first with the boys.
Both of them were sound asleep, so I carried them inside. Your little brother first, in his car seat. Your older brother next, blindly navigating my way down the stairs into his "big boy" room and gently dropping him into bed. For a moment I caught myself staring at him, and I thought that I couldn't remember the last time I held him.
I read an article once that made me cry, about holding your child for the last time. How when they're little, you hold them all the time...have to. Then they grow, as they should, and they learn to walk, and you still hold them but it's a little less and a little heavy. Soon they're jumping out of your arms, onto slides and into pools, only running to you with a scrape or a scare, and slowly, gradually, your arms grow emptier, until one day you set them down and you never pick them up again.
It's one of the things that makes me sad to think about, all the prime holding times I missed with him, having been pregnant for the better part of the last two years. During your pregnancy as I grew bigger, I'd let your father carry him to bed most nights, watch from a distance as he was beaming, scooped into towel after warm towel after many a bath time. And it would sting a little, but I knew you were coming. I just knew I'd hold my baby soon.
This last pregnancy was different. He was older and I was more neurotic, barely bending to tie a shoe, confident that such a movement could jeopardize the life inside me. I hardly thought of it because I was so preoccupied with fear. And now he's starting kindergarten in three weeks and he's almost fifty pounds, and it breaks my heart and nearly my back whenever I try.
It's one of the things you miss, initially, in the grieving process. I remember holding you, and it feeling like an out-of-body experience. And not in the dramatic, brush-with-death-come-out-stronger kind of way, more like the if I tried to completely comprehend the gravity of what is happening here all at once, how much I've been robbed of, it will kill me way, so I kind of blindly felt my way through. Because I knew it was something I should do, but I didn't want to. God forgive me, I didn't want to.
They handed you to me, and it was kind of like when you get soap in one of your eyes in the shower. At first the pain is so intense that you cannot see at all, but your muscles all still work and so you feel your way to the towel, and gradually the pain starts to lessen until you can see again. Until you can assess the damage.
Except that towel is much, much farther away. Some days I still search it in the dark.
And the pain is much worse. And my eyes will always be red.
I notice something now, about me.
Your brother will cry, and instead of my stomach tightening like with our first baby, I feel lighter. I don't roll my eyes at your father as much. My smile comes just a smidge easier and those really, really long nights that accompany the first few months with a newborn feel like paradise. I am not always happy but when I'm happy I'm skipping. Skipping through life like a child.
And when I hold them. I really, really hold them. You know?
And I think it's because I held you.
It's because I am holding you too.