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Friday, May 27, 2016

365 Days Post Exhalation.

Three weeks ago I Google-d "Rainbow Birthday Party". 

Streamers.  Polka dots. Lollipops.  Cakes and cupcakes and salsa and food coloring, and lots and lots of chevron.

I realize none of that is what's important.  Still as we sang to him, I couldn't help but notice the reds and deep blues and yellows and greens.  This celebration of his life,  surrounding him in swirly serenade.  

But no color does the rainbow justice.  It isn't enough to notice them.  It isn't enough to say that I'm happy he's here.

For nine months I planned his death.

Down to the way I would tell his brother, and the social media announcement.  Down to the sub plans I made and printed, and made and printed, and made and printed again.   His funeral, down to the dress I would wear. 

All things baby remained in their boxes, pastel and dusty and dark in the garage.  No sign of anything new, anything coming, anyone waiting.  Ten days before he was born I arrived from work to find the crib nearly constructed.  And while I allowed this surely disastrous move to continue, I lay awake for days.  Absolutely convinced the dark cherry bars had sealed his fate. 

The sound of his heartbeat was commonplace in my ears, prime to every decel.  I knew every pattern, listened as it rise and fell and rise and fell.  I analyzed every movement, every minute.   Kick counts were twice, then four, then seven times a day.  I was always on the defensive.  Always waiting for everything to stop.

His due date, ominous and millions of miles away, loomed in the distance.  I could not afford to look ahead.  I had lost it all and learned it all and bet it all.  Again.  There was only moment to moment.  One agonizing, terrifying breath to the next. 

The fear was its own entity.  Something  I couldn't hope to fight, only ride.  Through the night.  Through the morning and the evening and the afternoon.  Had he left me yet?  Was it time?  Is he gone is he gone is he gone.

Fear bought the Doppler.  Fear hid the smile from the love I was growing.  It was fear who demanded the NST twice in one day.  And it was fear who drove me to the hospital, elven times in the third trimester alone. 

I was a prisoner in my own body.  Slave to a rogue heart, and a head that knew better. 

The day he opened his eyes he showed me more than any scientist, any doctor, any scan ever could.  I looked at him and I knew that while the fear was massive and loud and likely forever, there had been something much bigger beside it all the while. 

Most days, I can't remember who delivered whom.  From where.

Happy Birthday to the heart that saved mine; whose cries are forever my favorite sound.  To the boy who shows me, every day, what it means to be courageous, and what bravery is worth.

You could have been difficult.  You could have cried every minute.   I could be up all night, every night.  I could work for every smile and I would be grateful.

But you are the happiest.  You are the easiest.  You are the loveliest, purest form of joy I have ever known.  Your every move is blond hope eternal.  You are the most worthwhile thing I have ever done.

My sweet Dominic Joseph, my brightest rainbow; the hope that continues to grow with my arms.  You made me believe in life again, in the most literal of ways and for that I could never repay you, but I promise to try.

I am certain I will never be so happy as the day I first met you.  I love you with all of my broken, swollen heart.  You have made a beautiful mess of me, and I treasure you so. 





Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Perfectly Imperfect.

It's a lovely afternoon.  Perfectly sunny and perfectly breezy. 

We walk hand in hand, our nearly six year-old running beside us on the gravel path and our nearly one year-old in the stroller just below.  Joggers and passerby are all smiles and waves and nods.  We reach the prettiest tree in the row, in full bloom of feathery white and carefully set our blanket of muted plaid onto the soft grass. 

I reach for the sunblock and he, for the sandwiches.  Together we feed and lather them, giggling at the geese nearby.  A moment of peace as we gaze at the families on the paddle boards in the distance.  A moment of panic as one rather large and persistent bird comes within inches of our picnic blanket, forcing a half-laughing, half-terrified toss of bread its way. 

They materialize down the path before me.  "Cute skirt," I think to myself, and then..."That looks like..." Before I can finish the sentence in my head he begins to yell for his former classmate. 

"Oh hello!" we all exchange niceties.  A perfectly perfect family of five and a perfectly almost perfect family of four that should be five, in front of the pretty white tree.

And it would have been nice, but I'd been hoping not to see anyone.  Today, the smiles actually, physically hurt. 

"Crazy seeing you here!"  We offer, back and forth.

"It's a tradition," they tell us.  They come here every year for a picnic lunch and a walk. 

I nod, hoping the tear marks on my cheeks have faded since the car. 

"That's so nice," I say. 

A few more minutes of polite conversation ensues, and then they turn to leave.

"We have a tradition too!"  He stands tall beside me.  Enthusiastic.  Proud.   "We come here to see my sister's tree!"

They turn, look to me for clarity.  I open my mouth to speak but per the norm, he's already speaking.

"My sister, Josie. This is her tree.  She died on birth."

In a moment I think to correct his grammar, she died at birth not on birth.  Then I think to correct the entire sentence, because she died before that.  Your sister died and then she was born. 

Instead we just look at each other, two perfectly imperfect families, grasping for some shared sense of understanding over the wall now between us. 

I sort of shrug uncomfortably.

"We're so sorry," they say, kindly.  "And this?  This is her tree?"

"Yes," I'm standing now.  "Thank you.  Sorry!" I gesture towards the branches, suddenly trying not to laugh at the glaring disparity.  The smile on my face as I stand above her ashes in the ground.

They stay for a moment, commenting on the tree and offering their condolences in the nicest possible way, and then they are gone.  Waving politely and walking briskly down the path, likely too slow for all involved.

I turn, and the laughter is a welcome surprise.  Soon it has us both; the bluntness of his statement, the absurdity of it all.   Together we fall onto the blanket as our children watch, perplexed.

To my surprise, I realize that there are at least three things that can make me smile on Mother's Day:   Pretzel bread, brave birds, and refreshingly honest five year-olds. 




Monday, May 9, 2016

One Mother's Day, Two Worlds.

She is everything a little girl should be and so much more.

She runs from room to room, eagerly and happily and like she owns the place.

She owns the place.

Much to my dismay, she prefers sweatpants to the millions of dresses in her closet; this wardrobe, growing and stretching and soft as the skin it lines.  Her hair bounces in waves as her brother's, brown and sticky and wind-blown.  She runs to me with arms so open, and I'm always falling in.

She is cautious, but trusting.  She loves finger painting and strawberry ice cream and story time most of all.  Every night she begs, "One more, mommy."

She chases after him, and he dotes on her. When she was an infant he would kiss her forehead softly, proudly.  Rare is the moment I remind him to be gentle.  With her, he knows.   Sometimes as I watch them together,  I wonder what life might have been with two boys.  Not achingly, as if the world owed me that; but curiously.  A different life I don't know. 

I open the white jewelry box, a gift on her first birthday.  The melody is soft and happy as she dances in lavender pajamas.  I'm reminded of a similar tune from my childhood; a twirling ballerina.  I smile as she comes to life on the carpet before me. 

"Hey pretty girl,"  I call to her, as I've done a thousand times before.  As I will a thousand times again.   Gracefully she falls, laughing, hands above her head.  She is caught by the softest pink sheets.  Nothing will harm her here. 

I take her for granted far too often, and a day never feels incomplete.  And Father-Daughter dances never shake me.  And trees never bend me on sunny afternoons in May. 

I lay her to sleep, kiss her cheeks and her lips and her hands.  I tell her she is beautiful and perfect and loved.  So very loved.  In a moment I remember the night two years before.  How it felt when the movement stopped; what life would be if she'd left me then.   Every day, never enough.  No matter the joy. 

I flip the light and there's a shudder; this thought of a world that never knew her.   Glancing back to her face on the pillow, hall lights dancing on cheeks I've never kissed goodbye. 

Someday, when she tests me I will feel a pull.  Life's reminder of what might have been. 

A door will slam and words hurled, violent and teenaged and misguided.  I will want to throw back but I will smile instead. Knocking softly, patiently.    I will wait forever.  And then,

Run my fingers through her hair, hold her close, breathe her in.  Every freckle.  Every scar.

I will tell her how grateful I am to be her mother; how she gave us quite a scare. 

What a scare.