Thursday, April 20, 2017

And now, the quiet grief.

Here's something new.

The thing about grief is that it's bottomless and endless and nonlinear and constantly ebbing and flowing... and yet, the basics are always the same thing on repeat into infinity. 

I miss her. I wish she were here. I don't know exactly how that would fuck with the space-time continuum or the butterfly effect or whatever metaphysical corridor in which we exist, but I will always want to be a mom with three [visible] kids. Stair step little girls. I want them all here.

What is new is not that I miss her; it's when I miss her.

It used to be the lead up to holidays. The empty days and dreadful anticipation. All I could think about was how much I'd looked forward to sharing that day with Eliza--my plans for photos and gifts and the start of ongoing traditions and how everything had crumbled. I'd imagine all the other people with babies--those I knew and those I didn't--making their plans and enjoying their holidays. I imagined those who knew me thinking of me with pity, with relief that it was me and not them who landed in the slimmest of odds, the deepest of grief. But then when the day arrived, we changed plans, ran away to Mexico, ignored the calendar, found a distraction, and the actual day wasn't as brutal as the wind up had been.

After Zuzu was born, the anticipation was a little bit fun again, though always bittersweet. Still, I was eager to experience holidays with my rainbow baby and even when my heart ached, I refused to let my grief cloud her experience. It sounds odd, but I didn't ever want Eliza's death to be a source of resentment or weirdness for Zuzu. So even when I could hardly stomach a Christmas tree or Zuzu was still too young to care about hidden eggs, I did my best to make her holidays festive. She'd see more of my tears and hear more about death than most kids on a regular basis, I'm sure, but I didn't want grief to overshadow holiday memories. 

And yet I couldn't help but miss Eliza right in the thick of it. We'd be surrounded with family at Christmas, baby Zuzu being lovingly passed from one auntie to another, and suddenly I'd feel the weight off all I lost. It was thrown into relief by what we were so luckily able to experience with Zuzu, but it was still breathtaking, the heaviness of that pain. I'd think that a holiday was going ok, I'd be enjoying myself, and then I'd consider the age and stage Eliza would be, and I would feel my throat thicken with unshed tears. I knew that Zuzu had filled part of the void in my heart, had brought joy and color back to my life, but the very happiness of her existence made her sister's life less visible, and it would take all I had not to cry at the dinner table, infuriated by the unfairness of it all.

I'm better able to really enjoy holidays now. It's almost impossible not to, seeing them through the eyes of a four year old who says things like, "Easter Eve! Oh, this is going to be the best night of my LIFE!" Her wonder and enthusiasm is precisely why Santa and the Easter Bunny exist. Coco is her little mimic and they never fail to make me laugh and to make me appreciate the hugeness of my good fortune.

But later, when Easter Eve and Easter Day are over, when the candy has been hidden in the top of the pantry and there's just a stray plastic egg half here or there, when the girls are listening to a story book brought by the bunny, when Cooper is snoring, and pastel dresses are piled in laundry baskets, when we begin the ritual of returning to ordinary life... now that's when I miss Eliza most.

I've gotten distracted, you see. It's easy to do with two little kids and all the drama that comes with them--worries about dog bites and lingering coughs and antibiotics and probiotics and nap schedules and sassy attitudes, and fun things like afternoons at the park and cuddling during the scary part of Disney movies and both girls wanting Mama's lap and pictures in those pastel dresses.

But once they're (blessedly) asleep, my heart remembers. It remembers that all day long, while we had such fun, while we saw the world through the magical lens of childhood, while we laughed and hugged and kissed and played with new toys, my oldest daughter was missing. 

It remembers the ache, which was ignored during the bustle and excitement, but has not gone away. It was just lying dormant, waiting for the moment when I could give it my complete attention. That's what it does now--it waits. Waits for the end of the day, the moment of sinking into a hot bath, the moment of folding warm towels alone in a cool basement, the moment of sliding into clean sheets in a dark room. And then it reminds me... I'm still brokenhearted. My family is still incomplete. We are smiling in this photograph, but I'm still a bereaved mother.

What's also new is that I don't feel guilty about waiting until later, until after, to have my moments of intense grief. I don't think it's a betrayal to Eliza to throw myself into Easter with her sisters and delay my grief until later. If anything, she's the reason I treasure those moments so much, and if time does give us any gifts, it allows me the space to have that enjoyment.

But in the quiet spaces at all the end of the day, I take my grief and I cradle it tenderly and I miss my first baby and my would-be biggest girl and I cry. And after a while, I marvel at the fact that somehow, six years later, I haven't cried myself out of tears.

Life is sweet. But I miss her still.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Mom Day Monday

Today was one of those days where I felt like a mom. By which I mean, I ordered egg salad at the deli counter while pushing a whiny two-year-old in a shopping cart and holding the hand of a four-year-old, and I was wearing a maxi skirt. SUCH a mom, right?

Random cute pic of the girls:

Other things (mom-ish or not) that I did today:

I got the girls up and dressed, made oatmeal and frozen pancakes for breakfast, and listened to songs from The Lion King soundtrack on the way to the girls' school. We watched the movie for the first time on Saturday (in preparation for taking Zuzu to see the play this week) and the girls liked it, but Zuzu got really anxious at the scary parts. She sat on my lap and bit one fingernail down to the quick. We'll be sticking to "Mickey Mouse's [Godforsaken] Clubhouse" for a while.

I listed to Pod Save America on my way to work and then started my work day at 9:00, checking email and hand writing stuff in my planner (so old school). I'm working on writing down every little thing I have to do. This gives me the satisfaction of crossing many things off a list, but also helps my poor brain because I can't remember it all! I also skimmed the short story I was teaching this morning (because I've already read it a zillion times) and I more carefully read an article about family and sexual politics in Much Ado About Nothing in preparation for my afternoon class.

At 10:00, I led discussion slash lectured on a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story called "Death Constant Beyond Love." We discussed magical realism and post-colonial literature as counter narratives to the dominant (white) discourse and also the idea that we all ultimately die alone. Super uplifting! Also I explained drawing and quartering a human, which is something that evidently most of my students were not familiar with. (Who's not teaching them medieval torture techniques?!)

After back-to-back lit classes, I went to my office to enter participation grades (mostly a way to penalize students who are on their cell phones or without their text books). Then I walked over to grab lunch in the dining hall with my friend/colleague, Rob, and we talked about Survivor and the huuuuge drama on last week's episode, which we both just saw over the weekend. I won't plot spoil in case you have it DVRed, but was so shocking! We also chatted at lunch with a part-time instructor who is going to start an MFA program at NYU this fall in game design. It sounds so cool! I'm really excited for her, but sad that she won't be teaching/inspiring our students next year.

At 1:00pm, it was time for my Shakespeare class and discussion of the aforementioned article. They had good things to say about it, and we also talked a bit about attitudes towards marriage (still a huge social expectation, regardless of gender/sexual preference, and with no other personal "accomplishments" that are comparable). We also talked a bit about the transformation of the word "cuck" (from "cuckold"--a man whose wife cheats on him, and a serious concern for Shakespearean characters like Othello and Benedick). We also talked a bit about challenging gender roles and a young woman in my class commented that she runs cross country and can drive a stick shift, but she couldn't get a job as a valet last summer because men don't trust women to drive their cars. I don't frequent a lot of valet-park establishments, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a female valet. I sure hope there are exceptions to that rule...

After class, it was office hour. I checked email, graded, and requested a couple library books. (I want to read Thirteen Reasons Why before watching the Netflix series all my students are talking about, and I also want to read Sheryl Sandberg's new book Option B about life after loss, so I put it on hold.)
My office hour was up before my work was all finished (story of my life). I fretted about the stack of ungraded essays and wondered how I'd get 22 of them graded by Friday (spoiler: I probably won't).

Then it was time to head out. I had to leave work at 3:00 to have enough time to get to the girls' school, get them loaded up, and get to the doctor's office by 4:00. The downside of a 30 minute commute. The upside is that I was able to finish listening to the podcast.

Coco had a doctor appointment because she had a run in with a chihuahua over the weekend. It started out a friendly encounter that appeared mutually agreeable, but the moment I relaxed and quit hovering, something went awry and poor Coco ended up with a dog bite on her sweet little cheek. She was freaking out, I was freaking out. It was awful. It didn't bleed, but it did break the skin in a couple of places, so I called the pediatrician today to ask about potential for infection. It's already looking a lot better, but he wanted to see her, and he ended up prescribing an antibiotic. (Dog saliva: not as bacteria-laden as cat saliva, but still not something you really want inside an open wound.)

So we left the doctor's office and stopped at the Whole Foods a couple blocks away to get a probiotic and some other groceries. Coco was hungry/hangry/whiny, so it was not super enjoyable. She kept asking for peanutbutter, like she just wanted to scoop it from the container into her hands? I also have stopped indulging in the option of opening a package of food for my kids in the store and letting them eat it before we've paid for it. I've realized that's a [white] privilege not afforded to everyone. Fortunately, the ciabatta bread samples were legit equal opportunity, so my children dined on crusty bread while I bought overpriced produce and egg salad.

We spent ten minutes in line at the pharmacy drive through, listening to "Hakuna Matata" on repeat, and Coco's medicine still wasn't ready and they said it would be 15 more minutes, which made me feel very ragey and not at all hakuna matata-y. I said I'd be back and headed for home, but my car was running on fumes so I had to stop for gas while the girls continued to rock out to "Hakuna Malala," as Zuzu calls it.

Poor Cooper didn't get a walk tonight in spite of the beautiful weather because by the time we made it home from those errands, I only had 40 minutes to make dinner, switch the laundry, clean up the kitchen, and get out the door to swimming lessons. Cooper let me know how he felt about this by pulling my bag down from the bench by the door and eating the granola bar and several of the cough drops that were in it while we were at swimming lessons. He's such an A-hole sometimes. (But at least he doesn't bite kids' faces!)

I scrambled eggs and made toast for dinner with a side of grapes (cut up, because I'm totally paranoid). Zuzu was eating her toast and then said, "Look! I ate my toast into a gun!" And it did kind of look like the shape of a revolver. I told her that seemed kind of scary and she said it was just toast. I asked her what guns are for and she said that poor people have to use them to shoot animals for food. That seemed like a sufficient explanation for now, though not without its own socioeconomic baggage....

The girls were excited for swimming, so they got their swim suits on and packed their pajamas without much nagging, and I tossed the laundry in the dryer and started another wash before we headed out the door.

Swimming lessons went well. The girls wore new swim suits from the Easter Bunny. Zuzu's is a size 5T tankini that says "Mermaid at [Heart]" on the top. Coco's is a size 24 month tankini. I'm not sure why the Easter Bunny brought her such a small size, but I guess she is a bit of a peanut because the bottoms were so big her little butt crack was hanging out. (Add "take in swim suit bottoms" to my planner's to-do list.) Zuzu was a good listener and Coco was very brave jumping in (and her bottoms didn't fall off!), so lessons were successful.

Of course my kids dawdle getting out of the pool, so we missed the first round of shower rooms but we got a fully-accessible shower on round two, which was nice because the handle is low and the kids can sit on a bench. It was not so nice when I grabbed a towel for Coco and turned around to discover her LICKING the bench in the shower (omg! at least she's already taking an antibiotic?), but I got them shampooed and lotioned and in their pjs, except for Zuzu's underwear which had either disappeared or never made it into the bag when I asked them to pack their pjs and underwear at home. Commando car ride!

We drove home via the pharmacy while the girls snacked on Cheerios and more cut up grapes in the back seat (they're always starving after swimming) and then once we got home, Coco took a dose of her meds and they brushed their teeth while I switched the laundry again and then loaded up the diffuser with water and "serenity" blend essential oil.

Bedtime consisted of Brown Bear, Brown Bear (an old favorite), Hello, Laura (a board book version of Little House on the Prairie that's basically like "Laura likes living on the prairie" but has cute pictures), and a funny book they got for Easter about a polar bear who loses his underwear and then realizes he was wearing it the whole time but it was white so he couldn't see it. Perfect for Zuzu tonight!

Post-swimming bedtime is always pretty easy (yay for physical exhaustion!) but I did get a text from David letting me know he'd finished up with interviews at work and was going to grab a bite to eat with the interview team. I replied something like "Enjoy dinner out while I work full time and parent our children and take them to the doctor and go to the grocery store and do the laundry and cook dinner and clean up the kitchen and drive to swim lessons and bathe and dress the kids and put them bed." And then I added some smily emojis so it didn't sound totally bitchy. I know David works hard and is a supportive and active co-parent, but mercy. Today I kind of felt like I did it all, all by myself.

(Speaking of co-parenting, it made me smile this morning when Zuzu said she wanted to wear a headband to school and I said okay, but she seemed to be anticipating me saying no because she said, "Daddy already said I could!" and I said, "Okay, that's fine." And then she said, "I know, because Daddy said I could and you're a team." Yay for putting up a united front!)

Now it's past my bedtime (my phone helpfully reminds me when I should go to bed to get 8 hours in before my alarm goes off...) but I want/need to read more tonight (I'm determined to finish Chernow's Hamilton before the month is out and I'm teaching The Shining in my gothic lit class and have a few more chapters to get through--it's scary as hell!). Plus I should fold the laundry that just buzzed... Definitely don't think 8 hours is going to happen tonight.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

More Conversations with Zuzu and Coco


Um... That's Not Exactly How Evolution Works
Zuzu: (in the car, in lecture mode, talking to Coco) Do you want to learn how TVs are maded? They are made out of glass and plastic or wood.
Coco: TV! I watch a show!
Zuzu: Do you want to learn about little girls? Do you want to learn how they are monkeys that turn into people? I think they are monkeys that get old and turn into people. Did that happen to you, Mom?


Grammy's Birthday
Me: We're going to celebrate Grammy's birthday this weekend. What should we have?
Zuzu: Cake! No, blueberry muffins! (pause) And we're going to need milk, and wine, and beer.



Storm Warning
Zuzu: (coming inside the house as it starts sprinkling outside, talking excitedly) I was trying to get Coco inside because I heard a warning that lightning or thunder can shoot you in the heart. And if it gets in your body, it might make you die. Or get dead.



A Good Place to Be
Zuzu: (in the car, observing a tree that fell in the park) When we go THIS way, the tree is out YOUR window, and when we go THAT way, it's out MY window!
Me: I like how your mind figures out the world.
Zuzu: And the world is a great place to be! There's all these buildings and places to be... The world is a good place to be.



Unreliable Witness
Me: Coco, what's the matter, honey? Do you feel bad?
Coco: Yeeeeeesssssss.
Me: What hurts? Does your ear hurt?
Coco: Yes.
Me: Which ear hurts?
Coco: (looks doubtful, points to one)
Me: Does it really hurt or are you just saying that?
Coco: I just saying that.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Thoughts on this and that

It sounds so cheesy, but this morning doing yoga, listening to the sound of the girls giggling as they played outside. When David asked me if I wanted any treats from the store, I meant it when I said that I already have everything I want.

(I trust that everyone who reads the blog of a bereaved parent knows that such statements always include the caveat "except that I'd like all my children to be alive." The sometimes unstated but always unchanging truth of my life.)

* * * 

As with all things decorating, this is a matter of personal taste, but you know what I'm not into? Stuffed animal heads on the wall as decor in a child's room. I've seen panda bears and unicorns and objectively, I guess they are kinda cute. But maybe since I grew up in a place (a small town in the Midwest) where animal heads on the wall are frequently displayed hunting trophies made from taxidermied animals, I just don't see the appeal of the visual implication that you slaughtered a unicorn and have mounted the head of a dead magical creature in your baby's room. Am I the only one who sees them this way? Target seems to have made them quite popular, so maybe I just have the cynical eye of a vegetarian who grew up in a community where hunting season is a holiday.

* * * 

Zuzu has a bit of a cold--drippy nose, yucky sounding cough, low grade temperature off and on. This morning was the highest it's been--100.5 under her arm. It came down from there (without Tylenol or anything) but we decided not to go to church and spread her germs around. She's pretty droopy, but when her temp goes down she rallies, and I think it's good for her to be out in the fresh air and sunshine, so I'm letting her play outside. I just know she's not feeling like herself because we had a few friends over last night and she climbed up on my lap and fell asleep while the other kids were playing.

* * * 

Yesterday the high was only in the low 60s, but it was the first sunshiny day we've seen since returning from spring break. David put fresh mulch in all our landscaping garden beds and even though a week of rain is no fun, the grass is so green and the yard looks really nice. We had a dwarf Japanese maple that didn't make it in our front garden. It actually died a year ago, but we left it last spring or summer just in case it miraculously resurrected itself. It didn't. So, David dug it out and we replaced it with a little spiral tree (my choice from the garden shop down the street). I think it's so cute!


Here's a shot of it in context.


David works so hard to keep the yard looking nice. I think he's crazy, but I sure appreciate the results. My friend asked last night when she came in if we do the yard ourselves or hire it out. He makes it look so profesh!

* * * 

I'm planning to get a swimming pool membership this summer, but we need to be "sponsored" by someone who lives in the community. I had thought we could ask a friend of mine, but she recently moved. But David has a good friend whose parents live in that area, so we are hoping they'll let us put their name down as our sponsors. I'm already looking forward to lazy summer afternoons of going to the pool and then heading home for dinner and early bedtimes.

I decided to enroll Zuzu in one special camp this summer. I want our summers to be long and lazy for the most part, but I thought that one week would be exciting and good for her to do something new. We have a fabulous arts organization in St. Louis called COCA (Center of Creative Arts) and they do all kinds of programs and performances for children and adults, including amazing theatre and dance opportunities. I'm not pushing Zuzu toward a career on the stage, but I do hope she'll enjoy going each morning for a week for their "Big Top Circus" camp. I'm a little nervous about it, because she can be hit or miss about this stuff (one gymnastics center we attended was fantastic, the more conveniently located and less expensive tumbling classes were a total bust as she refused to participate). She seemed enthusiastic when I mentioned circus camp to her; later she asked if Daddy could do it with her (uh... no. It's for 3-5 year olds.). So I'm really hopeful that she'll love it, and it will be fun to have a few mornings of one-on-one time with Coco-puff. 

* * *

One of my friends has been doing Jazzercise for her workouts. I used to do Jazzercise when I was in graduate school. I loved it and it's so inexpensive compared to other gyms or workout classes. There is an element of ridiculousness to it, but that's what makes it fun and the time passes quickly. Plus, it's a great workout. I haven't signed up yet, but I'm thinking about it...

* * *

It's April! I did not do (or receive) any great April Fool's Pranks, but if I'd gotten my act together, I would have tried making meatball "cake pops." Doesn't that sound revolting?