Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Christmas Memories 2017

When I remember this Christmas, I want to remember them vibrating with glee and excitement on the stairs.

I want to remember how delighted they were with their gifts. (Coco got a new diaper bag with bottles and diapers for her baby--the high chair was just brought up from downstairs for staging.)

I want to remember them in their Shimmer and Shine costumes, acting out the inane plot from the show over and over again.

I also want to remember the surprise snow on Christmas Eve Eve, and Coco bursting into our room that morning shouting, "The snow is here!"

I want to remember David taking them out sledding in our yard, and the way he laughed as he watched them shoot down the hill and crash into a pile of leaves. He was having as much fun as they were, even without sledding himself. I want to remember how wet and muddy and breathless they were when they finally came in and needed help taking off their coats and mittens and snow pants and boots.

I want to remember the girls being so snuggly and sweet as we watched Christmas movies.

I want to remember Zuzu cackling with laughter at all of the slapstick violence in the movie Home Alone, and Coco drifting off to sleep on the couch.

I want to remember how much they love their grandparents.

I want to remember them shrieking with delight and running from my dad as Bops played "Mon-stah" (Monster) and chased them through the house. He says that Coco will tremble with fright sometimes when the game gets too intense, but if he catches Zuzu, Coco will fight to "save my sistah!"

I want to remember them doing crafts with Grammy, even when those crafts consist of tracing cookie cutters on paper, filling in the shapes with copious amounts of Elmer's glue, and then pouring cookie sprinkles on top of the glue to make their own "cookies," which they then sold to us in a shop.

I want to remember Coco demanding that we watch them dance, and their ballet performances in Christmas dresses, leaping and twirling (and falling) with their rainbow dance ribbons.

I want to remember how excited they were about getting Shimmer and Shine bandaids in their stockings.

I want to remember the contradictions of a three year old who is very independent, but still bellows from the bathroom, "Can someone wipe me?"

She's been waking up dry for a couple of weeks now, so when we ran out of pull ups, I didn't buy more. Last night, in the middle of the night, we woke to her crying. She hadn't wet the bed--instead Coco was out of bed by herself trying to go to the bathroom but couldn't get off the mermaid tail skirt that she'd insisted on sleeping in over her Minnie Mouse pajamas.

I want to remember the nights that they still end up in our bed, when Coco is like a cuddle magnet wanting to be right next to me. My neck is usually killing me in the morning, but when she wakes up, she gently rubs my shoulder and says, "I love you, Mommy" and it's totally worth it.

I want to remember the moments when they are not making good decisions and I ask if they are stinkers and Coco yells, "No! Sweethearts!"

And I want to remember how thrilled they were when the Hatchimals cracked the egg, and how Zuzu kept forgetting what they were called and calling them "Patchimojis." She still sometimes says that birds "patch" from eggs instead of hatch and it's one of the last baby-talk things she does, so I don't want her to stop.

I want to remember taking them to see The Nutcracker at the children's theater and how Zuzu was so into it that she hid her face in my arm when the Nutcracker fought the mouse king. I want to remember how thrilled she and Coco were to get their faces painted.

I want to remember how much they believe, how the magic is real for them, the elf and Santa and everything. I want to remember them acting out the nativity with Zuzu playing Mary and Coco playing Joseph while also dressed as a princess. I want to remember how Zuzu used an Anheuser Busch crate to first be the donkey she rode on and then flipped it over to be the manger for the baby. I want to remember how she used the same language from the children's theater play we saw, "We are going to get a quick drink of water, and then we'll answer questions" and she wanted the audience to ask questions about the play so she could explain what they did.

I want to remember that Zuzu and Coco were excited to go to Grammy's house by themselves a day before David and I head that way, but then Zuzu got teary and asked when Mama was going to get there and seemed uncertain about going on without me.

Five and three are so sweet, and this Christmas was one of the sweetest. We still have two more to go--family Christmas with my brother and his family at my parents', and then extended family Christmas at my Aunt Tammi's. The girls will get more gifts than they need, and the sugar and excitement and change of sleeping schedules will catch up with us.

But I hope that long after they can't recall what presents they received, long after they've moved from Shimmer and Shine to the next obsession, even after they are so big they no longer play with baby dolls, that they will remember how much they are loved, and how much we love making magic for them at Christmas.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy Everything.

I feel like the blog has been a little off this year, but I just want to say how grateful I am for all of you who are reading.

May you be brave enough this year to put your wishes out into the world.

And may all your whispered wishes come true.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Fall Photos

I mentioned before that Coco cut her hair (for the second time) right before our scheduled photos for Christmas cards.

I think the cards still turned out cute--and here are some of my favorites from the photo session. All photos taken by Casey Rae Photography.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Hope in the Dark

Recently, our church had a service of hope and talked about having hope in the darkest of times, as we approach not only Christmas but also the winter solstice and the longest, darkest night of the year.

It happened to be the same Sunday we'd arranged to dedicate flowers for the service in memory of Eliza.

I generally associate pink flowers with Eliza (particularly pink magnolia blossoms), but obviously TJ's had more of the Christmas-theme going, so I just bought whatever looked best and attempted to create my own arrangement--red and white and green.

I carried it in and one of the ladies who was a greeter led me up to the flower stand at the front of the sanctuary. She told me the flowers were beautiful and said, "Are they in memory of someone?"

I nodded. "Our daughter Eliza. She would be seven this month, so there are seven red roses." And then my throat closed up and I couldn't talk any more.

After church, we were picking up the girls at their Sunday school room and another mom smiled at me. "Beautiful flowers," she said. I thanked her, and my eyes filled up with tears.

Having people know about Eliza, know that I had a baby who died, makes me feel vulnerable. But if they don't know, I feel a little bit like a fraud, or at least like I'm only connected to them in the most superficial way possible.

On Sunday, I felt open and vulnerable and emotional all day.

And even though that was hard and I cried off and on all day, I have no regrets about that.

That same mom who mentioned the flowers sent me an e-mail after church. She said her life has been touched by child and infant loss, and she just wanted to let me know that she's thinking of my family and our Eliza.

Seven years ago, December was so dark and hopeless.

This year, it still feels dark at times. But hope shows up. It shows up in the form of flowers and e-mails and ornaments and snuggles with the girls I love so much.

December will never not be sad for me, but seven years in, I'm also grateful that I can find the hope in the dark.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Post Office + Potty Break

David's work schedule and Christmas break is a little different this year, and doesn't give us much time for traveling. Usually, over the break, we manage to visit my parents and my in-laws, but this year David just doesn't have enough days to make the long drive to Kansas. This is a bummer because we don't get there very often as it is, and my kiddos are crazy about their Kansas cousins. It also means that I found myself at the post office today, packing up gifts to mail to them.

The post office is very close to the library, so I waited until I'd picked up the girls from school so that we could do both stops at the same time. (Perhaps not the best plan, in retrospect.)

I'd picked up a priority mail box previously, but it turned out to be too small, so I planned to size up at the post office. Of course, the size I'd selected before was self-sealing and this one at the post office wasn't, and of course I hadn't brought any tape.

So then I had to buy a $3 roll of tape at the post office, and while I was grabbing it, Zuzu was looking at a Minnie Mouse pad of paper from a display. Then a post office employee closed up part of the post office by sliding a locking partition in place, and that note pad was then locked out of its display case, so I had to awkwardly return it by sliding it under the locked plastic paneling that had been slid in front of the display.

The employee then told Zuzu she should ask Santa for the Minnie Mouse notepad, and Zuzu launched into a long explanation of how she'd already seen Santa and she forgot to ask him for that because she was asking for Shimmer and Shine toys.

I was trying to make sure the girls weren't underfoot, or trapping an unsuspecting stranger in a conversation about cartoon genies, plus I was digging out addresses and trying to determine the most cost-efficient packaging for mailing gifts to cousins in Kansas and cousins in California. Then I realized I hadn't grabbed a line number, so I pulled one so that we could actually mail the packages and pay for the tape I'd already used, and went back to writing out the mailing labels when Coco tugged on my shirt.

"Mama, I haf to go potty."

The post office closed in fifteen minutes. The line was to the door. But when a three year old has to pee, she can't hold it forever. I was number 4. They were on number 95 when we left.

So we booked it from the post office to the Starbucks a few doors down. I essentially shop-lifted the packing tape because I hadn't paid for it yet, and I was balancing it on top of the two boxes as we ran down the sidewalk, plus Coco had a book, Zuzu had a doll, and they were both carrying coloring pages that a post office worker had given them. We literally ran into Starbucks, I made them put their toys on the table, and then we sprinted for the bathrooms. Coco peed, I balanced the boxes on the baby changing station while I helped her wash her hands, and then we sprinted back to the post office without making a Starbucks purchase because there was no time for that and we are super classy.

We burst through the door just as they called number 3.

(I like to think this small moment of good fortune helps to counter balance the horrible moment I had when a girl ran a stop sign in a parking lot and I had to slam on my brakes even though I was the "through traffic [that] does not stop" and I honked softly and pointed at the stop sign to point out that she was running a stop sign and being a danger to everyone in the crowded parking lot and she screamed the eff word at me through her window even though SHE WAS TOTALLY AT FAULT and I honked VERY GENTLY so as to not be a dick and truly to keep her from driving into oncoming traffic.)

I paid for postage and packing tape and then we spent a nice hour at the library looking at books about Hanukkah, Barbie, and Greek mythology.

Now the packages are sent. Gifts are wrapped. Stockings are hung. Tree is lit. Wine is poured. Children are nestled all snug in their beds. Dog is snoring on the couch. Christmas is nearly here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Pre-Holiday Brain Dump

I've just come up for air after being buried under a zillion pages of final papers and exams.

At last, grading is done! And the girls still have two more days of school before they are out for winter break. Amazing!

We've been packing a lot of holly-jolly in between grading papers. This past weekend, we managed to watch The Grinch (not my favorite), wrap a few presents, finish most of our Christmas shopping (Zuzu still needs to choose out a present for Coco), take the girls to gymnastics, go on a playdate at Coco's best friend's house, bake and decorate Christmas cookies, and host a holiday party for all the teachers and staff at David's school.

It was exhausting.

Also exhausting was last weekend, in which we did an Escape room (we escaped!), Zuzu went to to a gingerbread house decorating party, and we paid a visit to Santa, I hosted a pizza party for English majors, and I went on a holiday house tour.

It occurs to me that our December may be a wee bit overscheduled.

In other big events, Coco learned to wink and is pretty freaking excited about it. Coco winking is also one of the most adorable things I've ever seen. 

I was pretty smug about how great my Christmas cookies turned out (my friend Veronica shared some of her baking secrets... like butter can't be too soft, and the flour should be sifted), but the texture of my royal icing was too thick and the decorating was laughable. Zuzu sure loved it, though. 

Maybe we'll try again... next year. 

Zuzu was so focused and serious about it though. She really loves making things, painting things, coloring. Anything arts and crafty is her favorite. She told me recently she wants to be an art teacher, and also an explorer who takes children exploring.

Sunday afternoon was warm, so we took the girls to a nearby park. We missed Zuzu's kindergarten class getting together Saturday morning for Read, Right, Run, because Zuzu wanted to go on the playdate with Coco instead and David was "worn out" from a late night at his holiday party (I went to bed before everyone left!). So we decided to run/walk a mile on our own on Sunday and the girls discovered a dirt hill leading down to a creek that was perfect for sliding down on their bottoms and destroying a pair of leggings.

(Side note: Zuzu has been squeezing into size 4T leggings this season, and I finally got around to ordering her a few new pairs in size 5/6. I pulled up all the usual suspects for inexpensive kids clothes and decided Gymboree was having the best deals at the time, so she's got some new leggings heading her way. Coco is still wearing size 2T leggings, but they still fit her just fine. In fact, I ordered her a size 3T Christmas dress and exchanged it for a 2T because it was so big on her.)

Honestly, the sliding down to the rocky creek bed made me a little nervous--Coco more so than Zuzu because she's less coordinated but pretty determined to keep up. They had so much fun though. Even when Coco lost interest and David took her to swing, Zuzu just kept going, trying to run up the slippery, dusty dirt path and giving herself little pep talks: "You can do it! You. Are. Zuzu!" I held my breath and resisted the urge to helicopter and just watched her play and fall and slide and climb until she was absolutely filthy. I rinsed her off with the shower head before running the bath and she made mud in the tub. On Monday morning on the way to school, she turned to me and said, "Mommy? Remember how filthy I was yesterday?" I hope that's the kind of stuff she remembers.

What I'd like to forget is that she got up extra early this morning, so David let her watch a little TV. But then when it was time to turn off the TV, she was furious. Coco was being incredibly sweet this morning and told me I was the "best mommy in the world" and then Zuzu said I wasn't and then they got in a scream fight about it. Zuzu turned angry at the world and I had to carry her to the car and buckle her in because she wouldn't cooperate. #preciousmemories

On the way to school, though, she abruptly stopped crying and said, "I don't want to talk like this anymore. I want to talk happy." 

For some reason last night (I'm sure to break up bickering in the back seat) I told them the story of Icarus. I was trying to come up with a story and I'd been reading student exams that included questions about the Auden poem "Musee de Beaux Arts," so I think that's why Icarus was on my mind. Anyway, Zuzu is now obsessed with the story and wanted me to tell it again on the way to school today. I was trying to explain how it's a myth and a myth is a made up story that has a true lesson in it and she wanted to know more myths. So I started telling her the story of the Trojan war. Anyway, we're going to look for a book about Greek mythology at the library today, and if I weren't finished Christmas shopping, I'd order this book. (Full disclosure... it's sitting in my Amazon cart now.)

Now that my grades are complete, my to do list for today is this:

* finish wrapping gifts
* pick up library book 
* pick up library book at different library
* shower

I love winter break.

Friday, December 8, 2017

An Imperfect Birthday

All things said and done, Eliza's birthday was fine.

Nothing gets better after missing your baby for seven years, but what I have learned to do is predict how I'll feel and make plans (or cancel them) accordingly.

I basically knew that I would want to have a couple of crying spells and also be lazy and also get a few things done. So that's what I did. I took the day off work, though I checked e-mail from home. I watched some TV while I wrote thank you notes and Christmas cards and made lists of things we need to do this weekend. I also went to Trader Joe's and got flowers to take to the candlelight vigil.

I wanted white, as that's the color of flowers traditionally left at the angel of hope, and I chose a bouquet of white roses with beautiful, pale pink centers. They were so pretty that the cashier commented on them, "These may be the prettiest ones I've seen," she said, "That pink is so nice!"

I got teary-eyed when she complimented Eliza's flowers.

I didn't ugly cry until I got home.


I discovered on Tuesday evening that Coco was completely confused about the candlelight vigil. I'd been talking about it for a couple days, letting the girls know that Eliza's birthday was coming up and on her birthday I'd pick them up from school and we'd go pick up Daddy at his work and then go eat at a restaurant and then go to the vigil.

So Tuesday I said, "Do you remember what tomorrow is?"

Coco said, "Pajama day at school!"

I said, "No. That's not tomorrow."

Then Zuzu said it was Eliza's birthday and I said, "Do you remember what we are going to do?"

Zuzu said, "Go to a restaurant!" and then Coco added, "Go to the jail!"

I was like, "What?"

Coco repeated that we were going to go to jail.

Then I realized that when I was saying "vigil," she was hearing "jail." So I guess she thought that we were going to hold candles and listen to people talk after we got arrested? Obviously I had a little explaining to do.


Timing was off on Wednesday. I picked up the girls early, and according to my GPS on my phone, if we'd headed straight to David's school we would have been there 45 minutes ahead of schedule. So we made an impromptu trip to a craft store that I don't really care for but is close to the school.

I got the few things I actually needed, and then I let the girls look at Christmas ornaments. They were so enthusiastic. Zuzu loved a mermaid and Coco wanted a ballerina. I picked up a gingerbread house as a gift for the little girl whose crazy parents invited a bunch of 5-year-olds over to decorated gingerbread houses on Saturday morning (I'm tying it to the bottle of wine that I'm giving to the parents).

The girls were on eerily good behavior in the store and multiple people stopped me to tell me how cute they are.

I ended up buying the ornaments they wanted so much. It felt like something to do on a day when I wasn't buying presents for Eliza.


We got to David's school at the scheduled time, but he wasn't outside waiting for us because I hadn't texted him to tell him we were on our way. Unloading, going inside, leaving, loading up again ate up time and I was realizing that we hadn't allowed nearly enough time for the restaurant dinner we had talked about.

It was frustrating. Not because we needed to go have a nice sit down meal (it's not like my children make that experience all that pleasant at this point), but because plans were changing and I didn't WANT plans to change. I don't know why we didn't leave earlier. It felt like we were shortchanging Eliza and it made me want to cry.

At that moment, I got a text from my aunt Terri. A photo of an angel she'd hung on her Christmas tree. "Always loved, always remembered" was inscribed on the angel, and just underneath, in her pretty handwriting, Aunt Terri had written, "Eliza."

I did cry, then. But for a totally different reason.


We took our roses to the Angel of Hope early, because the vigil started at 7:00 and the line afterward is quite long. This would allow us to duck out early and get the girls home and in bed.

Coco threw a fit when we got out of the car because she couldn't get her zipper up but she didn't want anyone to help her. We were rushing her because we still needed to go eat dinner and she went into meltdown mode.

Zuzu put her flower on the angel and then ran off and I didn't know where she was. The photo I had planned to take of them with the angel didn't happen.

We loaded up in the car again. We had just under an hour before the vigil started and everyone was hungry.


We had dinner at Dairy Queen.

The girls were delighted.

I took them to use the bathroom before dinner and they each went into a different stall, leaving the doors wide open. I followed Coco in to help her up onto the potty and then a restaurant employee came in to use the bathroom and walked in on Zuzu (because the stall door was wide open).

"Oh!" I heard the employee say, "I'm so sorry."

"That's okay!" said Zuzu cheerfully.

"Sorry about that," I said as I led Coco out of the other stall.

"Oh, I just didn't want to bother anyone," she said. She stood back by the main entrance to the bathroom, politely waiting for us to finish up.

"That's okay!" Zuzu said again. At this point, she had exited her stall but had yet to pull up her pants. She'd evidently followed the employee to continue their conversation, even though the employee was clearly trying to avoid embarrassing Zuzu by witnessing her pee. Zuzu then mooned all of us as she pulled her pants up.


Zuzu ordered a hot dog.

Coco always orders a hot dog because it's what Zuzu orders, but she never finishes it because she doesn't really like hot dogs. This time I ordered her chicken strips. She loved them.

They split a blue Mister Misty.

I had pretzel sticks and a mini Blizzard. #selfcare #healthychoices

But the restaurant was clean and quiet and the girls were reasonably well-behaved. Before dinner, Zuzu asked where the food was, and I said, "The food is here. It's just invisible." Then David and I both began to eat our "invisible" food and the girls cracked up laughing.


We weren't late to the vigil. I pulled the stroller out of the car and didn't notice that one of the wheels had fallen off of it in the car. It tipped over during the ceremony, nearly spilling Coco.

I'd brought a cozy blanket, expecting the girls to sit quietly in the stroller, hold their LED candles, listen to a short poem, a brief speech, and two songs. I thought they could handle it.

They could not handle it.

Zuzu wanted to run around, crunching gravel and tipping over mason jars with LED candles in them that lined the path.

Coco wanted to follow her.

The singer they had lined up for the program was unexpectedly hospitalized that day, so they played a song and the sound system didn't work well, and during all of this, Zuzu attempted to climb a tree and David had to pull her down.

I was aggravated because I wanted them there with me, and I wanted them to experience the vigil, but I also did not want them to upset or trigger anyone else who was there. I know how hard it is to see babies when your baby has died, and I just didn't want them to be distracting or upsetting.


After the vigil, we ditched the lame stroller up by the parking lot and walked to find Eliza's brick. It was dark and it had been a while since we were there, so we had to search a bit. Other families were doing the same, with our cell-phone flashlights, and a man overheard me tell Zuzu to look for Eliza's name. When his flashlight illuminated her brick, I heard his voice say, "Eliza? Eliza Taylor Duckworth? Were you looking for Eliza?"

I love when I hear her name, but it was especially sweet in this casual context, to hear a stranger say it in this ordinary way, and to know by virtue of his presence that he understood something of our loss.

I tried to take photos of the girls and their hands next to the brick, but it was dark and my flash didn't work and there were lots of other people looking for bricks, and Coco somehow understood my request to put her mittened hand next to Eliza's brick to mean that I wanted her in the downward dog position completely blocking the entire sidewalk and then Zuzu lost interest and wandered off to climb another tree.


It was a bit of a trainwreck, I suppose, but the kind of trainwreck I can welcome at this point. One imperfection after another, adding up to a night that wasn't so terrible, all things considered.

We showed up. We did our best. It wasn't perfect, but it never will be.

Perfection is an impossibility.

What I want is an impossibility.

Not for Eliza to live, but for Eliza to live and for everything else to be the same.

After seven years, the grief is more balanced. The missing is just as big. I'm missing a seven year old girl, and I also missed every sweet moment of those seven years. Moments that I thought were mine after I heard her heartbeat for the first time. I thought I'd get her newborn breath on my neck. I thought I'd get her small hand folded in mine. I thought I'd get a lifetime of laughter and tears and big ideas and small frustrations. And I got those things, but not with her.

That loss cannot diminish over time, even though the ache of it does subside a bit.

For me, for this life, what I have now is as close to perfect as it can get.

Sometimes that really hurts. That I miss out on so much, especially when other seem to take for granted what I will never get: all my kids here.

But sometimes it feels like what it also means. This life of mine, with all its messy imperfections, is as close to perfect as it can get.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Conversations with Zuzu and Coco

Let the Adventure Begin!
Scene: Overheard while the girls were playing together.
Zuzu: Our magic treasure box was stolen out of our garden!
Coco: Mine or yours?
Zuzu: BOTH of ours. Yours and mine.
Coco: We HAVE to get it back!
Zuzu: And the way we get it back is... we become unicorns.

We Crack More Eggs Than Nuts Around Here
Scene: After school, Zuzu telling me about her day
Zuzu: Our teacher at school gave us all Christmas names. I'm Rudolph and Coco is Ginge--
Coco: NO DON'T SAY IT I WANT TO SAY IT. (bursts into tears, sobs)
Me: Coco, I didn't hear what Zuzu said. Could you tell me your Christmas name?
Coco: (snuffles, stops crying) Gingerbread. Gingerbread MAN.
Zuzu: And Gemma was Snowflake, and Sadie was Misty-Toe, and Harper was Egg-Cracker.
Me: You mean Nutcracker?
Zuzu: Oh, yes. Nutcracker.

Eat Your Vegetables
Scene: Sitting at kitchen table discussing future dinner menus.
Me: Okay, what about vegetables?
Zuzu: Broccoli!
Me: Good. What else? What about carrots?
Both: (Coco, always a half beat behind as she waits to see which way Zuzu is leaning.) Yes.
Me: Okay, do you like your carrots warm or cold?
Zuzu: Warm!
Coco: Cold!
Zuzu: Well, wait. I mean, medium.
Me: What?
Coco: Medium.
Zuzu: (nicely, but as though she's talking to a very dense person) Medium means just right.
Me: Um, okay. So room temperature. But do you like them soft or crunchy?
Zuzu: Crunchy!
Coco: Soft! I mean crunchy!
Me: Do you guys even like carrots?
Zuzu: Not really.

Happy Holidays
(scene: putting up Christmas decorations)
Zuzu: Mommy, are we going to celebrate Christmas this year, or Hanukkah?
Me: Uh, Christmas.
Zuzu: Why not Hanukkah?
Me: Because we're not Jewish? And also we don't have a menorah?
Zuzu: I think we can do both.

I Swear I'm Not Making This Up
Scene: In the kitchen before school, girls have gone outside to see the snowflakes
Coco: I found a battery outside!
Me: Okay, well bring it here. (She hands it to me). Oh, this isn't a battery. This is a screw.
Coco: Oh. It's a screw.
Zuzu: Daddy was probably screwing outside. He loves to screw! I want to be just like Daddy when I grow up.

My favorite one-liners from Zuzu:

Zuzu: (to Coco) Working together turns our problems to good.

Zuzu: Coco, want to kiss under the misty-toe?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Girl, 7.

Our church put up a tree with ornaments representing kids who need gifts this year. We were invited to select an ornament and bring back a gift with the same ornament attached.

I looked carefully before I selected a little pink gingerbread man. “Girl” was circled (in case the gendered color was insufficient indication), with "7" hastily scribbled next to it.

As it turns out, it's not easy to buy for a seven year old girl you’ve never met. They have pretty unique personalities, you know. What would she like? What would she be into? Does she like art or music or math? Would she prefer a puzzle or a doll? Is she quiet or noisy? Sporty or bookish? Some lovely combination of all these things?

(Of course, this kind of wondering is familiar to me. Same questions, different context.)

I didn’t want to overspend, but somehow it became very important that the gifts be perfect. The stakes felt high. I was reading gift guides and Amazon reviews and trying to decide what would best suit her, this seven-year-old girl I don't get to meet.

I finally chose a sparkly snowflake gemstone necklace and a small jewelry box to tuck it in. I added a paintable butterfly house because everyone like butterflies and paint, right? And then I included a book because books are my favorite and hopefully she likes to read.

At least with a bit of variety, I hope something in the gift bag strikes a chord with my little gift recipient. The truth is that I’m sure it means far more to me than it will to this kiddo. It's probably obvious that I bought for her like I was buying for a Duckworth girl. I don't know what all little girls like, but I know my own.

It was remarkable how much the process meant to me. How fun it was, how much I fussed over it. It was the same old shopping, but how different it felt to choose a book for 7- to 9-year-olds, a painting kit for ages 6+, a delicate necklace.

It was Big Kid Territory. I felt both out of place and like I should belong there--you know, just doing some shopping for a seven-year-old girl. It offered me a teensy glimpse of what might have been in my online shopping carts and paper shopping bags. There was nothing so different from what is already on my Christmas shopping list this year, and yet it was completely different. Because this girl is seven.

It was really just a tangible way to acknowledge the “what ifs” I can’t escape. It was fun. And it's a tiny piece of good I can put out in the world in memory of Eliza.

I miss her.

I miss what December would look like for us if she were here.

Whoever this little girl is, who gets this gift bag loaded with love and broken dreams, I hope she feels a bit of the love. And I hope somehow that Eliza feels it, too.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ordinary Weekend

After purging all my sad feelings on the blog on Friday, I managed to have a pretty ordinary weekend. I left work early on Friday. I returned a lip gloss to Sephora that was far too expensive and far too bright to be reasonable in my life and then I picked up the girls from school and we spent an hour at the library. The kids play area is fantastic, so I grabbed a stack of home decor magazines and found a comfy chair and we all enjoyed ourselves.

I worked on Christmas cards Friday night and watched an episode of Alias Grace on Netflix (OMG so good Margaret Atwood is my hero). Then we caught up on Survivor. It was so nice to have a night to do nothing.

Saturday morning David took over parenting duties, which really meant shuttling the girls around town from the track where Zuzu's kindergarten class met to run a mile (they're participating in Read, Right, Run), to Kumon, to gymnastics. David was grumbling that we shouldn't have tried to do this session of gymnastics because we're just too busy, but we also didn't know it was going to be 70 degrees in December and we thought the girls would need gymnastics to burn off some energy inside, and also Zuzu turned a real cartwheel and we were like, "Well, maybe they are getting something out of it."

I stayed at home grading papers, doing laundry, and finally putting stuff on the wall in Coco's room. I can't remember if I mentioned this, but I ordered her a duvet cover on sale for Black Friday, so once it arrives I'll post some pictures of her room. It is really looking cute.

I gave the girls an early bath on Saturday because they played out in the leaves and the forest all afternoon. The bathwater was murky by the time they got done, which was both disgusting and satisfying. We had a babysitter come on Saturday night so David and I could go to a concert (Colter Walls, which was actually really super good). We were supposed to stop by a friend's house for a drink ahead of time and I felt really conflicted because I wanted to celebrate her but I was just not in a place for being social. I felt overwhelmed at the thought of it, so I canceled at the last minute. It felt shitty, but I would have felt shitty if I'd gone too, and sometimes I have to choose the path of least resistance.

I wasn't hungry for dinner because I was sad and also I'd had a late lunch, but I really hadn't eaten that much all day and what happened was I drank two vodka cranberries at the concert, scarfed a grilled cheese and fries from Steak & Shake, fell asleep on the couch after insisting I wanted to watch an episode of Mindhunters, and then woke up with a raging headache. I wonder why?

Coco and I went to church on Sunday while David took Zuzu to a birthday party at the butterfly house and I felt that wave of angry sadness that I feel anytime a child celebrates a birthday in December because I want to be planning a December birthday party.

That afternoon, Coco and I started reading a stack of library books together but then she wanted to build with "magic tiles" so we built some towers and then she got bored with me and wandered off to play with some characters on her own. I read some of Roxane Gay's Hunger (which is way more intense than I expected) and then David and Zuzu got home and it was time for me to go to a meeting at church about a kids' program about their bodies and sexuality to see if we want Zuzu to participate. I was kind of surprised that the program starts for 5 and 6 year olds, but the info session was really good, so I think we're going to do it. It was a great surprise to discover that a social worker who is one of the facilitators is actually an acquaintance of mine whom I really like, so it was nice to see her and know she'll be working with the kids.

After that meeting I went home and tried to grade a few papers but I was also tired and had a headache (grief? vodka? who knows?) but then I had a massage scheduled, so yay for self-care.

I may have undone the massage by trying to do a "quick trip to Target" after, but I got what I needed and got home in time to have a slightly late dinner, snuggle the girls, and read for bedtime.

We read the book Owl Moon which is not new, but was new to me and absolutely lovely. It didn't hurt that there was a gorgeous full moon last night and we have a beautiful owl who lives in our neighborhood whom we often hear and occasionally see, so it was a sweet story to read out loud and talk about with the girls, and the writing is really lovely and lyrical and not annoying to read. (Whoever wrote the Princess Sofia Christmas story that we've also been reading a lot of could learn a thing or two from Owl Moon, I'm just saying.)

I didn't quite make it through all the loads of laundry, but I made it through the weekend and it definitely could have been worse. I got some lovely e-mails and a couple texts that made all the difference in the world over the weekend and even though I had bad dreams last night (car accidents and snakes falling from rafters!!!), I'm feeling the love and I really, really appreciate that. xoxo

Friday, December 1, 2017

This is What Grief Feels Like Now

It feels like forgetfulness. Every day I make a big cup of water that I take with me to work. It's a seamless part of my morning routine. Today I forgot. I didn't remember until I got to work and went to take it out of my cup holder. How odd. How predictable.

It feels like achy muscles. There's tension in my jaw and neck that I'm not fully conscious of.

It feels like tired. I resist going to bed at night. I don't want to lie awake and give grief an opportunity. I'm not willing to open myself up to it. I have too much to do. I crave distraction. I find it in the form of addressing Christmas cards with elaborate designs that occupy my hands and keep my brain focused on something else. I find it in reading--books about obesity, immigration, Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Anything but something that might bring me back to myself. I find it in a cross stitch project. One x after another in neat little lines. I find it in television. Netflix into the wee hours. The dark shadows under my eyes are alarming evidence of this. Being tired makes everything so much worse. Of course, you understand, that's the point. It's supposed to hurt. This is grief.

It feels like wistfulness. Like counting years and months and I'm too old to have another baby. But am I too old to have another baby? I'm not sure I want one, but I definitely want one.

It feels like guilt. Zuzu asked me last night where Eliza was buried and I couldn't answer her. At the time, I couldn't bury her. Letting her ashes go, imagining here in the Everywhere felt like a reasonable alternative to the unthinkable sadness of a tiny, baby-sized grave. How could I put my baby in the ground? How could I choose a stone to commemorate my child? We didn't want to be those poor, pitiful people who visit a child's grave. And now, seven years later, I hate myself. I think, how could I not have done that? How could I have let her go out into the everywhere when she was the thing I wanted to keep more than anything else in this world? We didn't want to be those poor, pitiful people who have a dead baby, but not burying her didn't fix that. How can I have no answer when her sister asks me that simple question? What kind of mother can't keep track of where her baby girl is? This is the question I come back to when my grief doesn't hurt bad enough. It is my greatest regret as her mother.

It feels like stress. My strategies for coping with the ordinary stresses of life falter and fail me. Ordinary work place issues--stacks of ungraded papers, questions about spring schedules, committee concerns--suddenly become heavy weights in the pit of my stomach. A phone call that is friendly and cordial but delivers news that I wasn't hoping to get about university policies leaves me blinking back tears. Someone has a question for me that I'm perfectly capable of answering and instead I feel frantic and short of breath.

It feels like dread. This is a month with much to look forward to and I'm not feeling any of the anticipation.

It feels like faking it. I hope I'm doing this. I hope I look like a reasonable professional. I hope I look like a happy mom. I hope that Zuzu can't quite tell how hard I'm faking it when I gush about her art work while wanting nothing more than to crawl into bed and pull the covers up over my head and then read something on my phone until my eyes close.

I want to be distant and quiet and still. I want to snuggle my kids and breathe in the smell of their heads. I want to be alone so I can scream and rage.

I need a nap. A massage. A cup of tea. A flickering fireplace and a warm puppy. I want to go to bed and wake up on December 7th.

I lay in bed this morning instead of getting up to do yoga stretches. As I lay there, I tried to decide whether I was staying in bed because I'm so damn tired, or whether this is part of the way I punish myself for failing Eliza. I want my body to hurt. I need to feel achy and hungry and tired.

Because this is what grief feels like, and sometimes I don't know if it has hold of me, or if I'm the one who won't let go. It's both, I think.