Friday, September 16, 2022

Gee, Yesterday Evening

I want to remember last night, a warm evening in September.

It's my day to pick up Gee from preschool. I notice that she has a bit of a cough and when we get home and I lift her out of her car seat, she says, “I want to hold you.” So I leave my bags in the car and I carry her to the bench on our porch and I sit with her there, on my lap facing me, leaning into my chest.. She is grubby from school, dirt around her ankles and her in elbow creases. Her face is sticky, and there is more dirt visible on her cheeks and around her mouth. Her hair smells like sweaty kid as she snuggles against me, turning her head to fit just right in the space between my neck and shoulder, where somehow my clavicle becomes a pillow and we are both comfortable. The air is getting cooler, the light has that golden hue of autumn, and the leaves are rustling but they are still green and the sun is still warm. Clementine is excited to see us and eagerly chewing a rawhide bone. David and the big girls aren’t home—he’s dropping them off at the gym—so Gee and I sit and snuggle and breathe together for a few moments. She feels so good, warm and heavy on my lap, caught in that moment between baby and big girl. After a bit, she sits up to face me and we talk about where her sisters are and how her eyes are blue and my eyes are blue. She tells me that her hair is “silvadon” and I ask if she means “golden” but she says no and then I say, “Blonde?” and she says “Yes!” and is elated that I found the right word. Then she asks for a popsicle and she pronounces it in this way that sounds like “possible” even though when I repeat, smiling, it she tries to correct me—she hears it’s wrong though she can’t quite say it right. We go inside with an orange popsicle that has melted and refrozen in a misshapen way in the garage freezer and I take her up to the bathroom to wash off the day. When she's the bath tub with an orange popsicle, I clean her face and her body with a wash cloth and wipe away the dirt and grime and the popsicle drip on her belly until she smells like the sweet lavender Honest Company baby shampoo that we’re still using. I take a video of the way she says “pocksible” and I just want to bottle her up and keep her age three, with scraped knees and a missing front tooth and tangly golden hair with short, blunt bangs and wide blue eyes and soft cheeks and orange popsicle breath and dimpled hands with dirt under the fingernails.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The 10 Year Challenge

 You may have seen this on social media... lots of folks posting a photo of themselves 10 years ago and a picture of themselves now. 

I texted some of my friends and noted that these 10 year posts were kind of getting to me. And not because I think I am getting age spots on the backs of my hands that most definitely were not there 10 years ago (although, yes, that). It's because I have very few pictures of myself 10 years ago. 

Ten years ago, I still clawing my way out of deep, dark, despairing grief. Ten years ago I skipped Christmas because the death of my baby also killed any desire I had to celebrate anything. Ten years ago my general state of being was shifting from suffocating sorrow to buzzing anxiety. I was newly and fragilely pregnant with Zuzu and I didn't want to tell anyone because I had discovered what happened to me when I celebrated and shared and talked excitedly about having a baby.

If this "10 years challenge" had surfaced last year, it undoubtedly would have been harder. But even this year it made me feel itchy. A photo of me ten years ago is hard to find because I felt like I had little to document and little reason to smile about it. So I was going to do what I do--scroll past these social media posts and distract myself with something else (oh, here, another article on Omicron).

But then my co-worker asked if all of our staff could do the 10 year challenge on our department's social media accounts. So... here we are. 

I do have a picture of myself ten years ago. 

It is December of 2011. I am in Puerto Vallarta. I'm standing in front of a beautiful floral hedge. I'm posing to show off my nonexistent baby bump. I am 13 weeks pregnant. I am smiling, but I am grieving and I am scared. I'm scared that documenting this stage of pregnancy means that this baby will die. I'm also scared of not documenting it, of this baby thinking that we weren't thrilled when in fact it was the best news possible for us. 

And here's a picture of me ten years later. 

It's December 2021. I'm at home. These girls are all mine! (Gee is pouting because she didn't get to go to the theatre with her sisters). Our Christmas tree is glowing. Life is full and busy and more fun that I could have let myself imagine when I was in Mexico ten years earlier.

But what you don't see in either of these pictures is the girl who is missing. And I think that's hard on me, too. We're now a full year past the ten year mark. It's been more than a decade since I held Eliza's tiny, bundled body in my arms. And there is so little evidence that she existed. The ten year challenge doesn't reflect my biggest challenge of all--going on without her here.

Ten years ago, though, I was missing a baby who should have been turning one, babbling her baby babble and taking her first steps. I was missing every moment of what I had dreamed motherhood would be, and it didn't matter how beautiful Mexico was in December, there was nothing that could ease the ache of that loss. 

Ten years later, I'm missing an eleven year old girl an a life that I can't quite envision. Personality and attitude and interest and conversations that I'll never know. And there's still an ache. Even surrounded by the chatter and laughter and tantrums and activities of her sisters, there is still a loss. A loss that you can't see in these photos. 

For some of us, the ten year challenge is seeing who isn't there, and remembering how much they matter. It's no stretch to say that everything that has happened to me in the last ten years has been influenced by Eliza--at least, all my best decisions. 

No matter how much life has changed in last ten years, what hasn't changed is how much I miss her.