It’s now five years since your birth day; five years and about thirty-seven hours since your heart beat last.
There is something about this year that has made my baby memories extra-vivid. I have thought of you so much this spring. I feel your days coming the first time the weather gets hot. Despite seemingly constant over-busy-ness in the last two months, you’ve been right at the top of my heart most of the time. It has felt strange, being in our new house where you never lived… but I feel you anyway.
I thought about you especially on your big brother’s seventh birthday. I could viscerally remember bringing E home as a newborn: the sunshine, the tiny onesies, the smell of welcome-home fruit crumble, the swaddling blankets, the days of rapt, awestruck bliss.
I remember how I felt that week when Emi told me that a friend of hers had borne a son on the same day I had, but that hers had been stillborn. My heart dropped like a rock as I tried to fathom how any parent could withstand that pain, when I could barely let my own newborn out of my arms.
Then, two years and one month later, you were born still, and I became friends with that same bereaved mama, who offered beautiful, generous words of empathy that I’ve never forgotten. By that time, she had a second daughter, who is now five – like you. What a strange, sad, lovely, mysterious entwining of lives and deaths.
Normally, school ends and there is that sudden space in my life at the beginning of July – and I let myself ponder you as much as I want. This year, I haven’t had time to spend with you, but my systems knew what they were doing and went all weepy anyway. I didn’t know what to do with that, because five is a heavy milestone, and it was getting lost in the preparation for Family Camp.
Then yesterday, I arrived here at NeeKauNis, and I suddenly felt lighter, righter, like you were all around me. It was quiet and fragrant and humid and leafy. I saw you, in this bright face.
And I saw you again in this expansive sky-smile, after a much-needed, stormy downpour.
Today, the other families arrived, and our Camp is full. It is busy and noisy and full of life.
This week, I’m going to watch for you. Beauty has always been where I see you, and interacting with beauty is how I feel close to you.
I really wish there were some way I could cuddle you again. Part of me feels entitled to, after missing you for so long. But I’m glad you’re here with us.
It has already been two weeks since your birthday! I know you’re not a baby. You are THREE. That is BIG. But of course, you’ll always be my baby, so I reserve the right to call you that.
I just want you to know, belated or not, that we’re all besotted by you, despite your status as one of the most sporadically aggravating humans on the planet.
Right now, as you turn three, you are the driver of an emotional rollercoaster your whole family rides on. You feel entitled to fly into a fury if someone helps you with something you’ve decided you must do yourself. (And your fury often includes kicking and hitting along with the screaming, even though those things never get you what you want.) You will randomly make up rules on the spot and vehemently scold the person unwittingly breaking them. You utterly refuse to be hurried when it comes to choosing your wardrobe for the day. You seem to get a kick out of insisting that you DON’T NEED TO PEE until the last possible second (or sometimes, unfortunately, later). You will cut right into someone else’s conversation and then get all mad that they’re interrupting you, shouting, “SHUSHH!!!”
During the first few weeks of school, you decided you no longer liked our daycare provider, who has been taking care of you and your brother since the beginning. You said she was mean to you, and you even tried to convince us that she punched you. (Someday you’ll understand how funny that sounded.) [Lovely di-hards, in case you’re worried, we would consider the possible veracity of these allegations if we had any doubt at all that they’re false. But we don’t.] You told poor M that you didn’t like her and didn’t want to be there, right to her face. There was clinging and sobbing at drop-off time. Poor M was wondering if you might actually need a new daycare provider. (We are gradually getting past this, though, with a bribe-y sticker chart and lots of reminders that we love you SO MUCH, even when we are apart, and that M loves you too.)
On the morning you turned three, I asked you if you felt different, and you said yes – you felt three. Then, when Auntie Beth came up to wish you a happy birthday, you told her that “three is cooperating.” There was, according to you, going to be a whole new level of cooperation going on in your three-year-old world.
This has not really panned out. That very evening, you were violently uncooperative about bedtime, and it was actually rather awful. We are still trying to figure out the best ways to deal with these moments.
But then. You’re also the most adorable sweetness-pie in the world. When you’re not angry, you’re wonderful.
You dance like a princess and a rocker and a belly dancer – all with equal fervency. You love to do gymnastic poses, inspired by the aerialists you saw last summer. You read new improved versions of our storybooks to yourself for long periods of time (even the names are changed – you are great at making up names. Your current favourite is Golla). You sing often, in your own language, whether or not you have an audience. You are full of ideas, brimming with imagination and leadership, and you’d be boss of the whole world, if the world would let you.
You and your brother have lots of arguments that involve the above-mentioned fury… but then again, your relationship is also full of sweetness. You make up games no adult could possibly invent, and play them happily. E is often content to acquiesce to your imperious commands, with an affectionate chuckle at how cute you can be when you’re ordering people around. When you’re peaceful together, it’s a blessing to watch and listen.
And you’re full of love. You give amazing big squeezy hugs, and tell your people that you love them on a regular basis. There is nothing in life as awesome as feeling your little arms around my neck and hearing, “I love you, Mama.” And then there was that time the other week, when I was about to leave for dance class, and you grabbed my hand in both your little ones, and held it to your soft baby cheek, looked at me with your big oceanic eyes, and said, “I love you the whole time you’re gone, okay?” My heart almost burst.
Sometimes, you’re so beautiful in your you-ness, I can hardly stand it.
Here’s a little video I started making many days ago, to celebrate your third year. I love you always, the whole time, and I hope I always remember exactly how saucy, smart, tender, fiery, and special you are at this moment.
Just so you know, that’s the usage of the word busy where it actually means overwhelming-and-sometimes-stressful-enough-to-make-me-think-I-might-lose-my-marbles. And that’s despite summer vacation, and my school being closed for renovations.
We bought a house in June, right before end-of-school craziness; we beautified and sold our house in July; we packed in August, and moved on the last Saturday of the month. It was hard to tell how much the kids felt the upheaval – they had plenty of emotional outbursts, but that’s nothing new.
In truth, it was a pretty nice low-pressure timeline – we even had five days of overlap with both houses, so that we could properly clean out the old house. I said goodbye to it by scrubbing out its fridge and vacuuming its bare carpets with a thoroughness it hasn’t seen since we became parents. (Interestingly, vacuuming an empty house is a good way to find all those above-mentioned marbles one has lost.)
Five days later, in our new house, I suddenly got weepy for no reason I could pinpoint… other than, I suppose,a whole summer of emotional and physical craziness.
Now we are settled in. Ish. That is to say, we have unpacked enough to function quite well, but there are lots of boxes still to unpack, and certain things we haven’t yet located. (Like E’s raincoat. Mom Fail.)
The kids like it at the new house, but E especially still likes to mention, in tragic tones, that he wishes we could go back and live at the old house.
E has started in Grade 1 at his new school, with a much smaller class than in JK or SK, and seems to have had good days (overall) every day… but he still doesn’t really want to go each morning. He still looks sadly at me each day before he goes into the school.
AB is going to same day care provider as always, and we are now within walking distance of her house! But since the summer, AB has decided she doesn’t like going there. This morning she was sobbing and holding my hand as hard as she could when I left.
In an alternate reality, today would have been Sebastian’s first full day of Junior Kindergarten. We got a notice last winter, on lavender paper, inviting all parents of “children born in 2011” to register their kids for kindergarten. Yep, we’re those parents… but not.
That was the first time I realized that starting kindergarten is the first concrete missed milestone for Sebastian, and for us as his parents. We know he would have gotten teeth and crawled and said words and walked and all sorts of cool things by now, but we have only a vague idea of when. The event of starting school has an exact date. I know many beautiful JK munchkins, Sebastian’s would-be peers, who have visited their classrooms and begun big-kid school over the past week. I’m excited and proud for them and their parents, and I’m sending them extra-special vibes as they settle into this new phase. With a little lump in my throat.
Before school started, I was feeling so-so about going back to work. My emotions were all over the map; the house wasn’t all ready; I didn’t feel organized; and I was still dealing with the bitter taste left after last year, when I contended with difficult behaviour from my students with a frequency that exhausted me. Last year, I was not happy with the level of patience I was able to muster, with either my students or my own children. I was not really proud of the job I did.
But, ready or not, a new house is a fresh start, and a new school year is a fresh start. And many things have happened this summer, both locally and globally, that give me perspective on the things I struggle with.
So, regardless of how many boxes remain to be unpacked, I am starting over. I have given myself a new mantra, in which I misquote Gandhi (but in a way I think he’d endorse):
Be the calm you wish to see in the world.
My life will be disorganized for a bit longer, but the calmer I can be, the sooner things will fall into place.
My children will certainly have emotional outbursts, but the more I can model calm, the more likely they are to absorb it.
Certain of my students will forget the expectations, say rude things, fall off their chairs, interrupt, be mean to their peers, and/or goof off when they should be working, but the more I remind myself to maintain calm, the easier it is to remember that it’s not personal – those kids are simply displaying their needs – and that my reaction, the part I control, sets the tone more than anything.
I aim to Be the Calm, and at the end of this school year, to be proud of myself for it. I can feel already that my classroom atmosphere has more humour in it, and less stress.
Today, one of my new Grade 4 students blurted, after five French classes with me, “You’re my favourite teacher!” I know it’s only week two, and opinions change mercurially, but that has to mean something, right?
One year ago yesterday, a cherished and unusual little person named Kieran was born.
His mom, my friend Skye, already knew he would be born with a cleft lip and palate. It was a tough time when she found out about it, because there are a lot of challenges that go with having a cleft – for the child and the parents. And although she is a brave, dedicated, smart, and pragmatic mom, she is also a single one, and she already had a toddler at home.
So she researched the heck out of cleft lip and palate issues, and prepared herself as best she could. She went on lots of forums to read about real people’s experiences. She knew she would need special bottles for him, and a breast pump – because as much as she would have loved to nurse Kieran as she had her first son Grayson, she had found out in her research that the attempts of a cleft-palate baby to breastfeed often actually use up more energy than they provide.
She also knew he would need multiples surgeries, two of them within the first year.
Skye gave birth to Kieran the hard way; she had been given an epidural that came unseated, and you can’t get always get a visit from the anesthesiologist when you need one. (The nurse didn’t figure out the problem until afterwards – and even if she had, she’s not allowed to replace the needle.) I had the privilege of being present for the birth, and I wish I’d had the confidence to go harass somebody about it.
In spite of the severe pain, however, things did go well. Skye was a trouper. Kieran was born healthy and precious, and was immediately cuddled by his smitten mama. Thanks to her thorough preparation, they had everything they needed ready to go.
Skye and Kieran had lots of visits to McMaster Children’s Hospital throughout his first year, with a team of professionals (a plastic surgeon, an ENT doctor, a pediatric dentist, and a developmental pediatrician, to start with) checking on him and getting him ready for his operations. When I would visit them in those newborn days, he wore tape on his lip and a hook in one nostril, to stretch his face gradually to the shape it would take after surgery.
He would drink from his special bottles and burp like a teenage boy. It took him a while to gain weight, but it wasn’t long before he learned to smile and interact, and although he did not look like a typical infant, he was incredibly cute.
During Cleft Awareness Week (in May), Skye shared these thoughts:
When I first saw pictures of babies with a cleft lip, it was hard to look. Before Kieran came, I didn’t know what to expect with respect to his appearance. But really, who knows what to expect!
I have since read some things online about parents who are nervous to put their child’s picture online (or even take a picture) or even take their child in public, for fear of reactions. My heart breaks for those parents, and those children. It never crossed my mind to hide Kieran, only to show him off. Looking back, maybe he has helped someone else be more comfortable with some kind of difference, but that is not why I did it. I did it because how could I not? He is (and was) adorable!
I never had one, even slightly, negative reaction to the way Kieran looks. I feel like the world proved its kindness, which I usually believe in anyway.
The first two weeks following the three-month lip surgery would test the mettle of any parent. Suddenly Kieran could not use his soother, had a little cone (“trumpet”) in his nose to shape it, had splints (called “no-nos”) on his arms to prevent him from touching his stitches, and was dealing with painkillers – and a mouth that was whole new shape. As you can imagine, there was a lot of crying and soothing and difficulty sleeping during that time. Skye had wisely pre-arranged for Grayson to spend big chunks of that time with grandparents and friends to ease the situation.
As mentioned, though, Skye is brave and dedicated – and, as you’ve no doubt gathered, really tough. The rest of us were not surprised, but definitely awed, at how graciously she managed – and how she always seems to manage in general, despite how hard things can get.
As Kieran’s face healed, I missed his wide-open smile, but it was amazing to see how suddenly obvious was his resemblance to his brother Grayson.
The surgery on the palate itself is supposed to happen around the one-year mark for babies with clefts. Thankfully, Kieran got his about seven weeks before that, so they had some recovery time before his birthday, and before September when Skye goes back to work.
For Skye, the two weeks after the second surgery were both harder and easier than the first time: Kieran still had to wear no-nos, could only have pureed food, and was unfortunately adamant about not drinking from a cup (and therefore not drinking at all – stressful for mama!). He was more distractable, but less soothable. She went on lots of walks with him, because it seemed to help.
Since his palate has healed, he has finally learned to suck normally for the first time. It’s frankly amazing what the specialists – and a caring family – can accomplish.
Now, somehow, Kieran is one whole year old. He is very charming and handsome, and very strong-willed (some might say stubborn); he feeds himself enthusiastically, and recently started crawling; he smiles a lot and shows off his three teeth; and he is loved by a whole lot of people. He will probably need help with learning to speak, and he may need more surgeries later in life. He will get to some of his milestones in different ways and at different times from other kids.
He, and his family, are really special and awesome.
From the grit he is already showing, I have a feeling Kieran is going to be just as tough and brave as his mama, so I know they will get through it all together.
There’s lots of information on cleft lip and palate at Cleftsmile.org.
A site specifically for moms of babies with cleft lip and palate is Cleftopedia.com.
To donate to surgeries for babies with cleft lip and palate worldwide, please visit Operation Smile.
It’s hard to believe that it has been ten whole years since the day we pledged ourselves to each other as husband and wife. A decade sounds long, but feels short these days.
On the other hand, ten years is short, in a way, since our story began long before that.
It has been almost twenty-four years since we shared a Grade 9 Enhanced Math class, in which you were gregarious and funny and cocky, and I was quiet and cerebral and nerdy, and you volunteered to run our Christmas gift drive, and I noticed when you were writing on the blackboard that you had a cute butt.
It has been twenty-two years, give or take, since we spent enough time in our mutual group of friends for me to know that, in addition to your class-clown side, you also had a quiet, cerebral, nerdy side, and a philosophical, argumentative side. It was a mysterious and interesting combination.
It has been nineteen years since the high-school graduation breakfast where you made everyone at our very long restaurant table laugh so hard we practically choked on our pancakes.
It has been close to fifteen years since we both prepared to leave our hometown on long-term journeys, and you suggested unexpectedly that we should write letters to each other – letters that would become highlights of my challenging, exciting, homesick, turbulent, emotional, unforgettable European odyssey.
It has been thirteen-and-a-half years since the Christmas when you thought you’d lost your chance, and wrote me a story to win me over – not realizing I was already yours.
It has been twelve years since we euphorically painted the walls of our first shared apartment in our new city, so broke we could only afford to rent kids’ movies at the video store a block away.
It has been almost eleven years since the Tuesday night in October when you proposed to me, in our bedroom, with me in pjs and my hair a mess – partly to cheer me up after a bad day, and partly because you simply couldn’t wait for the weekend and the official proposal plan. I was struck speechless by the beautiful ring you had chosen. (To this day, you can’t sit on a secret gift very long.)
On that beautiful wedding day ten years ago, I promised that for the rest of our lives, I would laugh with you, play with you, challenge you and protect you; that I would not hide from you, but would confide in you and be true to both of us; that I would be your comfort, your friend, your lover, and your partner in times of joy and of pain; and that above all, I would love you. And of course, you promised the same to me.
We’ve done, and still do, all of those things. In these ten years, we’ve had the joy and the pain. We’ve both changed workplaces more than once. We bought our first house. We conceived four children, birthed three, and were blessed to keep two.
We have struggled with work and stress, sleep and health, time and money, and finding those often-delicate lines of communication between openness and injury. We have been stretched by the delights and demands of parenting our dazzling, frustrating, wonderful kids.
Despite three very close calls that almost ended our relationship in the first two years, and many experiences to test us since then… I’ve never doubted the strength of our promises. We are a great team, and I feel so lucky to know it.
I love parenting with you, knowing we have each other’s backs, and knowing that if I’m not at my best on a particular day, you will summon your extra patience and balance things out.
I love that we laugh at the same things and enjoy the same forms of entertainment, especially the games we geek out on (Settlers, Yahtzee, Cribbage, Gin, all forms of Trivia…).
I love that we can have a difficult argument but still manage to listen to each other; that we can make our way through thorny topics, and still hug at the end – and mean it.
I love that I’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve rescued me, in both big and small ways, and always without complaint.
I love it when I make you laugh unexpectedly, and you hug me and say, “I knew I married you for a reason!”
And I love the moments when the reasons I married you are so clear, too. When we’re snuggling – still one of my favourite activities in the world – and we get the giggles, and then the kids pile on top, and there’s tickling and limbs in faces, and it’s the best.
When you’re telling me about something you’ve been learning about, and your curiosity and passion remind me of the importance of wonder in life.
When I’m fretting for some reason, and you make the kind of frank-but-insightful comment that cuts through my overthinking, and brings the issue down to its essence.
When our children do something cute or astonishing or both, and we look at each other incredulously: how did we ever make those??
When we suddenly find ourselves in a moment too steamy to blog about.
When you know the answer to that question I’ve been wondering about, or know how to fix that thing that’s not working right.
When you squeeze my hand because you know we’re thinking the same thing.
When I can hear you reading stories to the kids, and you’re so tender and great with them.
When we’re singing together in the kitchen or in the car.
When we make a new plan for our life together, and I am buoyed by your optimism.
In just a few weeks, we will move to the next chapter of our lives, in our new house. I can hardly wait to see what the next decade will bring to the little family we’ve made.
Last week, it was four years since your death and birth. As always, we love you to the heavens and back, and miss you all the time.
We have bought a new house. We will be moving to it at the end of the summer, and we are all really excited about it. Your brother is counting the days. Your sister, when we talk about it, always adds, “But, we’re gonna be in this house for a little bit longer… right?” She is excited, but she loves her familiar house too; it’s the only home they’ve known.
I am looking forward to having a new place to be, a more functional and welcoming space, in a new neighbourhood close to many good friends… but I’m sad sometimes, thinking about leaving our home. It’s the first house Daddy and I bought; it’s a home we shared with people we loved even before having children; it’s the place we brought two of our babies home to, and watched them grow; it’s the place we expected to bring you home to, and the place that sheltered us when we mourned you the most.
Thinking about you gives me the biggest pangs about moving away. After four years, it’s hard to feel close to you, but sometimes, especially on hot and humid summer days, time folds back to that July, and I welcome the sorrow that keeps you near. Somehow, you seem to be here in these walls.
Our bedroom is where I slept curled around you. It’s where I sang lullabies to our two-year-old E that I knew I was singing to you too. It’s where he would touch my round belly, full of you, and say, “That’s my brother.”
Our living room is where I sat combing through the baby book for your name. Weeks later, it’s where I inverted myself on the edge of the couch, in hopes of getting you to turn head-down. I can still feel the ache, when I think of it, of your head pressing against that spot on my side, and how that bump felt under my hand, with – unbeknownst to us – no fluid to cushion you.
Our doorstep is where I knelt, paralyzed with pain, dilating in time-lapse, just minutes before you were born. It is also where our dear friends left beautiful meals for us in the days that followed, with compassion and thoughtfulness that humble me even now.
Our backyard is where our family gathered around us on your birth day, filling the sandbox with sand for E, installing our picnic umbrella (all the things we hadn’t got around to while expecting you), bringing food and so much love.
Our kitchen is where I gingerly filled my bra with cool cabbage leaves for the soreness, and steeped sage tea to dry up the milk I wished I could give you. It’s where I went about daily chores of cooking and dishes, thinking about how our life was suddenly unhooked from its plans. It’s the room that filled with flowers from people sending their sympathy.
And this home is the place where your lullaby coalesced in my head, where I tinkered out the harmonies on my piano, and where I carefully recorded each track so that it would sound as I imagined it.
As much as it hurts to think of all that, I never wish for the pain to be gone. It’s my link to you.
I guess that’s why it feels like you’re here, and why it also kind of feels like leaving you behind.
On Wednesday, your daddy and I marked the four years since your death quietly in our minds, and with some extra-long hugs. It was a mostly normal day – I did dishes, helped and played with your siblings, refilled my spice jars, bought groceries, folded laundry, practiced with my dance sisters. Daddy worked hard making our house and yard look nice for when we sell it.
I’m grateful for all those day-to-day things that make up our life: we are an undeniably fortunate family, in so many ways, not the least of which is our freedom to be normal and do all those things. But normalcy can be hard work when you’re yearning to just curl up and indulge in the luxury of grieving for a day.
A strange thing also happened. We had received a notice to pick up an unexpected package:
A sample box of formula, addressed to me, with my full name.
I had no idea what to make of it, couldn’t even decide if it was oddly suitable on that day, or wildly inappropriate. After all, I do keep your baby self in my heart, and always will; but the dreams mentioned on the box didn’t work out at all.
That evening, I finally had the chance to sit and remember you, and look at your scrapbook. I got all caught up in examining the perfection of your little nose, captured in the few pictures we have. I wish – so often – that I could see your face in person again, even for a moment.
The next day, your birthday, we spent some time at your Grammie and Papa’s house with your Auntie Beth, and I thankfully got to do some writing, and we went to pick berries at the berry farm. Ever since your first anniversary, when we ended up at the berry farm almost by chance, it has felt like the best thing to do on your birthday. Not quite a celebration… but an appreciation.
I’ve also realized that, along with writing and berry-picking, certain songs help me at this time of year. I decided to put my favourite healing song to images for you (and for me). I think this song helps because it’s about pain and beauty, and how they are both inevitable.
It felt really good to spend some time looking at these images of our breathtaking planet. It reminded me that I can never leave you behind, because you are actually everywhere.
P.S. Please stay tuned for photo credits for this video – coming soon.
Two years ago yesterday, you came peacefully into the world, and immediately began howling. It was a day joyous beyond description for the people who love you.
Since then, we’ve learned a lot about you. Some things we learned right away:
You like to be snuggled – but not every second.
You are unafraid to use your voice to express yourself and your needs.
You have a strong set of pipes.
Your beautiful eyes can break hearts.
Other things it has been our privilege to watch developing:
You love music and dancing.
Your smile and your excitement are infectious.
You are really into books and stories.
You learn fast – when it comes to things you care about.
Your verbal skills are, quite literally, off the charts.
Your dramatic skills are also pretty stellar, especially the trembling pouty lip + tragic wilting combo.
You know exactly what you want (even if it’s the opposite of what you wanted three seconds ago), and you will furiously stand up for it.
You will try any new food that’s going – in fact, you insist upon it.
You are independent such that if we weren’t watching, you would just wander right off without us.
You are determined, and you really, really, really want to do it yourself.
You are very observant of people, and somehow, you already understand how to be compassionate.
You adore your big brother and want to do everything he does.
Your cheeks are so kissable, we can hardly stand it.
You give wonderful hugs.
There are many moments every day when I just marvel at the fact that we are the family who gets to take care of you.
Here is a little video to celebrate you. It includes many of the people who love you – but I wish it could show all of us who know the heartrending gratification of loving your adorable little self, and watching you grow. So fast.