Bella's somehow survived almost four years on (a superfluity of) stuffed animals and trains, but no dolls. Something must have flitted across her radar because in the past few months there have been some infrequent "look mom!"'s and plaintive, whiney desires for an assortment of plastic formed females. Some quite scary. I like to think I'm hip, but what the fuck is the with the oversized heads and eyes and heavily made-up figurines? I decided to do a preemptive strike and purchase her an age-appropriate doll of my choosing before the extended relatives got wind of the questionable wishes.
She quickly named her doll Maya? Mia? Well, it changes, and this is the age frankly where if she walked in today and announced that her doll was now to be referred to as "Word Girl," "Tucker -- 'cause he's my favorite cat," or "What's that guy's name again? Oh right, OABAMA," I wouldn't blink. She's much more into the pets this doll possesses than the doll itself, which I suppose is just fine with me. And the doll doesn't get a lot of play time, save for mornings and evenings when she gets dressed for the day/night. A lot of wardrobe decisions, and then Mia/Maya/Little Miss President gets parked while we swing, climb trees, and play Bingo.
Last night I was walking her through her (Bella's, people) bedtime routine out-loud as I am wont when I suspect a bit of lollygagging: praised her for the exhibition of oral hygiene, reminded her of the next step of selecting her own nighttime wardrobe, and skipping ahead yet another step in the process, looked around her room and said,
Now where's Maddy?
Yes. I did. I did slip and call a plastic inanimate fresh-faced girl doll by my deadbaby's name. Um hmm.
And I don't think I've ever seen Bella dumbstruck, but damn if she wasn't. Eyes wide, mouth agape, staring at me, the silence of those milliseconds hanging over us like a cloud with it's own barometric pressure reading. "SILLY MOMMY!" I said in that horrified/self-deprecating tone one takes when we fuck up slightly in front of our children, "MAYA/MIA! Here you are! Time for bed!"
Which got me thinking . . . . Do I talk about Maddy enough?
I've been trying for, well, months really, to start and finish a post on Bella and this grief business. Because I read things like this and this and think, wow, Bella would never do that. Not in a million years. And then I remind myself that she's younger than these kids, and tra-la-la my way over to Wonkette, and then am suddenly alerted that no, actually, kids younger than Bella speak of their dead siblings, even kids who weren't alive yet. And then I read stuff like this and figure I'm really making a mess of things.
We don't have a gravestone to visit around which to elicit such conversation, and I guess when I think about it, I don't talk about Maddy that much in the course of my daily grind. Except, you know, here. I'm not one to wander into a room and sigh and say out loud, "Ahh. I'm missing Maddy right now. Should we draw the blinds, put on some ambient music, sit down and close our eyes and contemplate her for a few?" Really not my style. But should it be?
Work-friends of Mr. ABF planted a tree for Maddy in a nearby park. I used to run over there to visit, but obviously haven't been running in quite some time, and our daily traffic patterns don't take us over there. But one day, rather out of the blue, I said to Bella on the way home from school, "let's go drive by Maddy's tree and see how it's doing." And that was it, we never left the car, I pointed it out, and then moved on to some lawn sculpture that Bella's fond of. Now that this cube of ice is broken, I do this trip a bit more frequently. But I guess I don't often initiate the Maddy-speak, I usually enter it in response to something already said. And if Mr. ABF and I have a discussion in front of Bella, it's usually about "it" not "her" (as in, "Can you believe they're already planning for the December candlelight service?" or "YOUR FATHER SAID WHAT??").
So I start these posts in my head about how this is unhealthy and terrible and then mid-mental-sentence-forming, Bella, out of the blue, brings her up -- like Murphy's Law. A week or so ago there was the instance of watering Maddy's Lilac, and just a few nights ago, with zero prompting, she turned to me and said, "Maddy's name is on your bracelet, right? Can I see it?" And we talked through spelling her name, and what a "nickname" is. We went over why I wear it all the time, and that yes, Daddy wears his (blue plastic) bracelet with her name on it all the time, too.
I tend to let Bella lead in this ongoing conversation. If she asks me to read her one of her "I'm a Big Sister!" books, I do. But I don't push anything on her at the end. I figure if she asks, I'll tell. Ditto with her death books. I guess I do blurt out Maddy's name here and there subconsciously (whoops), and I'm stupid to think she doesn't pick up on it or won't remember.
I don't want to shape her grief, I don't want to have a sit down with a four year old (who will barely sit down long enough to put on her shoes in the morning) about her sister, but I don't want to ignore it, either. I walk some fine line here, that sometimes feels like I'm doing a disservice, and other times surprises me with a reward. When I read Marita's piece at GITW, my first reaction was "crap, I bet Bella's ALREADY scared to ask me these things, that's she's already made the association between the spoken word 'Maddy' and a complete sobbing collapse on my part." But I think we're both improving a bit. Bella brings her up with a bit more frequency, and hopefully I'm responding with a bit less of the dumbstruck, deer-in-the-headlights look myself.
Now, any advice on what to do if Bella proclaims her doll to be named "Maddy?" Because you just know that's coming.