Friday, September 12, 2008


Somewhere in the midst of the "Little Engine That Could" (neither a favorite nor a good read-aloud -- no idea why she selected this one, spite I suppose) last night, while trying to spice up the story by seeing how many words Bella knew on any given page, Mr. ABF walked in and handed her a blue plastic Maddy bracelet.

Clearly, there had been some conversation which I was not privy to, but whatever, I hardly paused, trains kept rejecting the toys pleas for a tow, Bella attempted to put the band on her ankle, and then settled for her wrist.

She climbed into bed with the bracelet still on, and it suddenly hit me, What if she wants to wear this to school tomorrow?

If memory serves, only one parent in her class knows, and as of last Sunday, one knows that we had another child who died, but doesn't know the details. Or at least I hope that's what she gathered from my answering "Only Living" to her question of "Is she your only child?" (Now that I think about it, that answer is a bit wanting, for me. I really need something else.) It began to race through my imagination that Bella was going to walk into school this morning, and blow this whole thing open wide.

I decided I might like a bit of insight as to exactly how this was going to go down with her peeps in the morning.

"Do you know what that bracelet says?" I asked her.
"Maddy," she said quietly.
"Maddalena," I said gently, in what I hope was more of a reaffirming and not correcting tone of voice. "And her birthday."

There was some chatter of birthdays, and then I sprang another question, "And who is she?"

"Your Baby from last year."

Interesting. I actually found this response completely fascinating -- that somehow this whole ugly business was mine (and I'm assuming her father's) and not really hers. Was this some childlike detachment? Or do kids around a certain age just instinctively refer to siblings as "The Baby" (capital T)? I often wonder if she considers Maddy her sister.

"She was your sister, you know."

Shit, can't believe I said that. I was going to let it stop. I hate the "How many kids do you have?" question, and I have no idea what buzzes through her head when someone asks "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" No, wait, I do know -- she says "No." And I'm always completely fine with that answer. Of course she doesn't. What in hell was I doing? I really wanted to take that back.

"She died. I wish she didn't die. I miss her."

The last two sentences there were delivered with just a drop of that dramatic flair I hear when she says "I miss my Daddy," knowing full well he's just outside in the yard letting the dogs out. So I decided it was late, she was tired, and taking this somewhere I didn't want to go. I said nothing, scratched her back, and read one more story.

This morning the bracelet was still on through breakfast, on through getting dressed. I was actually starting to get a bit panicky, wondering if I should offer to keep it safe at home. Right before we left the house, I noticed it was missing. "Your bracelet?"

"I didn't want to wear it."

Flooded with relief, I tell you. Flooded.

But. It's very clear, that the truth will out, and soon. And the messenger will be a four-year-old, in all her brassy, straight-forward, articulate, malapropic, and often hilarious glory.


Anonymous said...

I have been reading you for awhile now and feel that you are not being fair to your living daughter. If she is content to think of Maddy as your baby, why would you want to force additional grief onto her by making her acknolwedge Maddy was her sister? When you said you don't take pictures of your daughter anymore, that just broke my heart. I know you are grieving the daughter you lost. It will never not hurt. Never. But your living daughter needs you to embrace her life--all of it. How sad for her to grow up burdened by the guilt of being the one that survived. You'll skewer me for being anonymous but I don't need hate mail. I just feel so sad for your living daughter and wish you could focus on what you still have. Not forget what you have lost or deny it, but put what energy you can into what remains.

janis said...

Tash, I have several times scramble ahead to inform the mothers of the girls' newly-made friends (with great potential to become regular play mates) that they may hear talk of a baby brother who has died. I dunno why but I feel I need to be the one who break the news. I feel as if I would be a coward if I let my kids inform other parents that we have a baby who died.
Yet, sometimes, I feel, probably a kid will do it the best way, because they see the world, the truth, better than we do. They do not fumble, or think too much, or analyze too much, and they could freaking care if the other party will freak out or feel embarassed or awkward or similar such shit.

And, I know you will respond to the first commenter who beat me to it. But I just want to say you have your process and I honor it.

Antigone said...

I brought marshmallows. Who's got the graham crackers?

I think we need a new rule around here. If you've got something to say which makes you want to click that 'Anonymous' radio button then maybe it would be better left in an e-mail and not posted as a comment.

Tash said...

Anon, this will probably surprise you, but I (and, well, WE really) hate getting anonymous drive-bys as much as you hate getting hate mail. It may also surprise you that you leave behind an IP address when you post, regardless. So I could send hate mail in your direction if I were that sort of person. But I'm not, so please be careful when you post your nameless unhelpful additions to other blogs in the future.

1) I try and be as honest in my writing as possible. Which means admitting mistakes. I admitted I slipped when I said that bit about the sister. So it would be charitable not to pour hot molten lava in that wound, just saying. And if you provided me a link to your blog, I'm sure I'd read about your life where you never ever makes mistakes. Ever. Good for you!

2) She's a smart kid. She's gonna get it sooner or later whether I say anything or not. I'd rather she get it from me than some other dingbat.

3) Sorry to break your heart. /country soundtrack. Apparently you and no one noticed that I DID take a picture of her, and put it in a subsequent post.

4) Bella wasn't drowning in a boat with Maddy -- hence I don't think there will be "survivor's guilt." In fact, I don't believe there will be much guilt at all. Her mom is unhappy and frazzled sometimes, but it's not her fault (she knows that) and NOR IS IT HER RESPONSIBILITY TO MAKE ME FEEL BETTER AND HAPPY. That's mine. So please spare me the "focusing on what I have" crap because if you were in my shoes you'd realize that puts as much burden on her as anything else.

I will end with this: why oh why does anon read our blogs? Does anon run a "What I would do BETTER If I Were A Deadbaby Parent" blog?"

Sharon said...

I do not remember the first time I talked to my daughter about her twin sister who did not survive. I am sure she was an infant, and I wanted her to know how much I loved her and her sister. As my daughter grew, the depth of our conversations grew. She instinctively knew what to share and with whom, even me. I didn't find out until years later that she saw her sister in the corner of her room and that she wrote to her sister. Children are sensitive as well as intuitive, and they are glorious messengers.

Catherine said...

You know what? Parenting, under the best circumstances, is hard. Parenting living children when you have dead ones is painfully hard. We make missteps along the way and they are nothing to beat yourself up over (regardless of what anonymous thinks). You move on and try to do the best you can.

Personally, I think you're doing great. And I'll have to tell the story of the "book about me" sometime...the one where Sam included the pencil sketch of his dead brother. stuff when that awkward parenting moment happens at school. But really, people were quite kind about it and my (living) son was able to claim a part of his own story in his own way. None of us should be ashamed of our truths. They have had a loss too. It is only fair to allow them their own grief process.


charmedgirl said...

oh goodness...i wish i could really know what the heck the kids mean and feel when they say certain things. because words don't always mean what they intend.

as for anonymous, i may be wrong, but it damn fucking well sounds like she's never lost a baby, goddamnit all to hell. and i'm sure when i finish this comment and read all the others i won't be the only one who knows it. I MEAN REALLY. UGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!

k@lakly said...

Out of the mouths of babes...I often wonder the same thing when my kids talk about Caleb. Sometimes they talk about him as tho it is my loss alone and other times they share in the sorrow with their own grief. Given that Bella, like mine,(if my diminished memory serves) never had the chance to meet their lost sibiling, it has become easier for me to understand, I think, how they see the loss as mine. To them they lost a dream, a hope, alomost an imaginary playmate, because they never had the chance to see the real baby. So an idea of a sibling was lost to them. I totally get why my kids have the hardest of times seeing Caleb as a little brother. They talk about him as 'the baby that died'. And sometimes I think you could insert 'dream' for 'baby' and it might express their feelings more accurately.
Hell, trying to wrap my feeble brain around this whole nightmare has been an incredible challenge fro me at my advanced maternal age, trying to help my kids do it has just about killed me on days. There is no right way to do it,only your way. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to meet the heavy end of a 2X4...and I'll be the one swinging it.

When I was having issues with the how many kids do you have question, one mother commented that she says, "two who made it here safely", I liked that. I also liked the answer Dr. Joanne(I think) gives, three who walk, one who soars.
For the most part, for me, it depends on who is asking and whether or not I feel like going into it with them. Sometimes I think a tatoo on my forehead would be the easier soltuion. "I have a dead baby...inquire within"

Anonymous said...

I agree with Janis on this issue - that kids are a great mouthpiece because they are so guileless. It's of course up to you how you tell folks, but it might be a small mercy if she ends up doing it for you. Yes?

I loved linking back to the bracelet story. It is beautiful. I think you are, too.


debbie said...

I had some great comment I wanted to make, but I got all distracted by the others. This is why I often like to write mine before reading. So, let me clear the trash out of my head (read: residual thoughts responding to stupid comment left at 12:15) and get back on track.

I think that regardless of how you or Mr. ABF or Bella relate to Maddy's death, the truth is, and I know you know this, is that her story belongs to each of you. Sadly, Maddy's death is a part of Bella's story and when she is ready to share that, in some pragmatic way on the playground I'm sure, she will. I wish, for you, you could be there to protect her and to filter out all that will come after she does that, but we both know that is not possible. I hated it when I was little and I had to tell my friends my dad was dead, but as I got just a little older, it was like some kind of secret medal I carried in my imaginary pocket. I knew things, I understood things, other kids never even thought about, and it made me different in a good way (sometimes). Bella's story will bring her sadness, but strength as well. I know you know this, but, I'm just reiterating what I know is in your head. There's only so much we have control over, and don't worry, your little Bella sounds like she'll be even more than alright when the truth finally comes out.

Sorry for the long comment, but I was just reminded of a time when I was teaching second grade and this little adorable blonde girl let the cat out of the bag that she had two mommies. I'm sure her parents completely feared the day, but they just couldn't be there to prevent it. For a brief period of time, it wreaked havoc on the grade (mostly b/c of ignorant parents) but as time passed, it became completely normal. The kids adjusted and these days she is as popular and as well liked as any fun-loving, adorable kid can be. I know it's not the same thing, but it's a truth one is not sure will be well-received. For Bella, I can only hope that things go as smoothly when she does finally let it out.

SmartOne said...

Touche, Tash, for diplomatically telling Anon 1 off. I probably would have just said, "bite me," but y'know...diplomacy and all.

I don't know much about anything, but I, for one, stand in awe and admiration of you.

missing_one said...

wow, just wow.
Sometimes I am grateful my son is a year younger (he was just barely two) because he doesn't really remember in a concrete way (sometimes he'll make general references to 'his sister'), because I just don't know how I'd handle all that.

You are such an amazing mother Tash!

Anonymous said...

Um, Anonymous? If you don't have something nice to say about the posts regarding the baby Tash lost, don't say anything at all. 'Kay?

Lollipop Goldstein said...

I had something much more eloquent to say, and then that first comment just floored me and all words floated out of my head.

I will say that people in the situation usually know best how to handle a situation and those outside--even experts in grief counseling--can only say what works in general and ask you to tailor it to fit the needs of your family.

I got this book in the mail today called Something Happened by Cathy Blanford and it's a picture book, written by a grief counselor who works with children to explain pregnancy loss, stillbirth and neonatal death. To say that it is heartbreaking is an understatement. But it is really helpful and has a guide for parents throughout the book in having the conversation. I don't know if you need one more thing. But passing it along in case it's helpful?

Julia said...

This will be in two parts.

Part I, for anon.
Exactly where do you get off talking about guilt that Bella is supposed to have? Guilt for what? Are you pulling the old "I wasn't enough to make my mom happy" bullcrap out of your ass? Then don't bother. In fact, would you be so kind and shove it right back in there? None of our children are supposed to be enough. They are not supposed to be anything. We are, some of us, adults, who understand and communicate to our children, that they are not responsible for our mental health, well-being, or happiness. We, the selfsame adults, also communicate to our children that sadness is part of life, that sometimes things happen that are so terrible that they leave people sad for a long-long time. Not my favorite jeans ripped sad, but my child/parent/sibling/friend died sad. We teach our children that it's ok to be sad about terrible things like that because if we loved somebody that much, we are going to miss them that much. And you know, anon, what happens to children raised like that? They seem to be happy and well-adjusted, though sensitive and aware. I know-- the horror! Somebody call social services.

I tell you, I am routinely astounded by the things my six year old gets that the various anons fail to grasp. But then again, had they the emotional maturity (and manners!) of my six year old, they wouldn't be leaving anonymous drive by comments, now would they?

Ok, part II, for sane people.
Tash, I know you know, but I am going to say it anyway-- kids do not see things the way we do. They are much more in the moment. So they can be very sad and talking about death one second, and the next they switch to what flavor of ice cream they would like to score for desert. The loss is theirs too, and they feel it, no question. But some of these things they say break our hearts while they are off to the next thing. Dunno if it helps. It helps me to observe it, even as I am collecting small pieces of myself from the floor after another one of these lovely and never ending conversations.

Natalie said...

You know, it cracks me up that people think there is such a thing as being anonymous online. We, the reader, see only anonymous. The blog owner, on the other hand? IP address. She doesn't need hate mail. SNORT. We don't need idiotic comments. Funny how she didn't think that one through. Maybe she's just special?

Kids, from everything I've heard (not that I would know first-hand) seem to have a remarkable way of dealing with such heavy topics in a straightforward manner. I reassure myself with that, as I have had a lot of sadness thinking about future children and how weird it will be to grow up with a dead older sibling. But I was actually told by a couple people who grew up just like that that to them it was completely normal and anything else seemed weird.

I do understand the anxiety over everyone else finding out through your daughter, though. At least when you tell you can control it - and see the reactions.

Cara said...

Tash - I have so many things I would love to share right now but I am rather enraged by the first comment to arrive.

That said I will say 4 things:
1) TRUST YOUR INNER VOICE when approaching this topic with Bella. She is a four year old with a VERY flexible mind and will make sense of it in time.

2) I made a vow to myself to make Emma (my firstborn) a common subject in our house when the next two arrived. We are tactful and NOT overbearing and my kids definately DO NOT feel overshadowed by their older sister (DID YOU GET THAT ANON?) but they know and celebrate her throughout the year.

3) I just left a post on Charmed's blog re-inacting the conversation I have with people when I get the, "How many kids do you have question". Have a gander if you like

4) When my KIDS are asked about their siblings (yes - at school their easy and not-at-all abashed response is
*3 year old: "Two. One in Kindergarten and one 'To God'"
*5 year old: "Two. One in pre-school and one who lives in heaven with Jesus"

I am reletively new to following a handful of blogs, but I am here to stay and already feel connected to those of you I read daily. If you would like to get to know me and my story a bit better please feel free to click over.

Dayna said...

Everyone has their own truths; everyone has their own way of handling things. Your way is just fine, Tash.

Much support, as always.

CLC said...

Bella sounds like an amazing girl. It's hard to know what kids really think, but I do agree with Debbie that Maddy is always going to be a part of her story. I felt the same way as a child about my dad dying that she mentioned in her comment. Bella will be a stronger, more sensitive child as a result. I mean, gosh, she sounds way beyond her years already. But I think you are doing a great job in shitty circumstances, and I am sure she knows you are fully "embracing her life" while still feeling sadness for her sister.

And I still don't get why people like anon at 12:15 read these blogs. I am pretty sure she is the same person standing on the side of a road gawking at a horrible traffic accident, yet not doing anything to help the victims. It's seems twisted to me that anyone would read these dead baby blogs and be judgemental. Moreover, I don't know why anyone would want to depress themselves and read us dead baby moms, unless they are trying to cope with their own loss or lend support to a friend or family member that has suffered a similar loss. I know there's some great writing out here (i.e. Tash's) on these blogs, but the general theme is pretty morbid..don't you think? It's really rather sick.

Lisa b said...

Gee tash I wish I had such helpful tips as your first commenter, but I admire you doing this as best you can, following Bella's lead.
Children are wise in so many ways.
Commenters sometimes not so much.

luna said...

oh I'm sorry I missed this the other day. tash, I love your response to anon, and I of cours julia's was right on too. the comment could have only been made by someone who has never lost a child, or been told how to grieve, or who has had to guide a young child through the complexity of grief either.

just wanted to say brava. I have always appreciated your honesty here.

Dayna said...

CLC left you a comment saying:

"Moreover, I don't know why anyone would want to depress themselves and read us dead baby moms, unless they are trying to cope with their own loss or lend support to a friend or family member that has suffered a similar loss. I know there's some great writing out here (i.e. Tash's) on these blogs, but the general theme is pretty morbid..don't you think? It's really rather sick."

CLC, I'm going to attempt to tackle this.

I first stumbled upon Niobe's blog through Cecily, (Uppercase Woman) whom I have been reading for at least a year, if not longer. I forget how I found Cec. Probably through finding out that she was a Philadelphia (and therefore, local to me) blogger. After clicking on Niobe's blog and reading her story, I did the same as I do with any other blog I've discovered: I clicked on her blog roll and began to read.

I never thought that I was gawking (no more than we all "gawk" as we read bits and pieces of each other's lives, that is). I don't find your blogs especially morbid, either. Your lives are about...your lives. Stuff happens. You all aren't lumped into one big category of Baby Loss Mamas in my head, as individual women with personalities and capacity for friendship and kindness that are a part of and were shaped by your losses, but that go far beyond that too. And I guess I figured, why should I back away because these women have experienced something I haven't? You're all worthy of friendship (I mean, not necessarily mine, like I'm some giant prize or something) but there's no need to run away screaming because your experiences differ from mine.

I hope this comes off in the spirit in which it was intended, which is explanatory, and not defensive. Also, if Tash, or CLC, or anyone else is ever made uncomfortable by my presence and would like me to step away, I would respectfully do so, without hard feelings.

All the best.

niobe said...

I'm always fascinated by these kind of stories.

Because my son NEVER mentions the twins. To be fair, I never mention them to him either and if I have to refer to that time, I talk about "when I was sick" or "when I was in the hospital."

He was 15 when it happened, so he must have some views, some thoughts. But he's very private (kinda like me) and he's practically grown-up, so I would never try to bring up the topic unless he mentions it first.

Hennifer said...

I just wanted to say I'm sorry for the unthoughtful anon comment.

I think you hit it right on the head when your replied

"1) I try and be as honest in my writing as possible. Which means admitting mistakes. I admitted I slipped when I said that bit about the sister. So it would be charitable not to pour hot molten lava in that wound, just saying. And if you provided me a link to your blog, I'm sure I'd read about your life where you never ever makes mistakes. Ever. Good for you!"

I'd also like to ditto Dayna in my responses as to why I read, not being a babylost mama. And my hope that I never make any one uncomfortable with my presence

Tash said...

Danya, never uncomfortable by your presence; frankly, humbled that you read along.

CLC is another fellow Philly-area blogger (!), and I'm loathe to speak for her, but I will say: she was hit, multiple times, with the cruelest of trolls, a real drive-by fetishist, and drilled her when she didn't even have the guise of mothering a 4-year old to hide behind. And she makes a good point that if you're reading these blogs from the superiority complex which I speak of, or what reads turns your stomach, "breaks your heart," and doesn't feed you in any positive way, you need to find another blog to read. Not comment. I'm sure that's where she was coming from, and not taking on just anyone from outside this community.

I must say though, like I just commented on the next post, if the situation was reversed, I'm not sure I'd have the strength or interest in reading a blog like this. Which is kinda sad, in a way. And this experience and blogging in general has opened me up to a host of new people and circumstances that I had never considered. In a good way.

Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting.

Dayna said...

Tash and CLC,

Trust me, if my blog were centered around a specific topic, especially one so personal and painful (instead of the mishmash jumble that it is) then I would want to know who was reading me, and why, as well.

I know she wasn't taking on anyone from outside the community. But I also thought that she deserved to know why one person, at least, hangs around.

Needless to say, I am deeply saddened and pretty effing mad to hear about CLC's troll. I guess no one online is immune but to say it still stinks is (under)stating the obvious.

ShastaFizzy said...

Tash, you rock, in so many ways. This was a really moving, thoughtful post, and I'm kinda stunned that the first commenter could've manufactured such a negative spin on it. I know how much energy and love you put into your relationship with Bella, and it sucks to see that denigrated even when I know how silly and baseless it is.

Anonymous said...

I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have commented. I realize that now. I will clarify a few little things and then leave you alone with a sincere apology for adding to your grief. Maybe I am a nasty troll but I promise you don't have to be drowning in a boat with a sibling to know you lived and they did not and to wonder if your mom would be less sad if it had been you. Mistakes? Plenty. Do better? I doubt it. Hateful? Maybe, but not towards any of you. Morbid fascination? Not exactly...more like trying to gain insight on something I have tried a long time to understand. Heartbroken? Indeed...even if it sounds like a country song. I wish you all peace and healling. I really do.