It dawned me sometime in the last few months that I really no longer know what "normal" parenting is. And I hear you saying, But Tash, there is no "normal." Everyone is different, every family is different, every child is different. And I know that. But when I look back on the last five years of Bella, it's hard to assess it without the prism of Maddy. What is it like to parent an only child -- an only child by choice? What's it like to parent to two -- when both are on the same plane of existence? What is it like to be distracted -- by a job, a death in the family, a midlife crisis? I wanted, when this all started five years ago, to be a fun mom, a friend mom, an honest mom, a mom that didn't do baby talk and a mom who wasn't afraid to introduce my musical tastes on my kid at an early age (which may have backfired this weekend when we took her to the local radio station's outdoor rock fest and she asked if The Killer's were going to be there. Um, no. And then expressed extreme disappointment when I told her that The Police were not only not going to be there, but were no longer a band. Growing up is tough, y'all. Now how to break it to her about The Beatles). I'm not sure what I've been, exactly, but I'm hoping I was there, not too mean, not to exasperated, not too exhausted.
The common refrain looking back on a child's life is how fast things are going, and indeed I suppose they are. But time is funny now, defined mostly by six particular days. At times those days seemed so painfully long, so brutally eternal, we pleaded with any deities listening to end it and now. And at times, so brief, faster than a insect's life span, caught in a whirlwind of paperwork and decisions and kleenex, before we could know -- before we could know her. After this, time is no longer measured in fast and slow, but beauty and ugliness and truth.
Four? Was rough. But is this normal, or is it . . . . you know. I finally came out of my coma for four, so maybe I'm just feeling the sass more than I did? My therapist suggested that kids are extremely perceptive, and that Bella probably kept it together herself a bit if she sensed I was fragile, but now that I'm back to my steel-plated-armored-Mercedes self, she's more apt to lob rocks and let loose with the demanding and the whining and see what kind of effect she generates. Don't get me wrong -- I'm lovin' most of the independence: she can dust while I sweep (and it's still a novelty!), and on the 4th of July, decorated cupcakes while I sat on the computer. She's developing a sense of humor (perky!), and is inquisitive an fun as hell. There's just no one trailing anymore to go through the milestones, again. Bella was two and a half when Maddy died, and although I don't play the "She woulda been ____" game anymore, we're now two and half years beyond her death. And for some reason I feel as though I've passed another odd milestone, and am now in an area where I know nothing of what the future holds for any of us. And for me at least, that's a relief.
There were conversations when I was pregnant about parenting two children with this particular age gap. Mr. ABF and his brother are roughly 2.5 years apart, and they never got along. He was very churlish during the pregnancy -- very defensive of Bella and her space -- and at times I got downright angry, feeling as though he was taking sides before the child was even here. My brother and I were five years apart, and mostly got along, and now I wonder whether things would be fine if we had another, or would just blow her brain in a way that would never recover. Would any of us recover?
On July 27, 2004, I felt a rush of water from down yon. Which they later told me that afternoon was not THAT water. Which they then told me 36 hours later, was in fact amniotic fluid. I know now, having read of all the possible tragedies that this was not a good thing. And maybe in another universe I would tell this story dramatically and with a flourish, taking my audience to the edge of the cliff only to release the parachute: "But when my temperature started rising, they quickly suctioned her out! And here she is!" Back we all shuffle away from the rim to enjoy the view.
Now I know what lies at the bottom of the gorge, what it's like for the rail to falter and to pitch over the edge headfirst and watch the cliff-side rush past your eyes in a blur. And now I know it's just luck, just random, nothing special I did, no master-stroke of Darwinism or obstetrics, just sheer luck that she's here, stuffing a unicorn pinata with cavity-causing goodness.
I remember on July 27, turning to my husband and saying, "This baby is angling to take over the center of our lives. Just watch, s/he'll be born on our anniversary, insuring that we'll never get time to ourselves on that day ever again." And I was right. Literally. About the shared anniversary, and about being the center. She is it. There is no other. There is only a distant moon that orbits around all of us, sometimes so close you could almost reach out and touch its harvest orange, and sometimes on the other side of our earth. Often eclipsed now, but still reflecting light.
July 27 means something else for Janis; what for me was mild warning (shoo'd away like a pesky fly) was for her the drop of the blade. Her story -- Ferdinand's, really -- starts and tragically ends July 27 too; the understanding that a child will always be central to her universe, but strangely never there. And July 29, 2007, what could have been a random sharing of dates between two children, three years apart, never to cross paths, fell. And because one lived and one did not, our family's paths crossed and intertwined, and now it's a date shared, a slice of the cosmos all too familiar and ironic and bittersweet.
We joke that Bella will never forget our anniversary, but that she'll never do anything about it. We'll never forget Ferdinand's birthday, though I'm at a complete loss as to what to do in order to acknowledge it. Hit the pinata especially hard, I suppose.
It's all tied up together, this day of overlapping sentiments, this gift of uneven edges -- the beautiful, the promising, the truth. It is appropriate, it is complete, it is why we are here.
Happy Birthday, Ferdinand.
Happy Birthday, Bella.
Happy Anniversary, Us.