At some point a few weeks ago, Bella sat at the kitchen counter, grabbed a sheet of my grocery list paper, and intently started writing a missive.
Mom, how do you spell 'Christmas'?
When she was done, she read it out loud:
Dear Santa, I want a Poni [sic]. Merry Christmas. I love you. [Bella]
She then announced that she was putting it in the Day 24 slot of her advent calendar so as not to forget, and I reminded her, gently, that Santa does not bring live animals. That animals are a family decision, not a Santa decision, and can you imagine his sled and bag with live puppies and kittens and ponies? The crazy! I also reminded her that she has a pony, for all intents and purposes (it's my aunt's), 45 minutes due west of here that she can ride anytime.
Bella stared at me blankly and went and dutifully (defiantly?) put her note in her calendar.
It's that time of year, where I suppose children and normal people wish and hope and make lists and expect. And as a person with a major holiday party the week before Christmas, preceded by two days of standing on my feet awkwardly hunched over a munchkin table in a Kindergarten class making gingerbread, and still lacking the complete incentive to spread Joy! and Peace!, I remind myself that she won't miss what she doesn't know about. If I don't say anything, and don't make promises, and remind her that Santa uses the list as a guide, not a constitutional legal checklist, she'll be happy with what I can do.
And she was.
And I also reminded myself of the same. I don't make "wish lists" anymore, the whole conceit seems so, well, ripe for disappointment. Not to mention that I can't wish for what I really want. And everything else seems so very trivial in comparison. ("Um, some jelly roll pans would be nice. You know, if you can't raise the dead and perform a miracle of Biblical proportions.") I did what I could, and this year I relinquished a lot of what used to make me happy either to the "Don't Worry About It" pile, or to Bella's To-Do list. And I found that alone made me very happy, very peaceful, very content. Gone were my Martha Stewart pretensions of having perfectly glazed confections, and I scheduled a playdate and had Bella and her companion frost and decorate a full batch of Italian Wedding cookies. They looked wonderful, and lo, still tasted great. Bella did most of the tree decorating, I decided again to forgo sending cards. A wise choice.
We've told Bella about the other pending engagement on the calendar, and in full disclosure told her this was not a promise. We would likely have to wait for the baby to be born in order to know if he was healthy and could be brought home from the hospital. Interestingly, I've found that her conversations have Mid May as a boundary. She's told a few people, but seems to wait for a segue instead of just blurting it out, she likes coming up with names, she talks about the hospital a bit. She has never had a conversation with us about a baby coming home, what will happen, where the baby will go, where it will live, what it will eat, how it will change her life. Lord knows, we certainly haven't either. My internal schedule still only goes two weeks in advance, and the only way I know where I am in this escapade is based on appointments scheduled around significant dates. May is a distant mirage on my horizon, and any discussion of what comes after usually has nothing to do with a baby, but with pool memberships and third floor renovations and if it comes up, the caveat, "If he lives." Or sometimes, "Even if he dies, we'll want to . . . . " And you know, we will.
Bella's baby brother name list is as follows:
EGGPLANT (what I tell her when she asks me what we should name him)
IAN (Olivia the Pig's little brother, and the only reasonable little brother she is familiar with)
BUDDY (Our Dog)
LAREE (I believe two names she feels she can spell without help. Don't laugh, "Bob" and "Car Wash" were on my list for my little brother)
There are moments though, where even though I am still as distant from this experience as one can get with an alien life form growing inside them, that Bella does something to show that not all of us are completely tuned out. When we were decorating gingerbread at home, after making sure she had decorated a unicorn, cookies for the dogs, gingerbread people that (theoretically) resembled Mom, Dad, and Bella, she proclaimed, "And this one is Baby Brother."
(There is a clear resemblance to those blurry ultrasound pictures where everything seems blurry and unreadable and the eyes and mouth are a bit spooky. Tell me you can't see the kidneys in this.)
We can try and tamp down those expectations, but we can only do our best. No promises. I will spare you the profane and macabre joking that this pastry elicited from me and Mr. ABF, but I suppose deep down we were a bit touched. I'm glad someone here is looking after him a little, at least as much as frosting will allow.
I had my twenty week scan yesterday, and all looks fine. Which is not remotely a relief as much as it is a lack of surprise. A few weeks ago, I had a "slightly elevated" marker (and by slightly, .1 above what the cut-off is, and only noticeable because it's one of those "soft" things that they jam into an equation wherein x=my age (40) and n (as in 10n) goes up a factor of a few 100 because of the 40 part, and then odds start to look a bit scarier than it would if I were a respectable 35 or something, but who's paying attention to odds?) so Dr. Hotshit paid extra attention to the spine in addition to all the Maddy pathology goodness and is hereby "not worried." Well that makes one of us. She then scheduled me for a full bank of scans through weeks 20-30 and warned me of the impending weekly fluid checks/NSTs to start around week 30, so I think the "not worried" thing was perhaps a wee bit of an oversell.
Everyone on this side of the ugly warns me that there will come a day when this will become "real" -- like the Velveteen Rabbit, I imagine, perhaps the ultrasound photos become a bit frayed around the edges and lose their luster? -- and will start "being a mindfuck" (tm, Julia), but I'm certainly not there yet, nor do I really foresee being there, frankly. Because my "real" comes a few moments after birth (whenever that may be), there really isn't a milestone along the way where I think "Phew!" or "Viability!" or "Lung maturity up!" or whatever. There is this creature on a screen which is apparently inside my body which may or may not be hosting a time bomb, whose brain though clearly visible may or may not be composed of mush, and then I ask about the next appointment and start worrying about what to have for dinner. Maybe that day will come, who knows. Maybe it will be years from now.
I still run (well, did until we got 16" of snow and entered a deep freeze during which my five-year old is home all. the. time.), still shun maternity clothing (god, I hate that stuff. I hate even typing those words) as much possible, still cover up and try and avoid conversation with people who don't know. All the neighbors know, and those in the know have said . . . . nothing. And you don't know how much I appreciate that. There have been some quiet asides to Mr. ABF about "Let me know if I can do anything, you know, cooking, whatever" and even a nice aside to him (over the keg at the Christmas party) from a newish-neighbor physician-type who works at Children's who apparently "just found out" (and I mean, about everything) to make sure we were comfortable with who we were seeing and that he would do anything he could. Anyone who enters into conversation with me gets met with a gentle yet terse "We're saving congratulations until May," and "We're not talking much about this one." And things get shut down pretty quickly and we start up with how erratic the Steelers are this year.
Perhaps because I expected nothing, I was surprised and giddy with my (stress, MY) Beatles Rockband on Christmas morning, and have been enjoying (probably way more than is healthy) Mario Kart racing. And I didn't say anything at dinner with the relatives, and no one says anything to me, and, well, we wait. I'm not optimistic, but I'm not pessimistic either. I'm just not expecting.
I came home yesterday, showed Bella the pictures ("Is the baby healthy today?" she asked, which I considered remarkably in the moment) and told her that her gingerbread man was a far more accurate anatomical likeness if I thought so myself, and got down the 2010 calendar to enter in my next appointment. She grabbed the calendar and a pen, and before I could catch what she was doing, flipped to "May," plopped her finger down in what to her appeared as the middle square, and without saying a word wrote "BABY." Like I said, at least one of us is thinking a bit in advance.