Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mind the Gap

It's fairly inevitable:  I'm surrounded by people, literally -- you should have seen the baby explosion on my block in the last two years -- who are on their first child.  And they turn to me/mine and ask sweetly and naively,

What if any tv programming does he watch?

Does he still take a bottle?

When will you start potty training?

And I try my best to keep the snark in check and answer as sweetly and politely and truthfully as possible:  Phinneas and Ferb; never did, drinks out of a technical camelback water bottle or a regular ol' cup and has since he was one; he started himself when he was 18 months.  (No, by no means there yet, relax yourselves, I am by no means that lucky.)

When Ale breaks into song it's frequently something from the pop charts; today, just for example, it was, out of the blue from the backseat, "THIS IS CRAZY!" He can name the title of a Ting Ting's song in the opening bars, and chants the chorus from the Beastie Boys "Sureshot".  He wants to do potty "by self," eat "by self," and tells us to leave his room at bedtime.  "Go mommy, nap time.  Goodbye."   He eats pizza "big," and is generally in the habit -- for better or worse -- of monkey see, monkey do.

He is by no means independent, and by that I mean he clings to his mommy with a ferocity known usually to atomic particles.  I don't sense any nascent super intelligence.

What he is, is the little brother of a much, much older sister.

So, the conversation goes, "Oh!  How old is his sister?"

"Seven."  "Eight."

And then I can fucking hear the gears start turning as they contemplate that six year gap, maybe with some stupid turn of phrase, "Oh, nice gap."

(Nice?  I mean, not for nothing, but if everything was lovely and it was 2.5 years, is that "nice"?  Or "Not nice?"  I'm confused.)

And I can practically read their minds as they eyeball me:


Remarriage, baby with husband number two.



And very seldom, nay, rarely, do I step on the toes of their wisps of thought with the concept that the gap really isn't, and like every other red-blooded American (it seems) my children are in fact about 2.5-3 years apart.  It's just that the middle one is, um, missing.

Not much to pick up from that one, amiright?

It's tough this, when people start asking me what the up and down sides to this break are.  I try and answer honestly because I know they're asking from a good place:  It's lovely to have an older child who attends school, can get in/out of the car by herself, uses the toilet AND takes her dirty dishes to the kitchen and unloads the clean dishwasher.  It may take four nags, but she can in fact put her shoes away and sort her laundry.  So only having to deal with one child's tiny shoes and dirty dishes and plastic crap is a relief.  I  make one meal a night, and I can grab a half hour for the shower by plopping them down in front of the same programming (Ale loves to imitate Candace, it's a riot).

It's a bummer in that Bella was/is an awesome traveller.  I could easily see taking her to Alaska or Africa right now, tomorrow if the opportunity presented itself.  Yet, every time I think "You know, I think we could do London, maybe with a day trip to Paris -- Ale eats and sleeps pretty well," he up and contradicts me by melting down during a trip to Ikea hours later.  The kind of meltdown where other mothers silently mouth "I'm sorry" as they pass by with their wide-eyed toddlers staring at my screaming progeny.  Bella can climb and ride skateboards and get in and out of the tub by herself and a load of other stuff that looks amazing attractive to a small guy who doesn't understand helmets or that his hands and feet are still a bit too far apart to do things.  We've have some extremely close calls, some bumps, and a bloody nose or three.

The gap is lovely, the gap is tough, but what the gap really is is a daily reminder that there's something in there, something in the middle, that the oreo is missing something rather critical.  There's a whole lifetime of counseling and depression in there, and watching him coo "Happy Birfday" to his sister only highlights the chasm between them.  There shouldn't be a canyon between my children -- a path perhaps, a very windy road maybe.  Not something that requires road guards and a suspension bridge.


Bella is eight.  I fight the urge to put a "teen" on the end of that.  She is at once, extremely mature and a bit of a hot mess.  She is a lovely combination of girl and tomboy; yesterday she determined with her birthday cash and savings she had enough for the American Girl she's been pining for, today there were real hot tears when I broke the news that one of her favorite ball players --  the one whose name graces her very pricey and very favorite official jersey -- had been traded.  She gobbles up pop tunes like M&Ms, and deigns to get down on her knees with the stuffed animals and play school with her little brother.  Usually she looks so old it drives me a bit bonkers, but I was looking at pictures from her party on Sunday and I can still espy that baby fat in her face, that glimmer of three still peering out at me from those eyes.  Still a girl.  But not for long.


We've fallen into a nice tradition of ordering a small copy of our wedding cake from the baker who made it along with Bella's birthday cake so we have something to remind us of our anniversary.  This year the Birthiversary picnic was at the farm where we were married, but for the first time sans Max who actually attended our wedding.  He was just a year old then, hard to imagine -- about as hard to imagine as watching our children run around with my cousin's children.   It was beautiful, and surreal, and exhausting.

Per usual, Ferdinand was at the front of my mind on Sunday as well.  I wondered what Janis was doing, much as I always wonder how all these mind-blowing events can occur on a single day.  Who knew four years almost to the hour after getting married in a meadow I'd be holding my first child; who knew three years later I'd be celebrating her birthday, bereft.  Who knew within the year I'd discover someone had lost a son on the day I'd been mindlessly doling out cupcakes and goody bags and wondering if my marriage would continue through this shitstorm.

Who knew.

It's a few days belated, but:

Happy Birthday, Ferdinand.
Happy Birthday, Bella.
Happy Anniversary, us.


Hope's Mama said...

Time for this post again. How is that even possible?

Happy Birthday, Ferdinand.
Happy Birthday, Bella.
Happy Anniversary, to you, indeed.

And the gap, god I can see how that must be so hard for you guys. The Oreo analogy really sums it up well. For me, I hate that Hope is so invisible. Because we have two kids, one of each, just under two years apart and hey, doesn't that look rosy and perfect. Except she's not here. And no one notices. I guess we are missing one side of our Oreo, just not the middle. In both cases, it is just not right.


niobe said...

Yup. About twice a week, someone looks at the three of us and smiles and asks "are they twins?"

I smile back and say "They're 15 months apart" or "Only Irish twins" (which, technically, they aren't, since I'm pretty sure that kids need to be born within a year of each other to qualify).

But, you know, still.

Betsy said...

wow, just, wow. Amazing post. I'm so sorry for the painful canyon, the oreo missing its cream, the loss of your girl.

There is a sizeable gap between my children. It's hard to explain that, you know, life sometimes deals your spouse a horrible disease that f's everything up. Not the same as losing a child, but painful in its own way. Thanks for sharing your journey. Your openness helps many.

Jeanette said...

I'm late, I'm sorry. I've realised it's now August and maybe I can start to think about breathing again, but it means I've missed some special people.
Happy Birthday Bella
Happy Birthday Ferdinand. x

erica said...

The gap, and the comments about the gap - I keep thinking about that canyon, and I have a feeling your family is capable of creating a darned fine suspension bridge, but (again) I hate that you have to.

A belated happy birthday to your Bella, and to Ferdinand. And I love the idea of your Birthiversary picnic.

luna said...

wouldn't travel be lovely about now? you know, without the screaming toddling activity? sigh.

yes the gap may be a canyon. do you ever offer 'there was one between?' or do you just let them ponder on their own?

a good friend (who doesn't deal with loss well) was telling me about her neighbor who offered such a bit to her. she said she had no reply, didn't know what to say, didn't want to probe. I told her she could always just ask and listen, that if she brought it up she's likely willing and may want to talk about his memory, because most people just don't ask.

anyway. hope you had a lovely picnic.

loribeth said...

Happy birthday to Bella, happy anniversary to you & Mr. ABF. : ) xoxo

Val said...

Wait a minute, wait a minute!

"...takes her dirty dishes to the kitchen and unloads the clean dishwasher. It may take four nags, but she can in fact put her shoes away and sort her laundry."

What's your secret?!? My 14-yr old can barely manage these tasks ;-)

But it's really none of anyone's business: I used to put on my "Bad Broodmare" song n' dance routine to explain A.) why Z is an only child +/- B.) why P & I don't have any biological children of our own, but I don't seem to have the time or the energy anymore...
It still didn't shut up the speculators anyway.

Mary Beth said...

So late, I am, but happy birthday to Ferdinand and Bella, happy anniversary to you. Love reading what you write, always. Our gap's pretty narrow, but not as narrow as we'd intended. I hate the feeling I get in my gut when some new someone or other gets to have the gap we'd planned for.

Lisa Sissons said...

Thanks so much for popping by my blog. It's a lot of ramblings as I'm really still early in my grief. A place to vent mostly.

I can imagine how hard it is when people start asking about 'the gap'. I'm sure it's as awful as when people ask me when we plan to have children. Why do people feel they have the right to be so nosey and so judgemental? I often feel like just being blunt about what happened, to see the horrified reaction on their face, wishing they never brought it up.

Reading your story I can see why you say you know just how I feel. How similar, and how horrifying. I am so so sorry.

Sending lots of love,

Sophie said...

Oh this resonates. x

It's funny... people who know I have lost a child assume that she died before Caelan and Jasper arrived. They are always surprised when i say it was between...

Not sure what that means... are my boys just big giants that fill the gap in between... or are they surprised at my ability to function enough to have another child? I really have no idea.

But, yeah, missing cream in the orea is right. :(


Sue said...

I'm sorry I missed this as I was in relocation hell that began in early July and is just beginning to subside.

despite my silence, you and your family -- our club, are never very far from my thoughts.

I can only imagine the weight of that gap. Even this far out, I am finding my role in the world shifting, and not necessarily the way I'd like. When asked at my new bank if I had any children, the friendly momentum of our chat came to a screeching halt as I responded, "no." With no explanation. Perhaps the look on my face was enough?

Sorry to hijack your comments. I think of often and with the change of location (C got a job back on the East Coast, mid-atlantic) am feeling the pull of the blog again. Community, as disparate, as similar. Glad you are still here. You and this wonderful group of women.

Sue said...

And happy anniversary/birthday and birthday. Sending much love.

Lisa Sissons said...

Thanks for stopping by again. I just wanted you to know I read and appreciate that you took the time to comment <3

Janis MK said...

I am terribly late! I went into orbit outside blogoverse and I think gravity never found me again...

Thank you, so much ever, for always sharing your special birthiversary with Ferdinand. I appreciate that.

Oh, the gap. I can see the pause too, often. Sometimes I want to grab them by the collar and demand, "Well, why don't you just say it out loud? Because you are so dang wrong whatever you may be thinking."

I think traveling is always a zoo with kids, but it does sound like Bella is old enough to hand you a gin-tonic. I'm sure she mixes a mean one if you'll allow her.

It looks like life has been crazy on your end. I skimmed through... will be back to read and catch up, hopefully soon.

Holly Zoller said...

Thanks for this blog :) It really helps to read one that isnt dripping with sweetness and religion.