Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gravitational Pull

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.

Friday, July 17, 2009

And the Livin' is (more or less) Easy

Geez, I feel as if I have so much to say and yet neither time or inclination to get it down. "Wow, THAT'S blogable!" I think whipping out the phone to take a picture, or running through a few pithy sentences in my head. But the box never opens and fingers never type.

It's summer, the AC is on for the first time this year, and we have less a summer schedule than perhaps a summer rhythm. There's wake up time, which is sometimes early ("Mom! The sun is really bright in my room! My clock says 6:40. Hey Dad, do the Eagles play today?" I hear a muffled "No hon, the Phillies, it's summer" from the other side of the bed and lift a sleepy eye to see Bella toodling out in her Eagle's jersey and underwear, headed back to her room for outfit change number one of the day), and sometimes late (Yesterday? 8:30. I kid you not. The last time I slept in until 8:30 was . . . well, it was some time ago. But I was in a benedryl-induced coma, and Mr. ABF had a book to read, so up he got, and I just kept snoring).

Then some mornings there's a camp, or a swim lesson, or sometimes it's just barbies and hiking with the dogs, laundry and Tour de France. (And despite not having free seconds of time to use the toilet alone, I'm somehow finding time to read Lance's Tweets. Someone shoot me.) And there are playdates, and the garden . .

The garden! You know, I was going to post a picture, but the yard needs mowed and the sunflowers are looking to bloom -- maybe next week? So I'll get a picture then.

In short, we begin anew. Mr. ABF built us two lovely cedar boxes, and filled them with mushroom soil. In are already-started herbs and a tomato plant that was on the Throw-Out shelf for a buck, and some seeds that should bear us carrots and beans and beets and lettuces in early fall. Many neighbors are now testing for lead, and I even received some email after the last post from readers in other urban locations who are testing. Good for you! Now to test my water.

Summer . . . Anyway, point being, I don't have the blocks of time I usually do to sit on the computer. If there is a chunk of time it's "Let's go the pool!" and I'm not remotely complaining, but, well, it means nothing gets written for me or you.

And I sometimes miss it -- both the writing for me and the commenting.


It's strange, I remember early on in this grief business when my emotions just took me whenever -- opening the fridge, in the car, on the stairs. And then I kinda got it together, and tried to just let myself go in the shower, or at bedtime. And then there was blogging, and that became my grief time -- and I needed a lot of it. And now . . .

Well. I guess you could say I don't need to come vomit on the screen every time I have an emotion, but that's not entirely true. I mean, I read this article on how a recent study concludes that swearing reduces pain, and thought "Well goddamn, tell me something I don't fucking know! Why do you assholes think I write like I do, hmmmm? Blog it!!" And then I read this one, which brought me to tears, about a mother and a deadbaby, and a health workers strike and a photographer trying to get the government's attention, and instead of resulting in "Never Again!" the whole thing getting reduced to "pornography" and ugly things people don't want to deal with.

It's not as if it's not coming up, let's put it that way.

Then there's Bella . . woah. To put it mildly, she's firmly entered the "I want to talk about Maddy" stage. So many encounters I couldn't possibly blog them all. Oh, and now there's art! We've already had the family portrait, avec Maddy. Who is small, with closed slits for eyes instead of round orbs (I have yet to teach Bella the symbolism of x's for eyes, clearly), and with the most adorable curl on her head. She looks like a very dead Cindy Lou Who. Then came the masterpiece, "Maddy coming out of Mommy's Tummy in the Hospital! And mommy's blanket is blue, because that's her favorite color." This alternate reality showed everyone surrounding me in bed, with bright red cheerful smiles, BellaWho holding CindyLou. We've had discussions about Maddy's remains and what we're doing with them (and I have yet to tell her where they actually are, because I'm now fearful that one day I'll be up to my elbows in raw hamburger only to have Bella skip in the kitchen and announce, "Mom! Guess what I did with Maddy's ashes! It's sooo beautiful!"); how old she was exactly when she died (a fact I've heard repeated now to near strangers); and a heavy sigh followed by "I'm not getting another sister, AM I." She's a jedi, this one.

So I think the point is . . . . I still have blogable emotions, but perhaps not so much time, and it's just not as necessary anymore to make the time. I'm perfectly happy these days to daydream about Lance giving Berto the ol' (Jan Ulrich-inspired) evil eye over his shoulder as he blisters a path by him in the Alps. And it's not really forgetting Maddy, because when the grandma at the museum today called, "C'mon Madeline, let's go!" to the child next to Bella (who stopped what she was doing, and the gears churned so loudly I could hear them), my heart still oozes and sinks into my (still tire-ringed) gut. (Remind me to post sometime about barefoot running.) I noticed two nights ago that my friend's adopted daughter, who was born roughly six weeks after Maddy, no longer really bothers me. And I'm wondering, is it because I'm further out, or she is? I mean, she's not a baby anymore, all walking, talking, art-ing, dancing, and ergo -- what's to miss? My toddler didn't die, my baby did.

CLC had a post recently, which reminded me of the Billy Joel Conundrum. Which goes: The writing is good when the going is bad. When you're poor and young and homely and lonely and otherwise depressed, you write really, really good music. Glass Houses kinda good. Then you get a bit of money and marry a supermodel, and what do you want to write about anymore? How chippy things are in the Hamptons? The impetus is gone, there is nothing worth agonizing and you're left with fucking "Uptown Girl."

I'm wondering if I'm entering the "Uptown Girl" phase. One the one hand, I almost hate to say it (dons garlic wreath, spits, throws salt, genuflects, waves cross) but I'm kinda happy lately. Things are good! (I know!) In fact, good enough that I'm actually looking around for the other shoe to drop. Which is all kinds of hilarious considering I still need to maneuver around the remains of the last gargantuan shoe when I back the car out of the drive. I keep thinking, "This is ok! I love my house! This neighborhood is awesome! My kid is cool! Hope this doesn't get fucked up!" and suddenly "Wham!" This is when it gets glum and I get down. And back I crawl, back to the blogspot login, back to where I can focus and be and maybe swear a bit out of earshot of the perpetually happy. Back where I can curl up with my peeps and whisper "Maddy" to the screen and not feel self-conscious and dramatic. Back where I can feel helpful, and feel as though I've made some progress and let my gut hang out over my waistband and shrug.

I keep thinking it's leaving, it goes out the back door, I wave goodbye and tell it to mind the shoe parts on the way out the back gate; and no sooner do I turn the lock than the front doorbell rings. And there it is, dripping wet on the step, grief come a'callin'. Nothing to do but let it in, dry it off by the fire, and sit with it for a bit.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Couch Doctor

I stumbled into therapy -- for the first time in my life -- in less than two weeks after Maddy died. I didn't really know why other than, "Isn't this what people do?"

Sure, after some sessions I felt like I had been dropped off a building. Some days I felt like I needed therapy after my therapy to help me sift through everything I had unpacked. Eventually, slowly, I could see how it was useful and how it helped. Like anything else in this experience, I think I just got lucky.

I'm interviewing a grief therapist today at GITW. Come read along and give your shrink experience, won't you?