First Cookie

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The neighbor’s apple tree is ripening and the green apples are slowly turning to a rich red color.  As I gaze out towards the tree, I can actually see a phantom version of myself… a year ago, I stood below this very tree surrounded by my children.

I was barely keeping my head above water that day, trying to mother well… Love well… Contribute to me career with dignity and skill, engage and honor my husband, serve those around me and find joy and peace in the day-to-day challenges and responsibilities.  I was happy, yes, but tired.  If you had asked me on that day, I would have told you I felt like a failure, and I was so, so tired.

In a burst of desperation I threw layers of mismatched clothing onto my surprised children and marched them outside to create a memory and prove my worth as a mother.  I wore Evan’s oversized yellow sweatshirt, a pair of pajama pants and a bright pink headscarf holding back brand new dread locks. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even wearing a bra…

With the heavy weight of Graham on my hip, I watched as my pinked-cheeked girls bravely skipped across to our neighbors stoop and politely asked if we could pick some apples.  I held back and told myself it was because I wanted my daughters to feel independent and strong, but if I were honest, I didn’t have the energy for small talk and I didn’t want anyone to notice that I hadn’t showered in a few days.

I waved a thanks to the neighbors when they agreed, and quickly directed my troop toward the apple tree. I looked down at Graham and noticed he had copious amounts of clear snot running from his chilled nose.  I remember thinking he was probably working on another ear infection and repositioned his blue and grey knit cap to better cover his ears.

Once we got to the tree I ungracefully reached up with one hand to grab a low hanging branch while counterbalancing Graham’s weight with the other side of my body. My daughters’ pudgy hands reached up and swiped at the fruit, struggling to actually grab anything, let alone pull an apple off the tree… 

Frustrated, I set my wobbly little boy on the damp ground and watched as he proceeded to topple head first into the cold grass. Charlotte quickly picked him up and cuddled him between her legs which prompted Eleanor to plop down beside them and refuse any more attempts at apple picking.  The three of the them chatted and played while I begrudgingly pulled branches and plucked fruit, feeling deflated and tired.

Once I manged to get everyone back inside, I wiped noses and wrangled strong wills, I fed and sang, laughed and hollered, and finally sent them all to naps so I could quickly bake some apple cookies in peace, having fully given up on a perfect parenting moment.  A perfect… anything.

When I look out the window today and see this mother and her children, you may think I would want to shake her a bit and say, “Snap out of it! Don’t take this precious, precious day for granted! Stop counting down the minutes until nap time, until your baby can sit up on his own, until he’s grown… Stop expecting perfection and missing the joy all around you!  Stop feeling sorry for yourself — it’s not that bad!!”

I could say those things, yes, but what I really want to say is, “Oh Mama, I know. It’s so, so difficult. We can’t make this world work right, and the ‘perfect’ day is really just a charade anyway.  We are all hurting.  Simply or deeply, it’s all a version of the same pain… We’re broken. So enjoy nap time today and when your baby wakes up before his sisters, give him his very first cookie and take a moment to enjoy it.”

Not Graham

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Nora coughed after taking a big mouthful of dinner tonight, and as she sputtered and spewed I asked her earnestly, “Are are ok? Can you breathe?”

She looked up at me but continued her desperate coughing and I asked again, “Can you breathe?

Before she had a chance to nod her head yes and take a nice deep breath, Charlie screeched out from the other side of the table, “Mom! Is Eleanor Dying??”

I shot my glance over to Charlotte and watched as big crocodile tears sprung from her terrified eyes.

“No!” I screeched back at her, “It’s ok, she’s fine — we’re all fine!

Eleanor cleared her throat and managed a small smile.

Charlotte, wiped the tears from her cheeks and muttered quietly, “But not Graham.”

First Day at Daycare

10477824_1500107056869145_2098902051_nI found this e-mail in my files and enjoyed the memories.  When I returned to work a few months after Graham was born, he stayed at home with my sister who lived with us through the summer.  He started attending daycare with Nora a few months after that.  I sent the following e-mail in preparation for his transition.

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I wanted to tell you a little about Graham and what he has gotten used to over the past 5 months. Hopefully understanding our routines will help with his transition!

Graham is a darling little boy – I’m sure you will love him! He tends to be relaxed, easy-going, interactive and sweet. He is incredibly tolerant of chaos and actually seems to like getting mauled by his sisters. He also is easily comforted with cuddles and interaction, and recovers quickly if he gets sad or scared for any reason. He takes a paci when he is really sleepy or a little ticked off, otherwise he rarely uses one. He tends to drool and spit-up often… doesn’t phase him much, but we tend to go through a lot of clothes and burp cloths!

General schedule:

Wakes up around 7:30 AM

Plays

Bottle around 10-10:30 (3oz)

Naps 10:30-12 (Likes to cuddle when he first wakes up)

Plays

Bottle at 1ish (3-4 oz)

Naps 2-4pm

Bottle when he wakes up (3oz)

Playing:

Plays on his belly almost exclusively (pretty good at rolling and scooting now). We don’t have a bouncer or swing this time around. If he gets a little fussy or pooped-out playing by himself he tends to be pretty happy chewing on a toy in your lap or cuddling next to you on the couch or something. He self entertains so well and is generally pretty chill, but he does remind you not to forget about him – and is generally pretty satisfied with some cuddling and one on one conversation.

Naps:

Generally I have good luck nursing him to sleep… so he is perhaps a bit spoiled… Often a paci and some walking, gently bouncing will also work well. He can get pretty worked up when he is tired… we’ve been trying to teach him to fuss himself to sleep and sometimes he can but if he gets too worked up, he will need help calming down and falling to sleep. Sometimes he will quietly drift asleep himself… Not often.

Feeding:

Takes his bottles like a champ. We haven’t introduced solids yet, but plan to as he shows interest. With Eleanor we kind of skipped the puréed stage and jumped to soft table foods as she was ready… I plan to do the same thing with Graham. Apparently it a real thing, called ‘baby led weaning’ sounds better than the ‘laid back lazy mom ‘approach… 🙂 We’ll see how it goes!

I will make sure to bring his vaccination info and a pack n play this week sometime… Anything else you need from me? I’m a little nervous for him… Silly, I know. I know you’ll do great with him… But there’s something about changing up a little baby’s routine and patterns that just doesn’t seem fair… Ah, such is life I suppose 🙂 If any baby can handle it, it’s Graham!

Thanks again!

Perfect

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“He’ll need a hat.” The funeral director stated gently.

I had just handed him a pair of small fleece pajamas with a picture of a monkey stitched on the front and a bright blue cloth diaper. I stared quietly at the neatly folded stack of clothing sitting in this man’s large hands.

“Oh, right. Of course.” I mumbled.

All three of my children had perfect heads, from the moment they were born – perfectly round, perfectly proportioned.  No coning, no dents, no strange flat spots or odd shapes.   I loved their heads so much! To be honest, it was my thing – smugly delighting in the perfection of my baby’s head.

Now, as a rational person, I realize this is a little strange – my kids simply got lucky with good head DNA after-all, and most oddities will be covered by a full head of hair soon enough anyway – right??  I’ll remind you, however, that mothers are never truly rational when it come to their children.

Graham had a perfect head because I loved him so much – of course! I ensured he had ample tummy-time everyday and was rarely left lying on his back in contraptions or cribs.  We only used the car seat for driving and I wore him in a carrier instead of using a stroller when we were out and about.  I took great pride in his head, as a way of proving my worth as a mother.

I had the wherewithal to keep ‘my kid’s head is better than your kid’s head’ superiority in check, for it wasn’t really about comparing myself to anyone else… His head was my personal proof that I was bonding with him, loving him, up on current recommendations and research, and making choices and sacrifices in his best interest every day.  I knew better than to think I would get it all right… but somehow, I was getting something right – just look at that beautiful head!

Please, someone laugh at me – just a little – I realize how nutty I sound!   And then please, tell me you had ‘your thing’ as a parent too!

When I left Graham’s lifeless body in the care of strangers, picked up my living children and drove home, I knew full well what was to become of his little body… but I didn’t have any fight left in me, and it wouldn’t have mattered if I did, so I didn’t spend much energy thinking of it, until that moment in the funeral home…

He needed a hat. To cover his head. His perfect head… because it wasn’t perfect anymore.

Unacceptable

Photos from Graham month 2

No matter how much I thought he would, how much I wanted him to… I have a son that doesn’t grow up.  Graham stopped changing at 11 months of age.  Which means he doesn’t walk or talk. He never potty trains, or graduates to a big boy bed. I don’t buy him clothes anymore, or send him to the time-out step.  I can’t remember if he ever clapped his hands, I don’t think he ever waved goodbye… He doesn’t throw balls or roll trucks.  He won’t go to highschool or get married…

I sometimes try to imagine Graham at the age he would have been if he was living, but mostly I’ve just thought of him as an 11 month old little boy.  Its simpler that way, and seems more authentic somehow… he WAS 11 months old, and although I would like for him to be older… he just isn’t.  An older Graham is a series of guesses and hopes, extrapolations, and what-ifs… an older Graham is more about me and less of ‘him’   

But the reality is, it’s becoming more difficult to maintain his memory as a baby… for the things that tied Graham to this world are being swallowed up in time.  I look at my home empty of his things, my conversations empty of his presence, the faces of my remaining children layered with time and new experiences and realize I can’t find baby Graham anywhere.  The very nature of a baby is change… so how does one love a baby that doesn’t change?  How do I parent him?  How do I share him?

Babies younger than Graham are actually older than him now.  The little children that once helped me feel close when he was freshly gone, are less like him now and more… well, they’re older.  These children used to be his peers, they carried the hope of friendship…

I’m left with a phantom child who doesn’t really belong anywhere, he doesn’t have friends, or peers… I used to find him everywhere, and now… he’s just no where.   And although it may be the best option I have, pretending at what might have been is  a painfully inappropriate and forced way of loving a real person… An emphasis on the hole left behind rather than the life that filled it, missing what I lost instead of who I lost.

I know I will be Graham’s mother forever, but as time goes on, I can’t imagine a practical way to accomplish this.  He will always be with me of course, as frustrating as that platitude is… for I have a scar hollowed out within me where his very essence finds haven. I love him outside of time, and it doesn’t matter how old he was or isn’t – I simply know him and love him and long for him.    He exists as memory, ache, hope… but he doesn’t LIVE in these versions, he doesn’t grow or change… I might, but he doesn’t.

As soon as I begin to draw in a breath, comforted with this explanation, satisfied with my rendition of understanding… My body literally begins trembling with explosive angst – – NO!!!!  He was real!!!!!  He was here!!!!!!  All this talk of heart and memory and time – HE WAS JUST HERE!!!  Living, breathing – true and real!  The injustice is overwhelming!  A lifetime of accepting the unacceptable is spread out before me, and I can’t breathe under its weight.

 

Graham’s Shirt

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On September 14th there will be a memorial service dedicating Graham’s stone along with others recently placed at the Angel of Hope memorial site.  In addition to the service there will be a memorial walk in honor of lost children and broken families.

Although these events are provided for remembrance rather than fundraising, I’ve been toying  with the idea of designing a t-shirt for Graham’s family and friends to wear on that day.  When his sisters saw me playing with pictures and designs they instantly became excited to have their own Graham shirt, so the plan was set.

I’m not sure how much interest there will be in a Graham shirt, but I’m going to go ahead and make his shirts available for anyone who might want to share his memory in this particular way.  After looking at some printing options, I’m excited to offer his shirts through a fundraising program called Bonfire.

BUY A SHIRT NOW!

All profit from the shirts will go directly to the Ted E. Bear Hollow, an organization that has become very special to our family.  The Hollow offers a variety of resources and support for grieving children, and our family has benefited from their groups and classes.

I will be opening up shirt sales now until the end of August, which will give us time to receive the shirts before the memorial service.  Please take a look, and consider buying a ‘Graham shirt’

Also, we would like to extend a heartfelt invitation to join us for the memorial service and walk on the afternoon of September 14th.  I’m uncertain of the exact time as of yet, but will keep you posted on the details.

Glimpse

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Many of my thoughts of Graham are inspired from pictures or things (clothes he wore, toys he played with). The bits of life strung in between these paralyzed memories are so, so fragile and layers of time and fresh experiences threaten to obliterate them entirely… I sit quietly sometimes, just trying to conjure up a forgotten day or a suppressed moment… a glimpse of my son.

As I was drifting off to sleep last night, I startled awake with one of these longed for  memories.  I could feel the jolt of epinephrine tingle through to my fingers and my heart ached from the accelerated pounding. I opened my eyes and quietly smiled into the empty darkness.

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I was almost always the one who picked up Graham and Eleanor from daycare, and often I would arrive early in the afternoon – just in time to catch Graham in the tail end of his nap. His caregiver would disappear downstairs and reemerge with my pink-cheeked, droopy-eyed boy. He preferred to cuddle awake from his sleeping, so when I reached out for him, he would quietly lean towards me in recognition. His long frame would mold into my hold as he began to finger the back of my arm.

His skin was often damp with sweat and subtly speckled with blue lint. Soft and sticky, I would find this blue fuzz clinging stubbornly to his cheeks and hidden in the fat folds of his neck. Some days it was pasted into the creases of his little hands, thickest on the thumb he sucked on. I only ever noticed it when he was freshly awake from a daycare nap, because as soon as his skin dried off a bit, it would dust away and quickly disappear altogether.

His caregiver referenced his pilly nap time blanket once, laughing casually about his attachment to it, as I absently rubbed my thumb over the bits of blue affixed to his cheek.  I never saw this blanket, but everyday I was reminded it was blue and soft. I knew he must have loved it, and imagined him snuggled into the warm fabric as he slept.

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Laying awake in my quiet room, Evan breathing deeply beside me, I wonder what might have happened to his blanket. It was of course stolen away, bagged and tagged along with his pack-n-play mattress and the blue striped sleeper he was wearing that day.  They were, understandably, items that held significance to law enforcement’s investigation.

In those hazy, empty days following his death I managed to send multiple emails and call multiple phone numbers in an effort to retrieve the pajamas he was wearing.  With an insistent, deadened spirit I firmly demanded again and again for his clothing to be returned to me. I submitted in writing, waited on due process and petitioned apathetic detectives.  Finally, I was able to bring those precious fleece pajamas home. They are a physical memory I can touch and smell.  I bury my face in the softness and a hundred bits of Graham come flashing back.

But the blanket… well, it wasn’t mine to fight for, and it wasn’t mine to salvage… and so now, I suppose, it’s lost forever  – much like the little boy who fell asleep cuddled on top of its pilling blue folds.  I have instead, a series of brain synapses with the power to recreate his soft, wet skin… the heavy weight of his warm body in my arms… a conception of comfort…  I can’t quite see it… feel it, maybe?  Know it…? I’m not sure what a memory is exactly… A fleeting glimpse… almost lost in the rushing waves of time and space.

Almost, but not today somehow. Today, it’s mine.

Family Pass

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“Do you still have three kids?”

“I… uh, what?”

“Do you still have three kids, ma’am?”

“Um… no. I guess I have two now.”

“Ok, I’ll change that in the computer for you. Now please fill this out, and then we’ll be finished.”

I looked down at the blurry piece of paper in front of me. I wasn’t crying just yet, but I literally couldn’t see the words in front of me. My body began shaking and my breathing turned patchy.

“Ok. I… Ok.” I stammered, staring intently at the meaningless piece of paper in front of me.

I really didn’t know what to do.  What could I do?  Maybe I should try running away  – just throwing the ink pen and pushing through the long line behind me to get to the door. I could scream and cry and just run! But the quiet security of my parked car felt so very far away… I was meeting a friend… and most importantly my 3-year-old was depending on me to be her mother today. She was expecting to uncover joy with me today… and I wanted that too – needed it more than the solitude of escape.

So, I bore my gaze into the paper until the words formed in front of me.  I willed my shaky hand to print my name and address into the blanks. I took my receipt from the oblivious cashier and walked into the zoo with a fresh family pass in hand.

I made it a few steps before crumpling to an empty bench amidst the hoards of milling people. Tears rolled down my face as I wheeled the stroller inward towards me and shakily reached out towards my daughter.

“Why you crying?” Nora asked, her little forehead crinkled in concern.

“Oh honey, I miss Graham.”

“Oh, yeah.” she nodded compassionately, “I love Gammie too.” Crawling into my lap she patted my chest a few times before grinning up at me, “I think he likes lions best, so let’s go!”