We live in an age of parenting where want to fix things. We want our children to be happy. Yet when our kids lose a loved one, we cannot fix things for them. We cannot make them better. We can, however, show them how to grieve through our example.
Every time we travel with our six kids, I have this moment of panic where I ask myself:
What have we done?! What WERE we thinking? Why did we come to the beach/the zoo/Grandma’s house/Disney? We’re never traveling again.
“Oh, they don’t talk to me. I’m not one of the cool girls.” My heart sank when my nine year old made this comment about some of her classmates.
We sat watching tv and sipping wine as I searched for flights for a spring trip.
Could we go to Dublin? We always talked about taking the big girls when they reached the golden ages of 5-9…. Would the flights be outrageous? What about the babies? Could I leave the babies?
I wondered: had I asked too much of her and her sisters? Did I expect her to be bigger than she was? Did I miss things because I was busy with the babies? Did I miss her being a baby?
I stared at the little bug on my phone screen. It couldn’t be, could it? But it was. . . . There was no denying it: I had lice. Or, at minimum, I had a louse. [Insert every-single-curse-word here.]
“Water broke. Need you here,” wrote my sister’s husband, Joe. I stared at my phone, trying to comprehend how so much grief and sadness could be packaged into such small, simple words. How could so few words say so much? How could they completely eviscerate all hope?
“But then I don’t get her feet or legs!” shouted my four-year-old to my eight-year-old. I had been reduced to body parts by my children. Pieces of myself for my kids to fight over.
Do you know what happens when we wear that oversized sweater poncho here in the South in October? We become one-person sweat lodges, like the ones that people died in from overheating. That lovely plaid wool jacket? There may be one day this year I could actually wear it, and that day probably won’t come until January.
It may have taken almost two years, but I can now say it is no longer surreal. What’s more surprising is that there was ever a time when they were NOT part of our family, like all my older girls too. Now, I think to myself: of course you’re here. You were meant to be here all along, just like your big sisters.
Every time I open the freezer drawer, I see a bag of frozen breastmilk staring at me. It has been waiting patiently for me to acknowledge it for months now. But I don’t. I usually just push it deeper into the drawer as I dig around for popsicles or pizza for the kids. Day after day, I see it there, and yet I cannot do the simple thing I know I need to do: throw it away.
Entering our seventh week of summer, I’ve hit the wall. The summer wall. You know how when you are running a marathon, and around mile 21 or so you hit a wall of fatigue (or so I'm told) and you feel like you cannot run one more step?
As a parent, it's really easy to get caught up in thinking "it will get easier when . . ." I know this because I do it a lot. I think "oh, it'll be so much easier when they're not in diapers." Or, "it'll be so much quicker when they can walk to the car themselves."
DO some pre-trip strength training and conditioning. Disney is a strenuous trip. You should prepare for it by strapping all your children and luggage to you and running around your yard. Or, if your gym has a sauna, strap weights to your chest and pace back and forth while you shout, “no this way! We’re going to the Magic Carpets! Stay with us!”
Here's my (not remotely) modest proposal for my dream parents-only year-end party.
With time and distance, I felt myself appreciating the full spectrum of emotions that came with my experience of having a high risk pregnancy and preemie babies. Thinking about how easily we could’ve had a different outcome. Thinking about how grateful we were to have our three girls. Thinking about my sister. Thinking about Elise.