Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Happy Seventh Birthday, Sweet Hudson

My dearest girl,

I don’t want to write this letter, sweet one. I read back over the letters I’ve written you on each of your birthdays since you died, and I have no idea how I came up with so many lovely words to say to you. Because today, I feel bereft. I feel grumpy and angry and so sad. In the early years after you died (how unbelievable and awful that you have been gone so long that there are now “early years”), my dread of these days—anniversaries and birthdays and other special days—was always worse than the days themselves. But as time as passed, I find more and more that the opposite is true. In the beginning, when there was nothing but your absence, always, all the time, the special days were really no different than the others—like every other day, they were hard and sad. If anything, those days may have even been a little bit easier, because even though they were hard and sad, we would always hear from lots of friends and special people who were remembering you on those days. But as time has gone on, and our lives have continued to grow bigger around your absence, we still feel it every day—every moment—but I think we feel it even more on those days, like your birthday, when you are supposed to be front and center. Earlier today, I was baking with your brother and sister, and all I could think about was how wrong it all was, how your brother and sister should have been at school, how I should have been putting the final touches on cupcakes to bring your first grade class to celebrate your birthday.

Your first grade class. I know I say every year that the age you should have reached seems so big, so grown, but goodness, Hudson. Seven? First grade? I’ve enjoyed looking at so many of your baby pictures over the last few days, and I can’t believe how much time has passed. I guess in some ways, this is similar to what every parent experiences looking at pictures of their children as babies, wondering how they could ever have been so small. And yet, of course, I don’t have you here with me as evidence of how much you have grown. You’re still the small, precious person I last saw lying on that bed in the hospital, finally undisturbed by so many wires and tubes and gadgets, no longer swollen from fluids and medication, looking as though you were simply sleeping peacefully. But even though you are not here for me to mark your height on the wall, I still feel the passage of time so keenly, how fast it all goes. It still feels like you were just here. It seems impossible that we are coming on six years since we last saw you. How can that be?

It boggles my mind to think of the kinds of conversations we’d be having now. Even at four-and-a-half, Jackson is constantly challenging me with his curiosity and incisive questions and thoughts. I can only imagine what it would be like to talk with you now. If your younger siblings are any indication of the kind of person you would be, I imagine talking with you would be utterly delightful.

It’s still too easy to idealize you now that you are gone. It’s too easy to extrapolate from your joyful, intelligent, wise-seeming personality as a toddler a notion of a young girl, not all that far from being a tween, really, who is passionate and compassionate, thoughtful and empathetic, hilarious and happy, and whip-smart. I like to think that your brother and sister carry so many of the best parts of you in them—I see so many of these traits in both of them every day.

As ever, I am heartbroken that the three of you are not here together to share what I imagine would be a sweet sibling relationship, at least for now. Your brother and sister love each other dearly, and they fight with each other with enthusiasm equal to their love. I’m sure it would have been the same with you. I picture you reading books to your voracious learner of a little brother, him peppering you with questions just like he does us, you responding half with actual facts and half with stuff you just made up on the spot, and then you finally telling him to leave you alone. And I picture you treating Ada as your own little baby, at least until she starts annoying you by constantly wanting to be within six inches of your body, which I’m absolutely certain she would. She would adore you, Hudson. I find I picture you here with us now more than I ever have before, which also means I feel your absence now more than ever before. And I can’t stand it.

As always, I do still take great comfort in all the lovely and fitting ways that people remember you on your birthday. This year, people donated books and toys and clothing to kids who need them; they donated money to so many causes that would have pleased you, including animal shelters, refugees in Europe who are trying to keep their babies safe, the children’s hospital that tried so hard to keep you here with us, and of course, our beloved St. Ann’s. When I think of all the Hudson joy and love being sent out into the world on your birthday, I am so grateful and so proud of you.

We did something a little different at home this year. When I asked your brother what he wanted to do to celebrate your birthday, he said he wanted to make a “love cake” because we miss you. So we baked you a love cake, a heart-shaped chocolate cake complete with Carolina blue frosting (Jackson’s idea) and snowflakes (also his idea). But his idea to make a love cake gave me an idea about our One Good Thing this year. As your brother gets older, I’ve been trying to think of ways to involve him more actively in our One Good Thing, to try and help him understand why we are doing what we are doing—to honor you by brightening the lives of other people, especially those who could really use some Hudson love and joy. So I thought we should make “love cookies” and stuff them into baggies with some cash and give them to the folks we see so often on our errands standing on the corners asking for help. And that’s what we did. And I can only hope that we are beginning to instill a real spirit of giving into your brother and sister—Jackson really enjoyed handing the bags of cookies out, and at one point, he and Ada even started fighting over who should get to do it. A fight over who gets to give? That’s one sibling fight I can tolerate. And I’m grateful to you always, sweet girl, for being our inspiration and our light as we walk this path without you.

As the Christmas season gets into full swing, I am missing you more than ever, Hudson. I’ll just keep carrying on conversations with you in my mind, imagining your seven-year-old gangly legs and stringy hair and exuberant smile. I wish so much that I could wrap you in my arms, tuck those long legs over mine, bury my nose into that hair, and whisper into your ear how very much I love you. I am so sorry that we’ll never have that. It’s all so very wrong. I love you, my dearest girl.

Happy Birthday.



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Five Years: A Letter to My Girl

Oh, Hudson.

I just finished re-reading the letter I wrote you on this day last year, and it seems as though I’ve come full circle in the past year. I might have written the same letter today. You are still gone, my girl. So very gone. We are still learning how to go on without you, even though we wish we didn’t have to, even though sometimes it still seems so terribly wrong that we are. I am so sorry.

You have been gone for five years, sweet girl. Five years. That seems as impossible as the very fact of your death did on this day five years ago. That we have survived this long without you seems equally impossible. A friend of mine, whose little girl died five years before you did, wrote me recently and said that the five-year mark was especially hard for her because she somehow thought that by that point, enough time would have passed that she could reflect on her daughter’s death without falling apart, but that proved to be untrue. I understand that so well—I feel as though I have been grieving your absence more in the past several weeks and months than I have since you first left us. It hurts as much as it ever did, just in a different way.

But even more than that, there’s a part of me that thinks, here at five years, that this is enough. Enough time has passed. It’s time for you to come back to us. We have lived long enough without you. Part of me almost gleefully entertains this notion, even though I know it is absurd, even though my rational brain has accepted your death, has “integrated” it, as they say, into my life.

Last year, I wrote about how I had grown almost attached to the hole your absence has left in our lives. I told you that while your dad and I had thought about having another child, a fourth one, we had decided we probably wouldn’t do it. And at least for me, this was in part because I had grown so attached to the hole that I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize it or change it or complicate my profound relationship to it and to you. But then we went and tried to have another child anyway—I was so afraid of something happening to one of your younger siblings and the other one being left alone. But from December 12, when I learned I was pregnant with another little sibling for you, until January 20, when I learned that baby had died, I had a pervasive feeling, one that I could not seem to shake, that something wasn’t right. Perhaps this was just my body’s way of telling me that the pregnancy was not going to succeed, of preparing me emotionally for seeing that sweet little baby’s outline, on that shadowy gray screen, with no little heartbeat flitting away in its middle.

But once I’d muddled my way through that experience, whatever impulse had been pushing me toward having another baby, a third living child, another sibling for you and Jackson and Ada—that compulsion simply evaporated. Whatever urge had been driving me forward was just… gone.

It didn’t take me long then to realize something that, deep within me, I already knew. I was trying to fix something that could not be fixed. I was trying to have a family with three children, when, of course, I already have a family with three children. And with the terrible exception that you are not here with us, our family feels as complete as it can possibly be—which is to say, still wholly incomplete. I already knew that no fourth child, or fifth child, or twenty-fifth child would ever fill the hole that you left behind. But part of me still believed that moving forward with our original plan of three living children, a plan we’d had for so long, would somehow make me feel less broken, less incomplete. But during those five and a half weeks when we were on track to accomplish that plan, I discovered, not really to my surprise, that I couldn’t have been more wrong. I felt as broken and incomplete as ever, because I realized that I can’t ever feel less broken or less incomplete. Nothing will ever make me feel less incomplete without you, Hudson. Just as the grief will never lessen enough to allow me to look it straight in the eye without faltering. Just as no amount of time will ever bring you back to us.

So we are as complete as we are going to be, our family of five. It will never be enough, and yet it must be.

And now that we are completely incomplete (or incompletely complete), I find you are as missing as ever. Over the past year or so, I had found myself less and less picturing you in all the places where you should be. I had mostly stopped imagining you filling your role as the big sister, the oldest child, the one in the know. I had gotten to where I did this only on special occasions or vacations, when a family is always supposed to be together. But now that our family is what it will forever be, I find that I picture you everywhere—in the back of the car fighting with your little brother and sister, in our blanket tent on top of Daddy’s and my bed where Jackson and Ada and I have a pretend sleepover every afternoon after nap time, at the table at restaurants, where I picture you with your knees tucked under you and your nose in a book, just as I would have been at your age. I picture you in all the places you will never be. I am trying so hard to make it all complete, even though I know it will never, ever be.

Coming to terms with all of this over the past several weeks has been hard, Hudson. As hard as ever. I’ve been irritable and sad and, sometimes, even mean. So I was grateful that today was actually a lovely day—the weather was beautiful, and people all over the world were sending out little bubbles of Hudson joy to remember you by. And your garden, sweet girl—well, it’s finally starting to look like a garden. For the past two years, I have hemmed and hawed about what I should plant there, what would grow well there, how to arrange the plants for maximum beauty throughout the growing season. And finally, I realized that I was letting the perfect be the enemy of the good—I spent so much time and energy trying to make a perfect plan that I became paralyzed and so had done hardly anything at all. I’d forgotten that the whole point of your garden is to have a place where I can spend time with you, a place that will bring others joy, a place that will remind me of the joy you brought us every day and the joy that you still bring us every day. So this spring, I quit planning and just started planting. And I loved every minute of it. And I am so looking forward to spending more time with you there for many years to come. I only wish you were here to enjoy it with me. It is all so completely incomplete.

It is not perfect, and it never will be, but it is good.

I love you, my dear, sweet girl. I miss you more than ever, and I’d do anything to have you here with me.

All my love,


Monday, January 26, 2015

A New Stage of My Journey

Friends (and especially my long-time readers who have followed this journey from its early days):

Today is Ada’s 530th day. If you have read here for a long time, you’ll know that this means that she has now grown older than Hudson ever got to be. And as much as I want Ada to grow and live, it is a bittersweet reminder that no matter what, life hurries onward even when we sometimes wish it wouldn’t hurry so damn fast.

This landmark in Ada’s life, this plunging forward yet again, seemed like a fitting time to share with you that I’ve embarked on a new stage of my writing journey, of my life journey, really. Inspired in part by my experience last year in the cast of Listen To Your Mother, and some other encouraging developments last summer, I made the decision to leave my job as law professor at the end of 2014 and pursue writing full-time. I am eagerly working on seeking an agent and a publisher for a memoir adapted from these many years of writing about the early stages of my grief, and I have created a new author website and a Facebook “writer” page, both of which I invite you to check out. I am still trying to discover what kind of identity I have as a writer other than a writer of grief—although writing about grief will always be central to who I am as a writer, I have more to say than just about grief, I think, and I want to explore it.

I only very briefly considered letting my One Good Thing blog go dormant. Even though it is much neglected, it, and all of you along with it, has been far too important in this journey back to life for me to let it go. So I think I will still keep writing here about those things that are really unique to my grief and to our family. I’ll still write my letters to the kids here. And occasionally, I’ll probably cross-post between here and my author website.

But I am so grateful to each of you who has read here, whether it was once or many times. You have no idea how incredibly important your support has been, how large a role it played in getting me through the darkest time of my life.

So I hope you will follow me over on MandyHitchcock.com, on Facebook, and even on Twitter. I will still be writing about motherhood and loss, but also about how those two things spur my quest to live an authentic life.

Thank you again for being a lifeline during a time when I truly needed one. I will never forget it.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Happy Sixth Birthday, Sweet Hudson

Dearest Hudson,

Oh, my sweet girl. Here we are again. I don’t know how, but here we are again. Today you would have turned six. Five birthdays have gone by without you, and yet we are all still here, missing you, loving you, celebrating you, remembering you. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Daddy and I finally watched the Frozen movie. Ever since it first came out last year, I’d resisted seeing it, even though everyone kept telling me how wonderful it was. I was unable to think of anything except how sure I was that you would love it, as did seemingly every other five-year-old girl I knew. I couldn’t stand it. But your Poppy wants to take your little brother to see the Disney Frozen on Ice in a few weeks, so we thought we might let Jackson watch the movie beforehand so he would know a little about the story. Jackson is pretty sensitive about scary things in movies, so Daddy and I wanted to watch it first. Unsurprisingly, I loved it. But when it was over, all I could think about was how much you probably would have loved it. I imagined you traipsing around the house, singing all the songs by heart. It was too much, sweet girl. I cried in Daddy’s arms for a long time, missing you so much. And today was even harder because the truth is that I don’t know what you would have liked now. I know most six-year-old girls do love that movie, but I don’t know if you would have. And I don’t know what else you would have liked either. When Daddy, Jackson, Ada, and I went shopping today for gifts to take to the children of families at the Ronald McDonald house, I again found myself stumped, trying to imagine what a girl your age would like these days, especially one laid up in the hospital. But all I could do was guess. I wish I knew. I wish you had been there to help me pick those things out. I wish I knew so many things about the person you would have become.

But your birthday dawned unbelievably sunny and beautiful. It was unseasonably warm for December 1. It reminded me of your second birthday, the first one we endured after you died. It rained that day. It was cold and wet when your daddy and I went to the Arboretum to remember you and spread some of your ashes beneath the dogwood trees where we had played with you only months before. The rain on your birthday seemed so wrong to me, so very contrary to everything that you had been in life, to everything that you still are in death. I was grateful for the amazing weather today. It fits you, love. It fits you so well.

Your brother has developed a habit of climbing into Daddy’s and my bed each morning after he wakes up. We love it. We love sharing a few moments just with him before the day begins in earnest and we are all out the door not to see each other again until evening. This morning, he opened the door and said, “Hey, Mom!” I looked at the clock as I usually do, hoping it’s not too early, and it said 7:19. 7:19, sweet girl. The very minute that you burst into our lives six years ago, changing us forever. I can’t help but hope, wish, dream that somehow you nudged him awake at just the right time today. As we laid there in bed snuggling, I thought about how I would have done the same for you on so many birthdays in the future—snuck into your room right at 7:19 and climbed into bed to snuggle with you and tell you again how incredibly grateful I was to you for giving me the gift of being a mother, of being your mother. I thought about how much I miss you during this morning snuggle time, about how much of our big bed should be filled with the long, gangly limbs and long, straight, wispy hair of a beautiful, lovely, amazing six-year-old.

And your baby sister Ada has been unusually generous with her hugs today. While she is often close by, hugging my legs, asking to be picked up, placing her head on my shoulder in just that way that you were so often reluctant to do—that way that you did during those last days I had with you when you were feeling so bad before you were hospitalized, that way I held you so close after they disconnected you from all those wretched machines—she was especially loving today. She spent much of your birthday in my arms, and a not-insignificant portion of it with her head on my shoulder in that special way that reminds me so much of those last days with you. I can’t help but hope that was your doing, too. She is still too little to know much about you, but she recognizes your picture, and I think she tries to say your name. During one of the many moments today when I was crying for you, I was holding her in my arms and she got the most concerned look on her face. She reached up and touched my eyes with her little pointer finger, confused, not understanding what she was seeing, but loving me so much just the same. She is so like you in so many ways and so different from you in so many others.

This afternoon, we spent some time showing Jackson and Ada the pictures and videos from your first birthday party. They both got such a kick out of watching you eat the chocolate frosting on your cake and then smear it all over your face. Jackson in particular laughed and laughed and kept asking me to play it over and over. He looked at the pictures of you with your Grandma and Grandpa and Poppy on your birthday and was convinced that he was looking at pictures of your baby sister. I kept trying to tell him that it was you, but to him, his big sister and little sister look so alike. And indeed you do—Ada doesn’t resemble you in the same way Jackson does, but sometimes I look at her and am so flooded with memories of you that my breath catches in my throat.

Jackson’s three-year-old brain is still trying so hard to understand what it means when we say that you are gone but you are still here. He felt so sad that he missed your birthday party, and he’s still trying to understand why you don’t get to eat your cupcakes. He rubbed his chest and said, “Hudson is coming out of my heart,” because we tell him that you are always there, but he wants you to be here with him, not in him. I understand that feeling so well. He told Poppy that you died, but that he would eat your cupcakes for you.

We spent the rest of this day the way we always do, loving each other and trying to spread a little bit of your joy to some corners of the world that need it. I am so looking forward to the day when your siblings can help us think of special ways to celebrate your birthday, but for now, we are just trying to ease the burdens of others in small ways. And so many, many, many others all around the world were doing the same today, sweet girl. I imagine you touching each of those people, those children, those animals with your precious little fingers, flashing that bright smile of yours, and bringing them the same joy that you brought us with each moment of your 529 days. You are bringing so much joy not only to those being helped, but also to all those doing the helping, and that is an amazing gift, sweet girl, one for which we all, the helpers and the helped, are so very, very grateful. I am so proud of you, Hudson. I am so proud to be your mother. I am so proud.

This evening, I was wrapping up the matching Christmas jammies that I got for your brother and sister so that they could open them and wear them on this first night of December. (I wonder often if you would be mad at me for getting into the Christmas spirit too early, too close to your birthday, but I’m hoping that at least for now, you would love Christmas so much that you wouldn’t care.) I was wrapping those jammies, a 4T for Jackson and an 18 months for Ada, and I was wishing so much that I had a pair for you. A size 6 just for you. And a beautiful six-year-old you to fit into them.

There are so many holes where you should be, sweet girl. So many. Some days, some moments, I don't know how to go on without you. All I know to do is try to make those holes as beautiful as possible. I love you so much, and I can’t possibly say how much I wish you were here. Happy birthday, my dearest little girl.



Monday, November 24, 2014

Do One Good Thing For Hudson’s Sixth Birthday

Somehow, impossibly, it is almost time for Hudson’s birthday again. Next Monday, December 1, will mark her sixth birthday. The fifth one that we have endured without her. So many years have now cycled past that for the first time, her birthday falls on the very day she was actually born, the Monday after Thanksgiving.

And like last year, as the days and weeks have passed, as we have crept closer and closer to her birthday (and Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the other lovely goodness that comes at this time of year), her absence is as palpable as ever. And like last year, this makes me feel closer to her than usual. That grief can be such a foe and such a friend all at one time is one of its many confounding mysteries.

For reasons that I am still trying to understand, this sixth birthday feels different to me. I have spent much of this past year thinking hard about all the ways in which my life has been made so very easy. I was born white. I was born into an upper-middle class family. I was the youngest in my family, so I got the full benefit of my parents’ upward mobility. I was sent to private school. I wanted for nothing as a child, not clothes, not food, not the latest fad. I am college-educated. I have an advanced degree. I am married to a man who not only loves his work but is also well-employed enough that he can support our family while I pursue a career writing full-time. Although I will certainly experience the fear that every mother does when her children leave her presence, worried that she might not see them again, I will never have to fear that my child may be killed as a result of structural racism that is so ingrained in this countrys psyche that it is difficult to see how it will ever be destroyed. These things are only the tip of the iceberg of all of the ways in which my life has been made easy for me as a white, upper-middle class woman. Although we’ve certainly worked hard to get where we are, I know many, many others who have worked far harder than we have and have never even managed to get half as far. And that’s due to the sheer fortune of our birth. My life has been easy in so many ways.

And it has also been hard in one of the hardest ways. Losing my daughter ended my life as I knew it then. A new life began the day she died, and while much of it is very familiar, it is so fundamentally different that it is still sometimes unrecognizable to me. Just this morning, as I was driving my regular route to work, making a left on Weaver Street, I caught a glimpse of a woman walking down the sidewalk past me. I never made eye contact with her, but when I saw her, I felt as if I’d been struck in the face. She looked so normal, so ordinary, so very much like she belonged to this world, like she belonged on that sidewalk. And I suddenly felt so very much the opposite. Did my child really die? Do I really have a dead child? Did that really happen? What planet am I on? 

But even living with the death of my child was made easier for me. We had such excellent health insurance that we paid only a tiny fraction of the enormous charges incurred for Hudson’s stay in the intensive care unit. Our friends gave us money to help cover all our expenses after she died and then some. Friends gave us money just to enjoy pizza and a movie. My colleagues at the Federal Public Defender donated sick days to me so that I could have paid leave while I decided whether or not I could return to work. When I finally decided that I couldn’t go back to work, we were financially able to handle the drop in our income. We had the resources to get grief counseling.

My life has been so easy. And so hard.

But I find more and more that the only thing that brings me any comfort whatsoever anymore is looking for ways to make others’ lives easier, the way others tried to make mine easier when it was at its hardest.

My friend Sarah is a social worker in Raleigh. She put out a call last week for people interested in adopting families for Christmas. I wanted to do it, but I also wasn’t sure how much we should commit right now—we have had a lot of unexpected large expenses coming at us, right before the holidays, and right before I’m about to quit my job. Sarah told me that they usually ask people to get an outfit, a warm coat, and a few fun items for each child, a coat and shoes for the parents, and toilet paper, paper towels, and non-perishable food items for the house.

Toilet paper. I have never in my life had to struggle to buy toilet paper. I have never been without a warm coat when I needed one. Or shoes. I am about to quit my reliable, good-paying, flexible job on purpose to pursue work that may never generate one penny of income, and I am worried about whether we can afford to help this family buy toilet paper.

So we’re going to buy them some toilet paper. And paper towels. And food. And clothes and toys for their kids. And a coat and shoes for the single mom who somehow holds this family together.

And we’re going to do these things while we remember Hudson on her birthday. I haven’t done a very good job explaining how these things are somehow inexplicably entwined for me, but they are. To honor Hudson by trying to care for others like I have been cared for all of my life, like I was cared for when she died, seems to me the only way it makes any sense to honor her. Honoring this hard life without her by trying to make others’ lives easier seems to be the only thing that makes any sense to do.

As we do every year, we invite you to do One Good Thing sometime this next week to remember Hudson’s life. Any good thing, no matter how big or small. It won’t fill the hole that was left behind when she died, but it will make the hole more beautiful. And if you are so inclined, please invite others to join us, too. 

We can’t stop it from coming. We can’t bring Hudson back. But in the spirit of the lesson she taught us, we can continue to help her light shine in the world by finding the One Good Thing, and this week, that means doing One Good Thing. Thank you all so much.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Happy First Birthday, Ada!

Ada at one year! 

My dearest Ada (Ada-bean, Ada-beta, Ada-boo, Bean-bob, Beanie-B, Beebee)

Well, I am late with your first birthday letter. This is in part because I started back to work right after your birthday, but it’s mainly because this letter has been hard to write.

Why, you ask? Well, I’m not totally sure myself, but I think it’s mostly because you are an amazing and enigmatic creature, the likes of which I had not had the pleasure of knowing as a mother until you came along, and trying to put into words what it has been like to be your mother is one of the hardest writing tasks I’ve ever had.

You are such a mystery, dear one, so much so that it’s almost impossible even to explain why. And this both challenges me and charms me—as difficult as it has been for me to so frequently be at a loss to figure out why you are crying (and you cry a lot, my love) and how to help you, it has also been absolutely enchanting to witness the way that your little spirit, your face, your look, your voice, somehow commands a room (and I don’t mean because you are loud, although you are!). There are few things that delight me more than when your face breaks from its normal, serious, peering-down-the-nose-over-the-glasses observation of the world into a grin the likes of which I’m not sure how we ever lived without before we saw it.

I remember once when we were out and about somewhere, a kind woman heard and saw you in passing, and she remarked to me, “That one is determined.” And I said, “You have no idea how right you are.” “Determined” is certainly one appropriate word to describe you—you have been set in your ways since the day you were born. It took your brother and sister a good while to get to the point where they had clear opinions about things, but you have been spirited and opinionated, and yes, determined to get what you want since first we met, it seems.

But here’s the thing, dear one. It’s not your job to be the person anyone else wants you to be, hopes you will be, expects you to be, or thinks you are. It’s your job to be the person that you are and to be the best possible you.

Before you were born, after your dad and I decided to call you “the dolphin,” I bought a beautiful piece of wall art for your room. Hopefully you will still have it by the time you read this letter. It’s a hand-drawn dolphin made up of hundreds of beautifully colored flowers, and underneath the dolphin is the message “Be Wild and Free.”

And there it is. Before you were even born, I was encouraging you, maybe even challenging you, to be your own person, to be wild, to be free. And clearly you have risen to that challenge. And I couldn’t be prouder, Ada. I don’t really know what is in store for us in the future. If you are as hard-headed as a kid and a teenager as you have been as a baby (and sweet girl, even though your infancy has been hard for me, I really do mean that as a compliment), then I imagine we’ll have our share of rough days. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: I was really hard-headed, too. And my mom and I had our share of rough days, too. We survived. I hope you and I will do more than survive, but I know we’ll at least survive.

You just be you, you hear? Don’t ever let anyone tell you to stop speaking your mind or to be anyone other than you. Ever. And no matter what, I will love and accept you for exactly who you are.

You started half-day preschool with your brother two weeks ago, just a little after your actual birthday. I started back to work full-time the same day, and a new babysitter picked you up for the afternoons. And much to my (very pleasant) surprise, you were amazing through it all. Even two weeks later, you have not cried, not even once, at drop-off or any other time, except once when they wouldn’t give you more bananas at breakfast. Because hello? Ada. And food. Do not get between them.

You don’t cry at all (and don’t get the wrong impression, sweet girl—crying is just fine, and it’s sometimes just what we all need to work out whatever we are trying to work out). Until I get home. When I come to the door at 5:30, as soon as you see me, you SQUAWK with excitement, but if I don’t immediately take you into my arms, you burst into tears. And once I do take you into my arms, if I try to put you down again, you burst into tears, even when you’ve been fussing and struggling to get down. And I don’t mean just your average little fake one-year-old fuss. I mean a throw-yourself-onto-the-floor-and-bury-your-face-in-your-arms kind of cry. And then, when I pick you back up, you keep right on crying and often nothing will soothe you.

I admit, dear one, that I have found this a tad bit vexing, even as I understand the deep impulse and longing for your mother from which it stems. (That is why you’re crying, right?) 

The other day when this happened, when you struggled to get out of my arms but then threw an absolute fit when I actually put you down, here’s what I did. I sat down on the floor next to you and told you that I was right there if you needed me. You kept throwing your fit, and I kept saying, “I’m here, sweetie.”

Because here’s the other thing, baby girl. One of the two most important things, along with “no matter what, I will love and accept you for who you are.”

Here’s the other thing:

I will always be here for you. No matter what. Always. Nothing you ever do will ever change that. I may not always be here for you in the ways that you want me to or the ways that you think I should—sometimes picking you back up is the wrong thing, even though it may be what you think you want. But I will always, always be here for you.

Read one way, these lines from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” could have been written for you, Ada:

I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

I hear you, darling. I see you, my girl. I am listening. I am working on translating. You keep right on yawping. The world awaits.

I love you endlessly.



Monday, August 25, 2014

First Day

I pulled out of my driveway this morning at the same time a school bus turned down the side street next to our house. All along the sidewalks of our small town, parents walked alongside their children, whose little shoulders hunched forward under the weight of their backpacks filled with new school supplies dutifully purchased off a long list published on the schools’ websites. A few intrepid parents rode bicycles along with their kids, who could often barely keep their front wheels straight, still so unpracticed they are at the art of bicycle-riding. A handful of older kids walked or rode alone, proud to be big enough to go solo.

I can almost see her. An outfit she picked out herself. Pigtails. Or maybe she changed her mind at the last minute and decided on braids. Her own heavy backpack, maybe with her favorite character on it, filled with a change of clothes, pencils, glue sticks, tissues—simple supplies for kindergarten. A lunchbox (although who knows what I would have packed in it). A gangly and knobby-kneed girl, with not the slightest hint of the chubby cheeks that graced her sweet face when last I saw her. Those bright and wise eyes shining right out of her face. A photo of her grinning and holding a hand-drawn sign saying, “First Day of Kindergarten!” with her name and the date. Another of her with arms around the buddies she’d surely have made here in the place her parents call home, all ready to file into school together. Another of her sitting down at her new desk, still grinning like crazy, because She. Is. Ready. She has been waiting for this all summer long.

She’s right there, almost like a floater in my field of vision—I can see her until I try to actually look at her, and then she floats away.

These milestones, like so many others in life, seem so far away for so long, and then, suddenly, they are upon us. And yet they are so unlike other milestones. So many friends are bidding a bittersweet farewell to a chapter in their children’s lives that we never got to finish. And these markers of a life unfinished, of hopes unrealized, of destinies unfulfilled, yawn endlessly in front of me—so many more to anticipate, so many more to endure, so many more to reflect upon, to wonder about, to imagine, and then to chase right out of sight because I looked too hard.

I’ll never stop wishing that one of these days, one of these moments when I try to really see her, she’ll actually be there.