Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lovely Day

If you are keeping track, you know that Jackson turned four months old on Saturday. We were in North Carolina again, so we didn’t get a chance to take a penguin picture, and the weather here has been crappy since, so the light has been no good for it, either.  Soon, soon. 

But I realized today that I never posted his 3-month photo shoot, which we did at Hudson’s bench at the Arboretum. So many thanks and much praise to Emily Large again for her wonderful photos.  The large tree we are standing against is where we spread some of Hudson’s ashes on her birthday.

One of these days, I will have to meet Elizabeth Mitchell and thank her for how much her music has touched me in the wake of Hudson’s death and the joy of Jackson’s birth. I think she is going to be nearby in November. I was listening to Pandora as usual the other day and heard her version of “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers and was just bowled over. And even though I can’t say “the world’s all right with me,” my precious Jackson does make every day a lovely one. Here are his photos from one such lovely day.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Growing Up

I finally had to do some rearranging in another of Hudson’s drawers in the dresser/changing table to make room for some of the warmer hand-me-downs we’ve received for Jackson. We’re straddling seasons right now, so I need enough room for both onesies and flannel shirts. This second drawer that I was rifling through contained a bunch of Hudson’s clothes, mostly jammies and then a bunch of things she hadn’t really worn in a while but that I hadn’t packed away before she died (some sweaters and tights that didn’t really fit her, etc.). As I was making room, I pulled out one of the sets of footed fleece jammies, the kind she wore every night. This particular pair was pink and covered with monkeys. It was an 18-months size. I stretched it out between my hands and marveled at how long it was. Was my girl really that tall when she died? She was growing, and growing up, so fast. Right in front of my eyes. And then she was just plucked right out of my world. One day, here. The next day, gone.

It is getting harder and harder for me to stand my regular forays onto Facebook. This seems counterintuitive to me. I had thought this would be hardest early on, right after Hudson died. And I will admit that since she died, I have blocked several of my friends from my news feed, those whose babies just felt too close to home. (I’m sorry to those of my friends in this category. I hate that it means that I have not been there for you over these past 16 months in the ways that you have been there for me. I wish it were different. I wish I were stronger). But lately, it has become harder and harder to bear watching Hudson’s contemporaries growing, and growing up, right in front of my eyes. They are all getting ready to turn three. Three seems so very old, vastly older than two. No longer a baby but a small child. Every day, there is a new post about the funny thing this child said or the funny thing that child did or this one’s new toy or that one’s visit to a Hudson place. I’ve said before that one of the hardest things to accept is having no idea what Hudson would be like now. And I am so angry that I don’t get to watch her grow up, that I don’t get to post about the funny thing she did today. And I am so envious, horribly envious, of all my friends who still get to delight in their children’s new feats every day. Their photos and funny posts are a constant reminder of all that we have lost, all that we continue to lose each day that those kids grow another day older. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand it much longer.(And to my friends, please, please don’t ever censor yourselves on Facebook or otherwise because of me. This is just a fact of my life. I don’t want it to be a fact of yours. I’ve had to adjust to countless things in this world without Hudson—this is just another one.)

Having my parenting journey with Hudson end so abruptly has also upended my place in the parenting community that I enjoyed so much. A friend recently mentioned that I should write a book about parenting. My first reaction was that I don’t know anything about parenting beyond 17 months and 12 days of a child’s life. Babies who were born long after Hudson are now older than she was when she died. The moms to whom I should be giving advice about potty training and tantrums and preschool will instead be giving this advice to me. It’s not that I care about being the one in the know. It’s just that it totally redefines who I was in relation to those people, and every time I hear about something new those babies are doing, I am reminded that I am no longer the same mom that I was before Hudson died. I no longer have any advice to give because I have no experience with those things. And I should. I should.

I’m not doing a very good job of not worrying about what should and shouldn’t be today. She should be here, growing up. I should be biting my tongue over the outfit she picked out for herself this morning and laughing at her mispronunciation of a word.  We should be fawning over Jackson together.

Should, should, should.  But never, never, never.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fall Again

I have to get this down before the feeling leaves me, because I know I’m going to want to recall it later. Fall has arrived. Overnight, the air turned chilly. The change in the light snuck up on me.

Fall is here, and against all odds, I am glad. It has always been a very special season for me, and the one fall that we got to have with Hudson was just magical (September 2009, October 2009, November 2009). Fall has always made me nostalgic, but last year, I was heartbroken as I faced the changing leaves, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and preparations for Christmas without my little girl, who would have loved all those things so much.

This year, the wistfulness has not disappeared, but it has changed. The melancholy is not gone, but it is accompanied now by sweet anticipation of the joy this season will bring again with Jackson. I greeted this morning’s chill with gratitude, because it meant I could dress Jackson in long sleeves and pants and face him forward in the stroller without worrying about him getting sunburned. And we took a long, long walk in the brisk air, one he never would have tolerated in the car seat facing me. His big sister’s socks were keeping his feet warm.

And then it hit me. Hopefully, we’ll be lucky, and we’ll have many, many falls ahead of us where we pack up our summer clothes and break out our warm clothes, where we’ll jump around in the leaves together, where we’ll plan our Halloween costumes together, and make homemade applesauce and pies for Thanksgiving, and bake cookies for Christmas. There is so much joy still ahead.

We can never have Hudson back, but she will always be with us. We will always miss her, especially in the fall, but she will always be with us. We’ll make turtle jack-o-lanterns and turtle cookies, and we’ll look at pictures of her in the pumpkin patch and dressed like a monkey and stuffing her face with Thanksgiving turkey. We’ll remember her and we’ll smile.  We’ll probably cry some, too.  At least I will.  But we will smile. 

I was so relieved to realize that fall had arrived and instead of despair, I felt gladness in my heart. Sadness, too. Always sadness. But with every breath I take of this cool air, I’m so grateful for the gladness.  For today, at least, it is enough.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Family Tree

Dearest little Hudson,

I am just missing you so much, my sweet girl. Today, I was playing with your brother in his room. He was doing his tummy time in his crib, smiling at himself in a mirror. So many times when I catch a glimpse of him, it is like I am looking at your face when you were this same age two and a half years ago.

As I sat there by his crib today, I looked at all the books on your bookshelf. You had so many favorites, ones that I know Jackson will love, too. But today I was looking at the many, many books that we never got to read together. You never got to experience the rumpus of “Where the Wild Things Are” or the adventures of “Madeleine” or the sweet lesson of “The Giving Tree.” You loved your books so much—I know you would have grown up loving reading just as much as I did as a little girl. I am so sad that we won’t get to share that together.

Every day, Jackson and I listen to music while we play. I play a station called “Toddler Radio” on Pandora because it has lots of silly songs that are fun to sing and dance to, and your brother giggles while I make exaggerated faces at him and do all kinds of crazy dance moves for him. But it also makes me miss you so much, sweetheart. You had lots of favorite songs, didn’t you? And fortunately for me, they were ones that I loved, too. “Seasons of Love” and “Wagon Wheel” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” We did lots of dancing and bopping our heads and swinging around. But listening to the Toddler Radio makes me long to have you here with us, now that you’d be able to sing along to so many of the songs: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Day-O” and “Under the Sea” and “Hakuna Matata.” And of course, you and I could sing “You Are My Sunshine” together to your sweet brother, instead of me holding him tight and kissing him and crying and missing you whenever I hear it.

But there’s one song that I hear that makes me sadder than others. I had never heard it before I started listening to Pandora for kids. It’s called “Family Tree” by a lady named Frances England. It tells the story of a little girl who is singing about her little brother who is on the way.  It goes like this:

Last night while everyone was asleep
I looked out my window, up through the trees
The sky was so big and covered in stars
I knew a baby brother or sister soon would be ours

Hey ho, our family of three
Is growing beyond my mommy, daddy, and me
Hey ho, just how will it be
When we add another branch to our family tree

I’ll be the protector, so strong and wise
I’ll be the cheerleader always by his side
This cute little baby will soon enough see
No one could love him any more or better than me

I’ll teach him all the things I’ve learned along the way
I’ll help him blow out the candles on his first birthday
We’ll grow up together, side by side
Take care of one another - full of love, full of pride

I cry a little every time it gets to the line about helping him blow out his birthday candles. I can only imagine what a wonderful big sister you would have been, my girl. You were such a loving and sweet little girl during the short time that we got to be with you. I know that you would have grown even more so as you got older. I have no doubt that you would have been your brother’s cheerleader, protector, teacher, and helper (and occasional torturer). I am so heartbroken for you and for Jackson that you guys don’t get to grow up together and experience all the awesome things about having siblings. I have brothers and sisters who I love very much, but they’re lots older than I am, so I didn’t get to have them as close playmates growing up. I was so excited for you to have that chance and be the big sister to one or more littles, which makes it even crueler that you were taken from us, that you never got that chance, and that Jackson and any others who come after him will never fully know how amazing their big sister was. It is all just so, so wrong, precious girl.

You will always, always be part of our family tree, but it is so wrong that we don’t get to have you here with us, that you are missing out on so much fun. There is never a moment when I am not wishing you were here. You are never more than a thought, a smile, or a tear away. But that is still just so very far, too, too far.

I miss you, my girl. Crying for you tonight.



Thursday, September 8, 2011

Better? No, But Better

It’s been a very difficult week. No particular reason why, but as I know so well, there doesn’t need to be one.

I went to a new support group on Tuesday night, one that Children’s Hospital has begun for parents whose children died there. There were only two other families there, and one was a young couple whose 13-month-old son died suddenly in June from an undiagnosed bronchial pneumonia. As I sat and listened to this mother tell her story and share how she was feeling, I remembered feeling exactly the same way this time a year ago, almost four months out from Hudson’s death. In fact, much of what she is feeling I still feel on a regular basis. 

When it was my turn to introduce myself, I shared what happened to Hudson and then turned to this couple in tears, saying, “I want to be able to tell you that a year from now, you will be better. But you won’t. It is still very, very hard.” I felt awful saying it, but at that moment, after the week I’ve had and after hearing the raw emotions in this mother’s voice that still echo so very much of what I deal with every day, in that moment, that was my truth.

I know that the people who love me want to see me get better. It is so hard to see the people you love in this kind of pain. I know that a lot of people, whether they know me or not, expect me to be better now that Jackson is here. I truly understand these impulses, because I feel them myself. Not a day goes by that I don’t still feel like posting something heartbreaking here—something that set me off that day, how much I’m still hurting, how desperately I long for my child during nearly every waking moment. But I refrain. Because I want so much not to be in that place anymore. I am so very weary of this grief, so bored with it. I want to just tell it, “Enough, already! Leave me alone!” But it doesn’t. It won’t.

As the support group went on, and we had the opportunity to talk more, I told this young mom that I had to revise my statement from before. See, there are two types of “better.” There’s “better” as in “I was sick and now I am better.” This is an absolute “better,” an antonym of “bad” or “ill” or “unwell.” This is the kind of “better” that I will never be. I will never, ever get over Hudson’s death. It will never, ever be behind me. I will never recover from it. The fact of her death and the grief and the longing and the sadness will always be with me.

Then there’s “better” as in “Yesterday, I couldn’t even get out of bed, but today I am better than yesterday and was able to move around a little.” This is a relative “better,” an antonym of “worse.” This is the kind of “better” that I am now, almost sixteen months since Hudson’s death (again, I can barely comprehend that we are approaching the date when she’ll have been gone longer than she was here—impossible). I can read my posts from last August, when I was at the same point as this mother is now and I can see that I am better than I was then. I can read those posts and I can still touch those especially raw places inside, but I can also feel the scar tissue that is forming on their edges. Time will never heal this wound. But time will keep softening the edges, scabbing over the rawest places. And of course, my precious little boy is giving time a great deal of help in this process, too.  But the rawness is always there, just waiting for the right trigger to open up and bleed. Living on the edge of that every day, sometimes trying in vain to bite your lip and power through those moments, is exhausting. 

One of the best things that my dear Jess said to me in the wake of Hudson’s death was that she would always be here for me, that I could always talk with her about the darkest moments and days, that she understood that I would never get over this and that she would never expect me to. If you know someone who has lost a child, please understand that this is the very best gift that you can give them. Let them know that you understand that they will never come back from this, that you will be there for them to grieve with them on the darkest days, and that while you will celebrate with them on the lighter days, you understand that every celebration comes with its own sadness, because their children are not there to share it with them. There is truly nothing better you can offer.

I am not better. But I am better than I was. Which is all I can ask for.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


This one just kills me.

Hudson at 3 months, 1 day           Jackson at 2 months, 6 days

Friday, September 2, 2011

Five Years

Five years ago today, I was fortunate enough to marry the best man I have ever known. On this day last year, we were not even four months out from Hudson’s death. The world still looked very dark. I reflected on our wedding vows, focusing on this line in particular:

No matter what those seasons may bring, I promise to walk beside you.

And I expressed hope for our future, hope that the dark days would give way to brighter ones, just like the tropical storm that tore up our wedding site gave way to a beautiful wedding day.

A year later, we are still here. And our days are brighter. The universe has tested our bond in the one of the worst possible ways and it has held. Not only has it held, it has grown even deeper and created our Jackson, yet another amazing manifestation of our love.

Happy Anniversary, my dearest Ed. I’ve never been more grateful for you than I am today. I love you.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Joy Of The Ordinary

It has been a roller coaster of a week. Coming back home from the beach was hard. It was the end of our first family vacation without our Hudson. This week has been the start of school for so many of our friends’ children, and I watched as picture after picture was posted of the first day of preschool or kindergarten or third grade or eighth grade—all pictures we will never get to take with Hudson. I was struck again by how much she is missing, how much we are going to miss with her forever. It was a very sad few days.

But if you read here regularly, you know that it is not these big occasions—the family vacations and the first days of school—that I miss the most with Hudson, although they certainly bring their fair share of longing and sorrow. Still and always, it’s the ordinary things that I miss so much, the little things we did every day, the ins and outs of life with a bright, curious, active, loving little girl.

On Tuesday, my little boy gave me the gift of taking an ultra-long nap—about three hours. Instead of spending this newly found free time tackling my miles-long to-do list, I sat down and read through my entire Facebook wall, which I had recently downloaded but had not yet looked at. I read through all of my wall posts beginning in the fall of 2007 all the way through the Saturday before Hudson got sick, at which point I had to stop. At first, I wasn’t sure I would be able to stomach reading three years’ worth of status updates from the carefree girl I used to be (when I was so liberal with exclamation points), but once I started, I just couldn’t stop. I skimmed through most of the posts until Hudson was born, and then I was completely mesmerized. Here was a running commentary on our everyday ordinary lives with Hudson—some of it boring to anyone but me, some of it funny, some of it complaining, and much of it poignant, especially in light of later events. It was so lovely to remember all of these ordinary moments, all the little things that both delighted me and drove me crazy about being Hudson’s mom. You can imagine there were far more things in the former category than the latter. Most of the things that drove me crazy were exactly the same things that are driving me crazy with Jackson now—namely, an extraordinary stubbornness about taking naps. 

Some highlights:

Mandy Hitchcock is trying to figure out how to get this punkin to sleep somewhere other than her lap during naptime.
December 13, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Mandy Hitchcock is watching her daughter, who is ridiculously sleepy, but won't let herself go to sleep.
January 28, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Mandy Hitchcock is off to the Arboretum with Ed, Hudson, and Bess. Yay for spring!
April 12, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Mandy Hitchcock First solid food led to another parental rite of passage: blowout diaper all over my T-shirt in public with no change of clothes. Sweeeeeeeeet.
May 31, 2009 at 9:40 pm

Mandy Hitchcock Holy crap! Hudson is about 2 seconds away from crawling. And the world as we know it will never be the same...
June 29, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Mandy Hitchcock is watching Hudson try to stay standing up while bending over to pick up a book. Fascinating. And I love Fridays off.
August 7, 2009 at 8:31 am
Mandy Hitchcock can't believe she just installed Hudson's toddler car seat. Where does the time go?
October 18, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Mandy Hitchcock is fondly recalling the euphoria of this night a year ago, when she was pregnant with a baby and great expectations, driving back to D.C. from poll monitoring in central Virginia, listening to NPR report as the states turned blue, one by one. What a story to tell Hudson when she gets older.
November 3, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Mandy Hitchcock Oops. Hudson just accidentally shoplifted an Elmo washrag. We were outside the store before I realized she was still holding it!
November 6, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Mandy Hitchcock Hudson thoroughly enjoyed her first trip to The Loop- she had almost 2 full pieces of pesto portabella mushroom pizza.
November 28, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Mandy Hitchcock is celebrating the most magical year of her life so far. A year ago today, I became a mother to a fascinating, exciting, hilarious little creature who challenges me to be my best self every single moment. Happy Birthday, Hudson-- your dad and I love you more than words could ever express and are so grateful for the sheer joy you have brought to our lives.
December 1, 2009 at 10:40 am

Mandy Hitchcock Cold, snowy morning + bright, crisp sunshine + blueberry french toast cobbler in the oven (thanks, Ed) + jabbering baby in footed jammies = perfection. Life is so good.
December 20, 2009 at 9:52 am

Mandy Hitchcock Hudson's hair is rapidly trending toward mullet-dom.
December 23, 2009 at 10:42 am

Mandy Hitchcock Snowed in and it's still snowing. Power on after a brief outage between 3 and 6am. Scratch biscuits for breakfast. Oatmeal raisin cookies and chili later today. Undisturbed playtime with hubby and kiddo. It just doesn't get much better than this, folks.
February 6, 2010 at 11:48 am

Mandy Hitchcock I positively adore my child.
February 22, 2010 at 9:56 am

Mandy Hitchcock Sick day isn't a total loss. Hudson's feeling much better and we're now rocking out to "Mr. Roboto."
March 8, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Mandy Hitchcock Few things could be sweeter to a UNC alum than singing "Hark the Sound" to your child only to finish and have her say "Mo! Mo!" while making the sign for "More." Over and over again. As many times as you want, dear one. :)
March 8, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Mandy Hitchcock I went a little overboard when Hudson's teacher told me to pack a green snack for her tomorrow. Her food for the day consists of peas, broccoli nuggets, green yogurt, and green cottage cheese. The leftover quesadilla is thrown in there for some variety.
March 16, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Mandy Hitchcock Watching Hudson's first pretend play-- trying to give some water to her stuffed animals. It's pretty awesome to think what's churning around inside that noggin.
April 10, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Mandy Hitchcock I came to the shocking realization that I no longer have to lean over to hold Hudson's hand. Yay for my back. Boo for growing too fast.
April 13, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Mandy Hitchcock is thankful we found the "repeat" button on our car's CD player. It has been playing "Seasons of Love" from "Rent" incessantly. Seriously, she screams when we try to move on to any other song. Hmmm... I can definitely think of worse songs to listen to over and over!
May 8, 2010 at 7:13 pm 

I wrote that last one on the Saturday night before Mother’s Day, about 6 or 7 hours before Hudson first woke up with a fever. It is the last status post I wrote about her that did not involve her being sick or, later, gone. It is about one of the most ordinary moments in our lives—trying to find a way to keep a kid happy in the car. And it is incredibly precious to me.  And so very appropriate.   

I didn’t read any further. I didn’t need to remember the rest of it—not right then, at least. I had thought it would be hard for me to read about all of these moments we shared with Hudson, moments that I loved when I was in them and that I truly cherish now. But it actually lifted my spirits somehow. Remembering those precise moments in time when Hudson was here with us was exactly what I needed. For not only did it allow me to spend some time with my girl, it also renewed my hope for all the wonderful ordinary moments we have yet to share with Jackson and our future children. When Jackson woke up from his nap that day, I couldn’t stop smiling and smothering him with kisses—I was in as good a mood as I’ve been in a long time.

And then today, I found myself feeling very sad again. The end of the day is always my music time with Jackson—he’s usually pretty tired by that point and we’re just waiting for his daddy to get home to give him a bath and put him to bed, so music is usually just the trick to keep him calm and happy for that last hour or so. We generally listen to an Elizabeth Mitchell station on Pandora, which is beautiful and soothing, but inevitably brings up songs that make me think of my girl. By the time Ed got home today, I was in tears.

But then, one of those lovely ordinary moments presented itself. Ed picked up Jackson and sat on the couch. He pulled Jackson into the standing position he loves so much and started swinging him forward and backward, much to Jackson’s delight. As I sat there watching Jackson grin and coo, I started crying harder thinking about how much I wished Hudson was there with us, too. And then Jackson laughed. And I started laughing, feeling so grateful to be there in that moment with him and Ed. I held on to that feeling for as long as I could.

I just finished reading Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog today. One of the characters, after experiencing a devastating loss, remarks that you can’t really understand the meaning of the word “never” until someone you love dies. Then, she says, “you really feel what it means and it really really hurts. It’s like fireworks suddenly burning out in the sky and everything going black. I feel alone, and sick, my heart aches and every movement seems to require a colossal effort.” But then, in her despair, she hears some beautiful music that moves her to her core and she muses, “Maybe that’s what life is about: there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It’s as if these strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never.” She commits herself to “searching for those moments of always within never. Beauty, in this world.”

It’s September again. And the hole in my heart is feeling more like a treasure than an abyss. For me, all those lovely ordinary moments we shared with Hudson, all the ones we are sharing now with Jackson: they are my always within never. And I am so grateful for them.