Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Jackson at Three Months

I can hardly believe this little tank is the same kid I gave birth to three months ago. He was a fairly average-sized baby, but when I look at his newborn pictures now, he looks positively skinny compared to the mutton chop he’s become. At his two-month appointment on July 27, he weighed 14lbs 10 oz (this is more than little Hudson weighed at her FOUR-MONTH appointment, when she weighed in at 14lbs 5 oz). Based on our rough estimates weighing him on our scale at home, he’s somewhere close to 17 pounds now. Unbelievable.

We started month three with a visit home to NC to hang out with Grandpa, Grandma, and Poppy, and see some dear friends of ours renew their wedding vows. On the way there, Jackson truly found his thumb for the first time. Before this, he was able to get his fingers in his mouth on a fly-by, but he could never keep them there. My hope was that finding the thumb would mean we were closer to him sleeping through the night on a regular basis, but no such luck. He still sleeps well at night (meaning he never wakes up wanting to party or anything), but he is ALL over the place in terms of night waking and feeding. He has indeed slept through several times, even a few times in a row, but then he’ll wake up once, and the next night he’ll wake up twice, and then once, and then twice. It’s crazy and leaves me a little zombie-like because my body doesn’t ever really get into a routine of waking and sleeping. Fingers crossed that he’s going to turn a corner soon. BUT, when he’s falling sleep, what a beauty it is to behold—not simply because he’s falling asleep (although that is very nice), but because it is just precious to watch. Usually to get him down for a nap, I swaddle him, give him a pacifier, and then bounce him very gently on my exercise ball until his eyes start to get heavy. Like his big sis, he usually fights it at first, and as soon as his eyes start to droop, he realizes that he’s falling asleep and kicks them back open. But finally, he can’t resist, and his eyeballs start lolling around under their lids. Often at this point, he’ll smile a half-smile in his sleep (hopefully because he sees something pleasant in that almost-asleep state). Once he’s really starting to go, he’ll spit the pacifier out and purse his lips—this little expression melts my heart. It is often followed by some more sucking motions in his sleep—watching that little mouth move unconsciously just kills me.

He’s also developing quite a personality. He already loves to razz (a skill his sister did not pick up until she was 7 months old) and while he does it a lot, it sometimes seems like an expression of dismay, like “Blffrrrrsssst! Mom! Not the car seat again!” or “Sppplllrrrsst! No, Mom, I don’t want to sit in your lap and read a book right now!” He’s also already mastered the plant-and-arch maneuver to avoid being buckled in to the car seat (another one I don’t think Hudson picked up until later). At about ten weeks, he started rolling over from tummy to back. He did it several times in a row that day and hasn’t done it since—he is his own little man.

Lots of other little firsts came and went this month. He noticed Bess for the first time, but only because I got her right up in his face—I still don’t think he realizes she’s around most of the time. He started batting at his toys several weeks ago and is now beginning to concentrate hard on slowing down his hands and trying to grasp them. He rode in the stroller without his car seat, but only once—as big as he is, he’s still a little small for it, and there’s also no good way to keep his precious white skin out of the sun (I’ll be glad when it gets cooler and I can put him in long sleeves and pants). I also put him in the Jumperoo (really just an exersaucer that he can bounce up and down in) for the first time and he was instantly a fan of all the lights and music and colors.

Best of all, he took his first trip to the beach, dipped in the ocean for the first time, and rode on his first boat. He’s still a little bit too much of a blob to do very much at the beach (again, the sun being the biggest problem), but we did manage to dip him in the water a few times and he took a nice little nap under a tent on the beach one afternoon. Like Hudson, he loves the feeling of the wind in his face—just like her, he gasps a bit trying to swallow the rush of air and his eyelids flutter a bit, but then he grins at how wonderful it feels on his face.

Last but certainly not least, his eyes are starting to change color. No surprise that they are beginning to turn the same beautiful shade of greenish-brown as his big sister’s and his daddy’s. Another gift from the universe to us.

Each passing day brings more joy as Jackson begins to grow into a little person. Having lost a little girl who was just about to burst into full bloom, it is sometimes hard not to wish away his infancy so that we can get to the days where he can interact and be silly and ask for things. I had this same struggle with Hudson when she was this age, but of course, it all feels very different now. But I’m trying as hard as I can to live each moment as it comes and treasure this time that I know is so precious—Hudson’s bright spirit is helping me every step of the way.

Here are a few more photos from this past month (he really does smile a lot more than these pictures show!):

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Three Months

Jackson is three months old today.  He is enjoying his first trip to the ocean here in Topsail Beach, so I will post a three-month penguin picture and update when we get back home.

Today, though, it occurred to me how nice it is to celebrate the 24th of each month, instead of simply mourning the 13th of each month.  Another gift from my sweet boy. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

So Glad I’m Here

I have been thinking about this photo of me ever since Ed took it back in June when Jackson was about a month old. Unlike the photos of me before Hudson died or the ones Ed took of me when we were in Paris in December, I recognize this woman. I understand her. It took me a long time to figure out just what it is that I see in her face that is so familiar. And then it came to me.

This woman is grateful. She is grateful to be here. She has survived the deepest sorrow there is and is still standing. Grief is now her constant companion. Her hair is infinitely grayer than it was a year ago. Her smile is knowing, knowing in a way that most don’t know and hopefully never will. Her eyes still shine, but they reflect a different light than they ever did before.

But she is here. She is smiling. Her eyes are shining. For while grief is her constant companion, so are love, joy, and hope. She has the love of an exceptional man. She has two beautiful children, each one a gift she did nothing to deserve. And she has a future full of hope.

I recognize this woman, finally, as myself. Somehow, I made it here. I am a lucky, lucky girl.

And I’m so glad I’m here.

“So Glad I’m Here” ~ Elizabeth Mitchell

Monday, August 15, 2011


Hudson is dead.

Her death is a fact that still hovers just out of my grasp, like the perfect word that I can’t seem to conjure when I need it. My awareness of it drifts in and out of my consciousness, like I am constantly in that hazy state between asleep and awake, where I have to keep vigorously shaking my head in order to try to understand.

On one side of that muddled state is a dream world, a sideways existence where Hudson is still alive. In this world, she looms so large in my imagination. I see her in all the places that she should be: running willy nilly as we picnic with friends in the Arboretum, in the space next to Jackson’s in the back seat of the car, pushing the “Little Shoppers” cart at the grocery store, putting her grubby fingers all over her little brother, singing with me in the kitchen at the top of her lungs, learning to swim in her Poppy’s pool, pointing out every plane, train, bus, and automobile she sees, learning letters and numbers. This is the world I wish I lived in.

On the other side is the harsh reality, the world where Hudson no longer lives. On this side, I try to restrain myself from imagining all the places where she should be. I wear a One Good Thing bracelet, a necklace with her name on it, and turtle earrings every day in memory of her. I stumble and stutter whenever I am asked if Jackson is my first child. Sometimes I can say, “My older daughter died” rather matter-of-factly and without crying; most times I can’t. I talk about her all the time, taking any chance I get to mention her in a conversation, as if she is just as alive and present as my living child. In real life and on Facebook, I watch all the children who were Hudson’s age continue to grow up and change and do new things she will never do, and I watch all the children who were born long after she was grow older than she ever did. I am reminded of her just about every other moment of every day in some way or another. This is the world I actually live in.

I still don’t believe it, not in the sense that I have accepted it as an unchangeable fact. It still feels unreal to me. It still even feels changeable at times, as though she can come back to me if I can just figure out how to make it happen. Her death is like a terrible mirage, an image that exists only in the vapor on the horizon, an optical illusion that I can only really perceive if I squint and concentrate very hard.

Hudson’s ashes are all that grounds me firmly in the reality that she is gone. When I begin to drift into the dream world where she is alive, as I do more often than you can imagine, all I have to do is remember that her ashes are sitting in the downstairs playroom and I am snapped back into the real world where she is dead. Honestly, if I didn’t have them, I’m not sure I’d ever be fully convinced.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


My dear, sweet little girl—

I have spent so much time in the past few days talking to you, kissing your pictures, and remembering what it was like to hold you that I figured maybe I should just sit down and write you a letter. Yesterday was a hard day—I spent a lot of the afternoon and evening crying for you, sweetheart, just feeling so very sad for all that you will never get to experience. I looked at your little brother’s precious face and cried for how very much alike you are and for how sad I am that the two of you will never meet, will never get to tease each other, play animalvegetablemineral in the backseat on long car trips, or fight over who gets to lick the bowl when we make birthday cakes for Daddy. It’s just so very unfair that you don’t get to grow up and do all the things that your friends are doing and will do, and I’m so very angry on your behalf. I can still barely believe that you are gone. Even fifteen months later, it still seems as though you were just here. It is almost as if I just expect you to come toddling around the corner into the kitchen while I am making dinner and start opening drawers for your favorite utensils.

But today was a better day. Your brother and I got up early and went down to Hains Point, a long point that juts out into the Potomac River. The weather has cooled off a tiny bit, and at nine in the morning, it felt wonderful. We took a very long walk around the point and then back the other way, with your brother snoozing most of the way in the stroller. I can’t believe your daddy and I never took you to this place, sweet girl. How we never discovered it before now is beyond me. I imagine that if you had lived and we had bought the bike trailer we had been shopping for the weekend before you got sick, we would have probably discovered it last summer as a nice place to pull you behind our bikes.

Oh, how much you would have loved it, Hudson. I had been walking right next to the water for only about 5 minutes when I came upon a little family of ducks sitting right in the middle of the walkway. They barely noticed I was there until I was a few feet away, at which point they casually stood up and walked a few feet forward so that I could roll along behind them. You would have been able to see them up so close—I could just picture how excited you would be. There were dozens of sea gulls and other birds flying all around, and I was remembering how much you loved all the sea birds when we took you to the beach. You hadn’t spoken your first word yet (you started talking that very week, though), but every time you saw a bird, you said, “Ooo! Oooooooooo!” and grinned your beautiful grin.

As I reached the end of the point, I saw not one, not two, but three helicopters landing at the Air Force base on the other side. I was remembering how much you loved vehicles of all kinds, and how you could say “heh-cop” for helicopter.

And then as I rounded the point, I was facing the airport across the river. “Ai-pane” was one of your very favorite words and you loved it when you heard or spotted one in the sky. We took you to Gravelly Point, on the other side of the river, several times to watch the planes take off, but they were taking off right over our heads, so they were very loud and it was hard to really see that they were planes. I remember you being scared the first time or two we took you there. But I also remember how fascinated you were with the planes on the one plane trip we took once you were old enough to know what they were. About a month before you died, we took you to Chicago to visit your aunt and uncle, and you loved looking out the window at all the planes in the waiting area. Boy, would you have loved Hains Point today. From my vantage point across the river from the airport, I could watch all the planes coming in for a landing AND taking off. I could see everything so much better and it wasn’t nearly as loud. I was imagining us playing a game where we’d see which one of us could first spot the planes far off in the distance as they came in for a landing. I bet you would have been very good at it.

I miss you, sweet girl. I miss you so much. If I sat down to write every time something reminded me of you, I’d never leave the computer. Your precious brother Jackson has done wonders for helping me not feel sad as often as I used to, but life without you will always be sadder than life was with you. And again, I’m not just sad for me. I’m sad for him, too. He should have more than just mine and Daddy’s face to stare and smile at—he should be staring at yours, too. He should have you here to cheer him on as he learns to roll over and crawl and stand and walk. And most importantly, to teach him all the best words. 

But today, as he and I walked in the sunshine and the breeze, as I watched the helicopters and the planes and the boats and the birds, I felt you there with us, and I was so glad.

I love you and miss you so much, Hudson. How I wish you were here with us in person, but since I can’t have you that way, I’m grateful to have you always in my heart.



Saturday, August 6, 2011

So Lonely

I haven’t written for ten days. Not because I haven’t needed to or wanted to, but because I was having trouble putting my finger on how I’ve been feeling. I told Jess that I might say I have been feeling “incomplete,” but that word seems so inadequate. My next thought would be “empty,” but that word negates the joy that I feel with Jackson during so many moments of each day.

I finally figured it out. More than anything right now, I have been feeling incredibly lonely.

Some of this loneliness is just situational. I’m at home with an infant during an excruciatingly hot summer here in DC. Most days are not decent enough to spend any time outside with him, I’m paranoid about taking him to any crowded places or mommy and me-type classes, and he hates the car seat so much that I’m not too keen on driving him anywhere either. So I’ve spent a lot of time in the house by myself with him.

But most of the loneliness I have been feeling is psychological—it is loneliness bound up completely in the grief. Grief is so incredibly isolating—the “aquarium” effect that Aleksandar Hemon described so well in his New Yorker essay. Grief of any kind has the tendency to isolate because it is so very difficult to relate to others who have not suffered your loss. But the loss of a child is isolating in the most isolating way, because it is so very rare. Not only is it difficult to relate to those who have not suffered the same loss, but there are so very few people who have.

The situational loneliness can be cured rather easily by getting out more and spending more time with friends. But paradoxically, the cure for the situational loneliness has the unfortunate side effect of compounding the psychological loneliness. Sometimes the loneliest I feel is when I’m with others.

More than one fellow bereaved mom has told me that the second year would be harder in many ways than the first. I am finally starting to get some sense of that. I spent more than half of the first year in shock, thinking that if I could just get past that year of firsts, it would get better. And some things are better. Jackson, of course, has changed the texture of our lives in beautiful and amazing ways. But more so than ever, everyone around me is moving on. The first of Hudson’s friends will start turning three soon. Three. They are all running and jumping and talking in complete sentences and palling around and doting on their younger brothers and sisters. It’s not that I fear that Hudson will be forgotten—I know for certain that she will never be. But no one else remembers and misses her in the same way that I do. No one else lived with her and fed her and diapered her and dressed her and bathed her and clipped her fingernails and folded her clothes and took her to school and let her press the elevator button and giggled with her over the mouse in “Goodnight Moon.” Even my dearest Ed, the only person who was as close to Hudson as I was, and who is an incredibly good companion in grief, is at a very different place on his grief journey than I.

So often when I am with others now, I feel as though I am in a bathroom with the door closed and the hot water running, steaming up the entire room. The steam chokes my lungs and my throat and coats the only window to the outside with a thin film so that I can barely see what’s on the other side. I try to write messages in the steam only to realize that from the other side, everything I have written is backwards, yet when I try to write backwards, everything just gets garbled, and in the meantime, every time I write anything, the steam keeps billowing out behind me and fogging over my letters so no one can see them in the first place. There is just no way to make myself understood, because there is just no understanding it unless you have lived it yourself. And even those who have lived it didn’t live it with my sweet Hudson. In this one way, I am entirely alone and so very lonely in my grief.

And yet I remain indescribably grateful for all the love and support I’ve received over the last fifteen months (oh, my—how can it be that we will soon reach the point where Hudson has been gone longer than she was here?). When all of this was really settling in with me on Wednesday night, I posted one word as my status on Facebook right before I went to bed: “Struggling.” By the time I woke up on Thursday morning, I had dozens of kind messages of support waiting for me. And that, even on my loneliest day, is certainly One Good Thing.

If only it could cure the loneliness.