Lucky

DSC07109Last night I grabbed a few groceries after Isaac’s swimming lesson. The boys were fractious but it didn’t stop Elijah flirting with a lady working at Woolies. She paused, played with him a moment, commented on his cuteness and said to me “You are so lucky”.

Perhaps I imagined sadness in her eyes and a wistfulness in her voice. I wondered if she had been affected by loss or infertility or a life that ended up in different place to what she had hoped for. I thought about asking, but I didn’t. I thought about telling her I could be luckier and have all my three boys with me, but I didn’t. In that particular moment, with dinner, bed and bath time pressing against us, I didn’t feel particularly lucky or grateful. But I know I am. And perhaps I needed reminding.

I view “lucky” with a different lens after loss. I feel lucky that we had fourteen days with Xavier. I know that not everyone gets that much time with their little one. I feel lucky that he held onto a glimmer of life for twenty-four hours after we found him without breath. A day is longer to say goodbye than many people get. I feel lucky that we were so well looked after by the Mater and the beautiful social workers there. I feel lucky that I found a group of bereaved mothers who understood and understand me. I feel lucky that I have been given space and support and permission to grieve. I feel lucky that I have this place to remember Xavier and write in his memory. I feel lucky that I have the words to write. I feel lucky that Xavier’s memory is held precious by so many dear to me. I feel tremendously lucky that I have two living children to hold and kiss and adore.

I cannot count the number of times I have spoken to other bereaved parents and we have used that word – “lucky” – to describe various aspects of our experience. It’s always accompanied with a rider – “it’s funny what we think of as ‘lucky’ now.”

Before losing Xavier I had a different view of luck. I didn’t really believe in it. Someone would tell me I was lucky and I would respond with a glib “Yep, and the harder I work, the luckier I become.” I had a perception that you made your own luck and that bad luck was generally predicated by bad choices.

Age and experience has taught me that life is not so tightly controlled. That fate can be cruel and that luck plays a larger part in my life than I might like.

I look at my darling boys and I know, I am incredibly blessed and I am very lucky.

First birthdays, Rainbows and Growing Up

In a few short weeks Elijah will turn one. It is impossible. My tiny baby is growing up. I feel the melancholy of every mother as he takes his first tentative steps away from babyhood. My heart aches as I put away the clothes he no longer fits, knowing that the next baby to wear them will not be my own. I look at his photos, taken when he was so new and tiny and wish myself back to that moment. He takes up so much space now – in his cot, his pram, his car seat – and I feel a pang as I remember when he looked so little in all of those places.
As a bereaved mother, One feels improbable. I have only just accepted that Elijah’s presence is permanent. I was drinking him in, savouring him, fearing that if I did not, I would deeply regret it when he left. He has not left and he will not leave but I am grateful that I have treasured the moments so carefully. I never let myself believe that Elijah would be one, or two, or twenty. It seemed presumptuous and arrogant. And now, here we are, on the brink of a year on earth.
Elijah was never born to replace Xavier, but we did think he would bring healing and hope. He has brought both in equal measure. As a newborn, I projected a comforting, healing personality onto my son. When babies are too tiny to express their opinions, we imagine what they may be thinking. Look at their little faces and prescribe thoughts to their expressions. We form an idea of their personality, their likes and dislikes before their personalities emerge. Part of Elijah will always represent healing to me, but he is so much more outside that persona. He suddenly has a host of opinions on a variety of things. He gazes at his brother adoringly and will laugh at his antics with a giggle reserved purely for Isaac. He will reach out for cuddles from the people he loves. He will try to pat any dog that might come his way, accompanied with a determined “d-d-d”. He will attempt to catch and return a ball. He scoots along the floor, with his funny crawl, at top speed with a broad smile when his father comes to the door. He wiggles his way out of my arms to explore and demands being scooped back into them when he has satisfied his curiosity. He has dozens of toys, but will always choose the Tupperware and DVD drawers as his favourite play things. He is funny and bright and calm and inquisitive. He is not the sage old soul brought on earth to give me comfort that I may have first imagined. He is light and colour but he is so much more than a rainbow baby. He is Elijah. And as he grows up, as I am sure he will, I look forward to learning ever more about him.

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Everything I need to know I learned from my kids

Most parents agree that they learn more from their kids than they ever teach. Today I was reflecting on the lessons my kids are currently teaching me.

From my dear five year old Isaac:
The world is full of friends you haven’t met yet I think every parent has marvelled at the ability of children to instantly make friends in the playground. Isaac never worries whether he will be accepted. He assumes that everyone wants to play with him. He doesn’t analyse the situation and if someone doesn’t want his friendship, it’s accepted with a shrug and viewed as their loss. He doesn’t ask much of these friends. Just to have a good time within the moment shared. There is no sting, no anguish and a world of possibility. He does not complicate things that are not complicated.

My dear little Elijah: Celebrate your wins and don’t compare yourself to others Elijah has an adorable, completely non-conventional crawl. One leg remains curled underneath him whilst the other extends out, acting as a sort of rudder as he manoeuvres himself around. It is effective but it doesn’t look like everyone else’s crawl. When he gets from point A to B, a broad smile of pure joy and pride beams across his face. He doesn’t compare himself to others. He doesn’t fret about being different. He doesn’t frustrate himself by wondering why he can’t crawl like someone else. He doesn’t need to restrain petty jealousy as he watches another baby his age crawl or walk. He just loves what he has achieved. He celebrates his successes with conviction and without comparison.

My dearest Xavier has probably taught me the most. But of all his lessons, one of the largest is about our incredible resilience as human beings. We can survive the impossible. We can rise above what tries to drag us down. The only limits we have are those we build ourselves. Xavier, as a baby, was fragile. A hidden fragility that meant he slipped away during sleep. But he too is resilient. His name has not been forgotten and love for him still abounds. If we choose, we do not need to be limited. The human spirit is far more powerful than we ever dare dream. And sometimes, it takes a human spirit to remind us.

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Reclaiming the Silence – Permission to Just Be

The last few weeks have been a blur of activity.  I have been hard at work organising a fashion fund-raising event for SIDS and Kids, whilst dealing with the every-day craziness of my life.   There have been late nights and mother guilt and reliance on beautiful friends and family.  There have been highs and lows whilst organising the event.   And then finally the event itself, over and done with in the space of a few short hours.

Today, I spent most of the day just holding my Elijah.  I was going to do the neglected house work.  I was going to tie up the inevitable loose ends after an event.   I did none of those things.  I spent some time with a dear girlfriend and the rest of the day curled up on the couch cuddling and playing with my precious baby.  I do not do this very often.  I do not give myself permission to do this very often.

As a society we have an obsession with busy-ness.  We measure our worth against how much we do, how much we achieve.  I am guiltier than most – packing my days with all sorts of activity.  Even when I pause for a moment, my thoughts turn to checking my Facebook or email.  My mind constantly chattering.  Thoughts flying from one place to another.  Rarely settling in one spot.   Rarely allowing me to just focus on Elijah and nothing else.  Not his food or his bath or his sleep routine.  But just Elijah himself.  Getting on the floor with him and playing with him.  Tracing every one of his features and committing each eyelash to memory.  Just marvelling at his smell.   The things you do with a newborn that start to fade as they grow.

After Xavier died, for the first time in my adult life, I had the gift of uninterrupted time.  I chose to spend that time connecting with my son.  A wonderful friend and I would exchange epic emails about our sons gone too soon.  I would craft and create.  I would walk.  And at times, I would just sit and be.  I would sit and wait for a sense of peace.  A sense of Xavier to descend.  I could not do this in the hurly burly bustle of every day life.  I needed to set aside time.  I needed to make that conscious decision because it was the only way I could mother my son.  In the depth of grief, the present was my only friend – the past held too much pain and the future too much fear.  I had to practice mindfulness.  I had to let silence into a life that previously had only known noise.  Because my Xavier can only speak to me in a whisper on the breeze.  My Xavier needs the silence.

Elijah lives and breathes and cries and demands my attention.  I do not need to consciously create space in my life to be his mother – it comes without my doing anything.  But I do need to occasionally reclaim some silence and calm in my life.  I need to stop and smell the baby.  I need to stop the busy sometimes and give myself permission to just be.  Just to sit still and be comfortable in the silence.  To know the value of it.  To appreciate that those moments are part of my being a mother to my three boys.  And a vitally important part.

 

Mumma, I am Five

What five looks like

My beautiful five year old boy often challenges me.   He is teeming with ideas and questions and opinions.  His energy is apparently boundless and his determination to get his own way often stronger than my will to enforce boundaries.  I find myself counting down from 10, and the rage barely simmering by the time I get to 1.  I love him and adore him, but at times I find him extremely difficult to parent.  It is in those moments, I need to remember what is to be five.

If he had eloquence and insight, this is what my five year old might say to me:

Mumma, I am five.  In my veins course fire and imagination, energy and creativity.  My legs were not made to sit still.  My arms were not made to rest.  I am busy, busy, busy.   I need to run and to jump and to play.  Sometimes the enormity of my energy overwhelms me – and I need to get it out. Out. OUT.

Mumma, I am five.  When I see boundaries, both figurative and literal, I want to push against them.  I need to climb them and test them and see where I stand.  This is my job and it is your job to guide me, to limit me, to expand my world and to keep me safe.

Mumma, I am five.  I don’t just play Batman and Star-wars and Octonauts.  I AM Batman.  I AM Luke. I AM Kwazzi.  When I am saving the world or the galaxy or the oceans, it is much more important to me than cleaning my room or eating my breakfast.  Give me time to break away from the places that consume me.  I will listen.  Eventually.

Mumma, I am five. I know you don’t like guns and we aren’t allowed them in the house.  But I will continue to bite my sandwiches into a pistol shape and wield the plastic cricket wickets.  I am playing a game that boys have played since little boys begun.

Mumma, I am five.  I am very grown up and I am still very small.  I am negotiating a whole new set of rules and people and things at school.  I am learning new things and trying new things and figuring out who I am.  I am your grown-up boy.  I am still your baby.  I might push away a hug and want kisses a moment later.  I am figuring a lot out right now – I need you to help me.

Mumma, I am five.  I love you so much and I do want to please you.  I want to do the right thing.  Sometimes, it can take me a little while to figure out what that is.  Please do not think that your parenting up until this point has been for naught.  That I am a stranger adopting behaviour you never modelled.  This is all a process.  I will come back to what I have learned.

Mumma, I am only five.  There are a lot of expectations on me.
Mumma, I am such a big boy of five.  I like to be grown-up.
Mumma, I am such a little boy of five.  I will always be your baby.

Mumma, you are doing a good job

Parenting in Absentia … the guilt and the reality of parenting living children whilst grieving

I remember the first time I ever paid for an iPhone app.   We were in the hospital not long after hearing the devastating news that Xavier would not be coming home with us.  Isaac was demanding attention I could not give.  I turned to technology as baby-sitter.  I relinquished  previous rules, gave him my phone and in a metaphorical sense, I never really asked for it back.

In those dark days after Xavier died I could not give Isaac the parenting he deserved.  He heard yes too often to requests for things when I had no fight.  He heard no too often to requests for my time and attention when I had none to give.   My wonderful sister in particular stepped in and looked after Isaac when I could not.  There was a period of time when I was completely absent as a parent.  My previous approach to parenting – to be present, to be fun, to be involved, to say “no” but then redirect attention to some brilliant new game or activity – all of it impossible.

Even in it, I knew I was being unfair to Isaac. I felt terrible guilt over it, yet I had no capacity to fix the situation.   He was never phsycially neglected,  but I feel like I missed the months of his life that followed Xavier’s death.   Like everything else, I went through the motions, whilst my mind was elsewhere.

Even as the darkest fog of grief lifted, my parenting had changed.  I was more permissive.   Isaac’s short term happiness, and even compliance, more important to me than the longer term effects.  It has been a hard Pandora’s box to try and close.   With the advent of school, some behaviours have crystallised as being of concern.   I look back to those days of absent parenting and wonder if I am now reaping what was sown.   And then I ask myself whether I am using grief as an excuse?

Most children go through a period of time when their parents’ attention and time for them contracts.  Whether it be a new baby or return to work, there comes a time when the best of parenting routines come unstuck.  And Isaac is certainly not the only five year old to be a little crazy, prone to the occasional tantrum, unhappy with the word “no” and fond of fighting games.

I can spend time with my guilt over my absent parenting.  I can beat myself about it and wish things to be different.   Or I can choose to change our present behaviour into something more positive.

So I have decided to do the following:

  1. Every morning, we will dance to William Pharrell’s “Happy”.  You cannot help but start the day on a positive note with that song in your head.  And it was the first song Elijah clapped to.  So it must be good.
  2. Every morning, we will talk about our intention for the day.  We will spend a moment or two discussing what positive thing we want out of that particular day.
  3. The Star Wars, the Ninjago, the Chima – they will no longer be a part of our week days.
  4. Because I am taking away something important from Isaac, I want to give him something.  We will work on a project each week.  It might be an art or craft project, a building project, or something else.  But we will do something creative together.
  5. We will start each day with some gentle yoga.  Every week Elijah and I attend a yoga class.  I might go into that class wound up and anxious – worried about various aspects of my life.  I come out of that class and I am no longer worried.  My problems have not magically been resolved, but my perspective is more realistic after spending time connecting my body to my mind.  If Isaac and I spend some time with yoga, I think it will help us both.

At then end of the day, children are enormously resilient.  My parenting in absentia will always bother me more than it has Isaac.

For those parenting living children and living in the thick fog of grief – be gentle with yourself.  You can only give what you can give.  Somedays that may not be very much at all.  That’s okay.  You are an amazing parent – you have made the choice to still be here with your living family.

For all parents, we can’t be perfect each day.  We can do our best each day.  Some days are going to be better than others, and even when it all goes wrong, there is always tomorrow to look forward to.

Becoming the New

I’ll tell you a little shared parenting secret. Children don’t get easier with age. You just get better at parenting. It starts to sink into your skin and becomes an integral part of who you are. Children change your values, your viewpoint and your priorities. As a first time mother, I was faced with a lifestyle shock, an identity crisis, a love more intense than I had ever imagined and a fatigue I would never have guessed existed. All this whilst figuring out how to mother a tiny dependant being with no eloquent way to express his needs. It is a lot. Sometimes I think we forget just how much. But eventually I was reshaped and settled into motherhood. I no longer needed to analyse it or agonise over it. It simply became me – a much quieter and more assured part of myself.

The grief I felt after losing Xavier was the inverse of the joy I felt when I first held him. Where there was once hope, there was despair. Where there was joy, there was only pain. And where a baby once was, a huge, yawning, aching gap. But settling into grief and having it become a part of who I am is, in many ways, like the gradual acceptance of motherhood itself into my psyche. At first, there is violence and confusion. A world rocked and emotions displaced. People would tell me that the death of my child would change me – that it was inevitable. And I would nod and inside I would scream “No – I don’t want it to change me, I don’t want to lose who I am.”

“I will not let this loss define me,” became a mantra, an anthem, a steely promise. But children change you. Experience changes you. Xavier’s life changed me and Xavier ‘s death changed me. In retrospect, I was clinging to the idea “I won’t let this loss defeat me”. The darkest days of grief drag you down and under. Leave you gasping for air. And you fight. You literally fight for your life. The length of that dark time varies from person to person who has experienced the death of a child. But the weight of it, the almost unbearable weight, seems a consistent experience. Gradually it eases, the grief becomes gentler and the memories less intense. The double edged sword of distance, granting a measure of peace whilst at the same time blurring the memories of a much loved little face.

But the fact of his absence remains. That fact is no gentler. I have grown to deal with it in a gentler way, but the bald facts remain as horrific as they did at the start. That will never change. When he left he set my life on a different course. Everything changed in that moment. And forever I will be bereaved mother. He is not forgotten. He changed everything.

Not long after Xavier died, a dear family member gave me a silver X. I had his handprint stamped on a silver heart and I found a sunshine pendant. Those three charms hung from my neck and I vowed I’d never wear another necklace. But as time went on, I felt the need to wear it constantly lessen. Xavier had become so much a part of me that the physical talisman seemed to lose the grave importance it once held. Xavier moved into a safer place within my soul. A quiet and assured place that would never give him up. I still wear the necklace sometimes – now not so much to feel connected, but rather than to wear something of him with pride.

I believe he is safe within my story and my story safe within his. He has thread himself through the fabric of my narrative and the narrative of others. He will be remembered. He will live on. For my words belong to him and when I write, it feels like his words whispered in my ear.