Holiday Letter to Max

Dear Max,

As we lay snuggling in bed this morning before starting our day, you said, “I love you. I will never, ever stop loving you.”

You have been saying that a lot recently. You started after I told you once that I would never, ever stop loving you, no matter what.

We have finally gotten to that point. The one where you listen and take in what we say. And you reflect it back to us in ways that are sublime (like the above), hilarious (asking me why something “soaks” after I complain about something “sucking”), and eye-opening.

You also reflect our love back to us. We can tell you are trying to learn and do the right things and please us.  You show empathy and caring. You try to comfort us when we are sad and even when we aren’t. One of your favorite phrases right now is, “It’s okay”. You say it in such a soft, sweet voice. Again, I told you one night that everything is okay and that it is always okay and you seem to have really latched on to that idea.

I also love the way you say, “I love you”. I wish I could capture it on video. But it is too spontaneous and it wouldn’t be the same if I asked you to do it while I recorded. I pray I will never forget how “I love you” sounded when you were four.

One of my favorite rituals right now occurs when I pick you up from school. As I walk from the parking lot, I sometimes see you already perched at the fence looking for me. Even if you aren’t already looking, the minute you see me, a huge smile breaks over your face and you run towards me saying, “Mommy!” or “My Mommy!” One time, you yelled, “That’s my Mommy!” so loudly that every parent around you turned and smiled and laughed.

I wondered when the little boy’s adoration of his Mommy would kick in. I wondered if I deserved it. Whether I do or not, you seem to think I do and I soak it up gratefully. I expect you to ask me to marry you any day now. J

You are an amazing little boy. If anything, you are more amazing than ever after the year you have just navigated. You have gone through things no little boy should ever have to endure and I am so sorry I could not protect you from them.

You experienced your parents suddenly disappearing for three weeks while your baby sister was in the hospital. You experienced your baby sister dying in your home. You experienced grief and fear from these events. You experienced your parents’ grief. You experienced the loss of a potential sibling last summer. You experienced a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy a month ago. And now you have to grapple with new food allergies.

There is so much good, little man, but sometimes it is hard to see it for the bad. You help me see it. I might have lost sight of it entirely if it hadn’t been for you. No matter how sad or stressed out I feel, I smile when I see you smile at the end of the school day.

I feel like life has been one crisis (some good, some bad) after another the past few years. Sometimes I feel like I destroyed your perfect, simple life when I decided I wanted another child and that child turned out to be sick. Even though I know you loved Lucy very much and I wouldn’t trade my time with her for anything, I know we are all different after what we have experienced. I just have to keep hoping we will emerge stronger, better people.

I worry sometimes that your whole childhood will always be about another child. It seems like we are always trying to have another baby or trying to keep the baby we have alive. I worry that that will make you feel like you aren’t enough. I want you to know you are enough. You are more than enough. You are sweet and smart and caring. You are my firstborn. You make me proud every single day, just by being you.

You made me proud when you went over to a classmate who hurt herself during pickup the other day and said, “That’s ok” in a sweet, kind voice.

You made me proud when you went over to the babysitter when she was making your dinner last night and reminded her to make sure there was no “allergy stuff” in your dinner, just like I asked you to do.

You made me proud when you saw the picture of the “L” you made on the playroom floor out of blocks the day your sister died, ran to the playroom, made another “L” on the living room floor out of the same blocks, and said, “I made a ‘L’ for Lucy!” with such a proud look on your face.

You make me proud with the work you do in play therapy. One day you said to me, “Lucy won’t be here for the first Thanksgiving this year. I wish she didn’t die every day.” I was so proud of you for expressing your feelings and so grateful you felt comfortable expressing them to me.

You are an amazing, strong little boy. You have survived so much and you have learned wisdom and courage from it. I’m so sorry you lost the little sister and playmate I wanted you to have so desperately. I know it will never be the same, because we will never have Lucy again and any siblings you do get will be much younger. But I hope it will be good. We do have good now. The good did not all die with Lucy. We are still a family and we always will be. Lucy will always be part of our family. And I hope our family will grow. You are such a good big brother and you deserve a sibling to grow up with.

I really wanted to give you and Lucy an idyllic, “normal” childhood. Even though I had a wonderful childhood in many ways, it wasn’t what you would call “normal” (if “normal” even exists). I’m not sure why this mattered so much to me, since I know that “normal” can look like many different things and “happy”, which is more important, can’t be manufactured or imposed by outward circumstances. I lucked out in finding a wonderful man to be my husband and your father. We bought a beautiful house in an idyllic, suburban neighborhood. The schools are awesome. We have pets. You have toys and nice clothes and good food to eat. We do our very best to be good parents. And tragedy found us anyway. You have had to deal with something I never had to deal with. I would have been devastated if I had lost one of my siblings. I still would be. I don’t know what it’s like for you. I can only imagine.

I guess it just goes to show that you can’t control things. I don’t know how many times I am going to have to learn that lesson. You have to determine to be happy with what you’ve got and the hand you’re dealt. With what’s right for you. I have learned many times that “normal” is overrated and that no one is as picture perfect as they seem. And yet, I still remember thinking after our photo shoot in the rain last year, “I finally have it. I finally have what everyone else has. I have a normal, beautiful family. I gave my kids ‘normal’.” I dared to let myself believe that everything might be all right, for the first time in my life. And then your sister got sick.

The cold, hard truth is that I went after those surface, superficial things. I worried about how things looked and what other people thought. I tried to do what I was “supposed” to do as a mom. I did try to keep sight of the things I know are right. But I wish I hadn’t been so concerned with those other things while your sister was alive. It’s okay if they matter, but I let them matter too much. I have rededicated myself to prizing the people in my life above achievements and outward appearances. I believe I am a better mother to you now. And I hope I can pass these lessons on to you, so you don’t have to learn them the hard way, like I did. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think your sister’s death had anything to do with my failings. But I owe it to myself, your dad, you, and her, to learn and grow from the experience.

This letter is becoming more about me than you. But I guess these letters are a way of helping you to know me, as well as recording as much as I can about you at each stage, so you and I will have that in the future.

I love you, Maxie-moo. I will never, ever stop loving you, no matter what. Merry Christmas.

Love, Mama

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