Letter to Scarlett on Your First Birthday

Dear Scarlett,

Due to your status as our rainbow baby, you have mostly escaped “third child syndrome”. You received plenty of new clothes and toys, despite having an older sibling of each gender, and numerous photos record your first year.

But, in perusing blog entries recently, I discovered a big goof. I promised in the joint birthday letter I wrote to you and Lucy that I would write a separate birthday letter for you soon. I obviously forgot.

So, this letter for your first birthday better be awesome. Here goes.

This past year has been one of the best of my entire life. You are adorable, smart, and so sweet. I have never seen anything like the way you make friends. You zero in on someone everywhere we go and run through your routine (stare, smile, clap, throw back head and laugh) until they are eating out of your hand.

You are probably our most precocious child yet. You seem determined to distinguish yourself by doing everything earlier than your brother and sister did.

While they cut their first teeth at 5 months, you cut yours at 3 months.

They weaned from the breast at 6 and 7 months respectively; you weaned at 5 months.

You crawled at 6 months, whereas Max crawled at 7 months and Lucy never did. You pulled to standing not long after and seem poised to begin walking at any moment. You stand very steadily on your own now, at 11 months, but only for a few seconds. You cruise more than ever and I catch you occasionally standing there, one hand on the cabinet or chair, staring intently at the great space ahead of you. It takes great bravery to take that first step out with nothing to hold on to. I know you have it in you and will do it when you are ready, just as Max did.

Unlike many parents with subsequent children, we have eagerly awaited every milestone. We couldn’t wait for you to learn to crawl and cruise. It gives us so much joy to see you healthy and strong and greeting life with such glee. Every skill you learn that Lucy never did, gives us such hope for your future. It seems like visible proof, along with all of the normal Echos you have racked up, that you will live and flourish.

You don’t have any favorite shows or characters yet. You do seem to enjoy books and are already saying quite a few words. Unlike most children, you said “Mama” before “Dada” and “yeah” before “no”. Now you can say, “Mama”, “Dada”, “yeah”, “all done”, “Austin”, “no”, and “kitty cat”. You added “I-phoo” for IPhone today.

Three months after your birth, I experienced another bout of postpartum depression and anxiety. After feeling so much happiness those first three months, I just couldn’t go back to feeling terrible all the time. I couldn’t miss out on fully enjoying another baby or let you down the way I feel, in my darkest moments, that I let your brother and sister down. I immediately made an appointment with my doctor and went on Zoloft and a hefty Omega supplement.

Those remedies changed my life. I enjoy life and you in a way that I was mostly incapable of for years. I am eager to see you when you wake from your nap or in the morning. I play with you without the constant hum of other responsibilities in my brain. I snuggle and smile at you with all the happiness that fills my heart when I look in your eyes. I happily chase you around. (Until I finally get tired and give you some time in the Super Yard.) I love you so much. It feels like my heart might burst with it.

The PPD that resulted from your birth cleared away the fog, so I could fall headlong into my love for you. Your father noted recently that I just look so happy and full of love when I look at you. The smile takes over my face. I can feel the joy radiating from my smile to your matching one.  I finally feel the way I always thought I would feel as a mom.

The flipside (There always is one.) is that I feel considerable guilt for not taking advantage of Zoloft sooner. I wish I could hop into a time machine and be the same mother to Max and Lucy as infants and toddlers that I am to you. Thankfully, I am making up for lost time with Max. I harbor hope that my inner turmoil wasn’t apparent to him and Lucy. I know I was a good, responsible, loving mom. I know I showed them both love. I cling to that knowledge of myself when the inevitable doubt and guilt assail me, especially where Lucy is concerned. I will never have another chance with her. Luckily, the Zoloft helps with the doubt and guilt, too.

I am so thrilled to have a second year with you. I cannot wait to watch you grow, develop, and figure out new ways to delight and exhaust me. I am more grateful than words can express that I have a second chance to parent a toddler, not to mention another daughter.

Happy birthday, my darling, darling daughter.

Love, Mama

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Letter to Lucy on your 3rd Birthday

My dear, sweet Lucy:

Your sister Scarlett is six months old and I have returned to singing with SoCo Women’s Chorus. This concert’s theme is “Seasons of Love”. The show opens with these words:

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,

Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes;

How do you measure, measure a year?”

Even though we are several weeks into rehearsals, it didn’t hit me until yesterday that, in addition to another selection “There is a Season”, this song constitutes a perfect tribute to you and your all-too-brief year of life.

The song goes on to determine that we should “remember the love” and “measure [a year] in love.”

By that measure, you lived as long as anyone possibly can. You were and are loved and treasured beyond measure. Every moment of those 15 months belongs among my dearest memories. In fact, you will live as long as those who love and remember you live.

The third anniversary of your birth is two days from now. We visited you yesterday. While we were there, Daddy and I told Max and Scarlett everything we could think of about you. Max misses you and they both love to hear about you as well as watch videos of you.

We plan to celebrate your birthday with another balloon release, dinner at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, and a small replica of your first birthday cake. I hope the day will be easier than it was last year. I expect tears, but also smiles and laughter as we remember you and imagine having you here with us now.

When our concert comes, 10 days before the next anniversary of your death, I will sing my heart out for you on every song, but especially on the two mentioned above.

Thank you for giving me the courage to live my life to the fullest. I will always do that for you, as well as for myself.

I love you so much, my baby.

Love, Mama

 

To Anti-Vax Parents from a Pro-Vax Parent

Dear Anti-Vaccine Parents,

Hi, I’m a pro-vaccine parent. I have been pro-vax since long before I saw the second pink line, since long before my daughter was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, placed on the heart transplant list, and restricted from live vaccines.

I understand that twinge of fear when your child is vaccinated. I felt it, because nothing in life is risk-free.

I know you’ve heard about the “Disneyland measles”. I know you are probably angry and scared.

I am angry and scared, too. I admit that some of the time I am angry at you. Most of the time, however, I am angry at the diseases and angry at the divisive rhetoric that, well, divides us.

Anyone who is truly pro-vaccine, well-informed, and a decent person with empathy knows these facts deep down:

We are all parents.

We are all angry and scared.

We also know these facts about many anti-vax parents:

You are not stupid.

You are not selfish.

You are not bad parents.

You don’t want children to be sick, maimed for life, or dead.

We also readily admit these facts:

Vaccines do have risks. The risks really are much smaller than the risks associated with the diseases.

The risks of the diseases are catastrophic, but unlikely. Still, they are more likely than catastrophic injury from a vaccine.

That is if you actually get the diseases. The risk of getting the diseases is still quite small. Vaccination rates are still quite high. But there are pockets of very low immunity and the numbers of unvaxed and delayed vax children have gone up as the population has grown.

This outbreak is quite small (but still growing). We are overreacting to this outbreak, but reacting properly to what future outbreaks will look like if the anti-vaccination movement continues to grow.

Vaccines are not 100% effective. Some people don’t develop antibodies for some reason. The mumps vaccine is only about 80% effective, because a stronger one produced serious reactions during tests. They chose a weaker, safer vaccine. Still, when enough people get it, mumps can’t circulate.

Honestly, I don’t want to have to care about your medical choices as a parent. I’ve realized after three children that every “Mommy War” but this one is ridiculous. That’s because this isn’t a “Mommy War”. It’s a public health issue.

We all need to talk to each other.

No yelling, no name-calling, no condemning the person instead of the argument. No accusations of being a “shill”. No talk of mandatory vaccinations. (I am not in favor of that by the way.) People on both sides need to feel the other side is listening.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am in favor of:

Disclosure of the number of unvaccinated children attending schools and daycares

Stricter requirements to obtain a “personal belief” exemption

Keeping unvaccinated children out of school and possibly quarantined during an outbreak or epidemic (That includes children with medical waivers, as my daughter would have had when she attended school.)

Let’s discuss.

 

Informed Consent for All

America’s kids are getting sick from either vaccines or vaccine preventable diseases (depending on which camp you’re in) and all we adults do is argue about it instead of working together.

While government and health officials run scared trying to figure out which side to pander to, because well, that’s what many of them do.

Nice.

To make it abundantly clear to anyone who hasn’t met me in real life, I am in the pro-vaccine camp.

As many of you know, there are now approximately 100 people with measles in 14 states. They are part of an ongoing outbreak stemming from Disneyland.

Measles is back in the United States with a vengeance, thanks to pockets of very low vaccination rates in Southern California. Herd immunity in some Southern California immunities has significantly eroded due to parents opting out of vaccination and even sending their children to school with “personal belief” exemptions.

Many of these parents believe that they should not have to disclose their vaccination status or their children’s to anyone. They shouldn’t have to. But here is why they still should.

I have no doubt that parents that don’t vaccinate (for personal belief reasons) believe they are doing the best for their child. That’s what any decent parent wants to do.

“Best” does not equal “perfect”, however. “Perfect” does not exist.

The anti-vaccine movement seems convinced that it does. They believe that herd immunity does not exist and the diseases the shots protect against aren’t that bad. Instead of accepting the very real consequences of not vaccinating, they have convinced themselves there aren’t any.

For some reason, they do not believe our passion comes from wanting to protect our own children as theirs does. Although they want the benefit of the doubt, they cannot give it to us. They believe we simply want to control them. (Like it’s possible to control anyone, as most parents well know.)

Nobody gets “perfect” in this world. Vaccinating isn’t perfect and not vaccinating isn’t. If we have to adjust to parents not vaccinating, then they need to do the right thing and allow us the “informed consent”, they so passionately insist upon. They want to know the true dangers of vaccines and I am all for the dissemination of accurate information about them. I also want to know the true dangers my child is exposed to. Walking past them in the store is one thing. Sitting next to them all day in school is another.

If I’m going to consent to send my child to a school that allows personal belief exemptions, then I deserve to know how many unvaccinated kids attend that school.

You have the freedom to avoid the minimal risk of vaccines. We deserve the same freedom to avoid the risk of exposure to a vaccine preventable disease from an unvaccinated child. It’s not fair for you to be able to protect your kids from the risk you perceive to be bigger (vaccines) and not allow us the same privilege.

If parents won’t step up, then doctors, school officials, and government officials need to quit running scared and take a stand. Do away with personal belief exemptions or require schools and daycare to provide the number of unvaccinated kids at their facilities to all parents.

Meanwhile, the adults need to learn how to debate civilly and brush up on science and logic while they’re at it. Arguing will not help our children. Neither will ignoring the subject. That’s what got us in this mess. Finding common ground with the anti-vaccine side (in this case, wanting informed consent, albeit about different risks) and taking baby steps to rebuild their faith in science will.

Yeah, we all want to win or be right sometimes. Both sides are guilty of hysteria and exaggeration.

However, we all want to protect our children. Let’s start behaving in a way that will actually accomplish that.

Please Don’t Wake Up

“Please don’t wake up.”

Four words every parent has thought at some point.

I’m still a normal parent in many ways, these words streaking across my mind, followed by a twinge of guilt. I am a superstitious sort, often knocking on wood to stave off misfortune.

Every parent fearfully imagines saying these words:

“Please wake up.”

But I have said these:

“You have to wake up, baby. Please wake up. Please wake up.”

We all want our children to stay asleep. I can’t stop the cringe, the silent prayer for continued sleep, when I hear rustling or noises over the baby monitor. But I try to feel gratitude for the plaintive cry in the night. Because I have felt these words with a chill in my core:

“She’s not going to wake up.”

The price for love lost and found again is the fear every morning when I wake before my new daughter. My recompense is the overwhelming joy at the feel of her breath and the sight of her smile.

Letter to My Daughters

Dear Lucy and Scarlett,

Parents count the time in hours, then days, then weeks, then months. We hold on to that last one longer than non-parents can fathom. Even though we have good reason (A twelve-month-old is very different from an eighteen-month-old, although they are both one-year-old.), part of it is sentimentality. With your youngest child, especially, you do not want to let go of the last firsts.

I still count the time in months for each of you.

Scarlett, you will be six months old in one week.

Lucy, you have been gone for twenty months.

About a month ago, I finally lost track of Scarlett’s age in weeks. About a month ago, I found myself telling people Lucy died “almost two years ago”.

We parents might hang on too long, especially with our youngest. Most especially with the one who is gone forever. But we always know when it is time to move forward. We might fight it, but we know.

I love you both. I will write you individual letters for that six month birthday and Lucy’s upcoming third birthday soon. Lucy love, keep looking out for all of us. Scarlett, keep showing us glimpses of your sister in your face as you grow into your unique, beautiful self.

All my love,

Mama

Pretending Normalcy

When I write, I mostly want others to bear witness to my experience. I almost never want advice at this point. In fact, I have gotten to where I loathe advice unless I ask for it. I think it goes without saying that I don’t want pity.
But the advice keeps on coming, even when you don’t ask for it. In fact, the advice still comes even when you have specifically said, “I don’t want advice.”
And now the word “advice” is starting to sound really weird.
At best, it’s irritating; at worst, it’s hurtful. But before you get upset or embarrassed and think, “What ARE we allowed to say to people anymore??” hear me out.
I think this tendency to comfort and advise speaks to what is best about humanity. We see hurt and want to help. We desperately want to make it better. Some of us actually feel the hurt of others who have been hurt.
However, it also speaks to one of humanity’s worst tendencies, one which creates so much stress for ourselves as well as others. We can’t sit with hurt and pain, whether it’s our own pain or the pain of others. It hurts, it’s uncomfortable, and who doesn’t want that to stop? If we can’t make it stop, then we just want the source of discomfort to go away, especially if it has gone on for awhile.
I know it seems counterintuitive, but there is peace in accepting the pain and hurt. I have learned this over the almost 18 months since Lucy’s death, but I don’t always put it into practice very well, either.
I discovered today that I still do the same thing I secretly rail at others for doing. (Guess it’s not a secret anymore.) I try to fix this hole in our family. I try to fill it. I try to pretty up what happened and pretend that it’s ok.
But it’s not. It will never be ok. That doesn’t mean my family isn’t ok, but Lucy’s death at 15 months will never, ever be ok. (Now “ok” sounds weird.)
See? I’m doing it there. I feel like I need to inject some levity or you won’t stay with me.
But I know some of you will. Here’s how I try to pretty the pain.
Recently, Lucy’s and Scarlett’s wardrobes have begun to overlap. We haven’t been able to use all of Lucy’s clothes for Scarlett, because Lucy was a winter baby and Scarlett a summer baby. But now, at almost three months, the weather and the sizes overlap.
I have been so excited to dress Scarlett in some of my favorites of Lucy’s clothes. But now we are getting into some of my most precious memories. At three months, Lucy was chubby and healthy, just like her sister. Cardiomyopathy hadn’t stolen that from her yet. Everything was normal and lovely.
Dressing Scarlett in these clothes doesn’t feel the way I expected. I don’t just miss having a baby girl. I miss MY first baby girl. My Lucy. It sometimes feels empty when I dress Scarlett in those favorite onesies. She looks adorable. I love her so much and am so grateful to have her. But she isn’t Lucy and these onesies won’t magically bring her back even for a moment. The memories associated with these garments might be outweighing the joy of dressing Scarlett in them. The emptiness might be me blocking the pain.
I want to be clear that I in no way want Scarlett to be Lucy. I don’t want Lucy instead of Scarlett. I want them both and, since that is not possible, I look for and try to establish connections between the two. It makes me happy to see similarities between the two of them. But I love Scarlett for herself and am learning her unique traits. I treasure them.
We will take our Christmas pictures this weekend. We will pose the kids in front of the at least partially decorated tree in matching pajamas, partly because Max was being very three on Lucy’s one and only Christmas Eve and I got so angry that I just told Chris to take him to bed. We forgot the matching pajamas and never took any pictures in front of the tree. We didn’t even fake it a few days later. I don’t know why.
Of course, we had no idea that would be our only Christmas with Lucy. If she had lived, it would have just been a funny anecdote about the craziness brought out in our kids and us by the stress of Christmas. It still is, but it’s also the impetus for these pictures.
It will be meaningful and joyful to pose our two living children in front of the mantel with all three kids’ stockings. It will make me so happy to see them in front of the tree together in their matching pajamas with a photo of Lucy in her Christmas pajamas next to them.
But it isn’t the same. Not the same as it was with Lucy or the same as it was when we had two children before. We have lost our innocence and our joy is sharpened by deep gratitude and pain.
I was trying to fix things, plug the hole, sidestep my pain. I called it honoring Lucy’s memory, including her because she is still part of our family. It is those things.
Putting a new baby in Lucy’s empty onesies doesn’t fill her place. Pretending normalcy produces emptiness at times. It seems astonishing to think you can pretend normalcy with one of your children represented by a photo within a photo, but I sure tried.
So, I will keep trying to honor and include Lucy, but I will work on not pretending it’s ok. I don’t want emptiness. I want the joy and pain that come from love and loss and the ability to appreciate the new moments of normalcy and peace with our precious kids.

Day of Rest?

I stealthily peek around the corner. At least, I peek as best I can with my shirt over my head.

My son’s high-pitched voice pipes, “Noooo! It’s the ghost! Get away!”

We take off in opposite directions around the staircase, giggling hysterically, me hauling my shirt back down enough to avoid smacking into the wall.

Chris had headed upstairs to put the baby down before our game started, warning me to make sure Fort didn’t try to eat Max’s uneaten lunch on the kitchen table. As I darted through the dining room once more, an unmistakable fragrance met my nostrils. Cat pee. I hoped fervently that my running past the crawl space that contained the litterboxes had simply wafted the smell further than usual.

I called time-out to perform a search with our special flashlight anyway. Lo and behold, I found cat pee. In two different places. One of which was directly in the path Max crawled through with his trains to escape the “ghost”.

I begin the familiar process of cleaning up the cat pee with the Simple Green.

“Mommy! Be the ghost!”

“I can’t be the ghost, honey. Right now, I’m a stressed out mom cleaning up cat pee. And I’m going to need you to stay where you are in case you crawled through it.”

As I rush to the kitchen for more paper towels, I see that Fort is on the kitchen table helping himself to Max’s lunch. I shoo him away. A sniff test reveals that Max did, indeed, crawl through the cat pee with his trains. I strip him down, sniff his skin. Bath time. I pack away the food and begin to lead him upstairs.

Chris appears.

“Max and I were playing ghosts, I found cat pee, Fort got into his lunch while I was cleaning it up, and Max crawled through it with his trains. Now he needs a bath.”

Chris looked like he wanted to go back to walking the floor with the fussy baby.

A squawk from said fussy baby emanates from the baby monitor.

“It’s ok, I don’t think Fort actually got any of Max’s food. You take him upstairs, I’ll listen for her, and finish cleaning up.”

Chris sniffs Max, gags slightly, and leads him and his dirty pajamas upstairs.

The squawks turn to cries.

Now it’s Mom’s turn to walk the floor.

And THAT’S Sunday morning.

New Frontiers

I anticipated writing less after Scarlett’s birth. I figured it would be due to lack of time and that is certainly a factor. I didn’t count on not knowing what to write about or not even having the brain power to organize my thoughts coherently. For the past few days, writing on my blog didn’t even cross my mind, which shocked and worried me a little.

I started this blog in 2008, but only wrote on it very sporadically until Lucy died. Prioritizing tasks and making good use of my time were never my strong suits, but I finally learned after her death. I made her a promise and am still determined to keep it.

But the form of that kept promise might have to change. I grow weary of the essays about my feelings. Maybe they just aren’t as necessary. That might be a good sign. Regardless, I feel the need to stretch my wings and sharpen other writing skills. I want to write actual stories or delve into topics. Maybe even see if I can turn the everyday into humor and inspiration as other mom bloggers do.

I’m not saying I won’t still share my feelings here or try to turn this blog into something more once I have more time. However, I think I am advancing to a new place in my life, grief, and writing and I am excited to see where it goes. I promised Lucy I would live for the both of us and I’ll never stop trying to do that.

It sounds like Scarlett is awake, so that’s all for today, folks. 

Holding Hands with a Ghost

As I drift between sleep and waking, I feel her again.

She stands next to the bed, looking at me. That is always the time she chooses to visit me. Rarely during sleep, but on the edge of it.

Her face looks different. Rather than solemnity or sadness, it exudes contentment and peace.

We reach for each other. My larger hand envelops her smaller one. The bumpy, delicate outline of her fingers and palm is so familiar. She inherited those long fingers from me.

I serenely drift off to sleep. In the morning, I remember and smile. A glow fills my heart.

I was finally brave enough to reach for her hand.

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