Tuesday, April 17, 2012

In Memory...

The fourth anniversary of my Grandmother's death came and went.  I didn't notice any posts on Facebook; I didn't spend any time in silent, tearful reflection of her life; in fact, I didn't even think of it.  And while I am, in a way, ashamed to admit that... I think that's how it should be... for me.

My Grandmother's death was the first death that I ever dealt with. I'd lost a great-grandmother many years previously, when I was too young to mourn.  I'd lost a dear neighbor-grandmother-type while I was in college, but a few tears and a few hours of mourning, and I moved on.  I'd known people who had died, but no one who I had loved.  So when G-Ma passed, it was a learning experience for me.  A time of discovering how to miss someone close to you;  how to love someone even after they are gone forever.  Most importantly, it was a time of figuring out how a family continues to move, rotate around each other, and grow without their Matriarch.

My Grandmother died in April, a time most often reserved for life and growth.  My third child, Kolbie, was three months old.  Because we were in Maryland and Grandma was in Florida, I had not yet had the opportunity to introduce Grandma to her newest great-grandchild, although she had already made herself an active presence in the baby's life.  Gifts in the mail (a blanket that Kolbie carries with her reminescent of Linus), new clothes, and, most fondly remembered, phone call after phone call during my pregnancy suggesting baby names.  I have to laugh when I think of some of her suggestions... but I can guarantee she laughed when she heard what name we'd chosen.  Needless to say, "Kolbie" wasn't on her list.

I missed introducing my sweet baby girl to my grandmother by a matter of hours.  We received the news that she had passed as we were boarding the plane at Dulles.   Although we weren't shocked that she was gone, I think there was also a sense of disbelief.  I know for me, I found it hard to believe that someone was dead if I couldn't see their absence immediately.  It wasn't until we arrived in Florida, arrived in the midst of mourning and funeral arrangements and family members moving around attempting to deal with their individualized pain that I think the non-logical aspect of her loss hit me.  But even then, I think it was primarily logic that caused me to mourn-- knowing that she was dead.  Or is it the knowing that she wouldn't be coming back?

For that, in truth, wasn't the time of most mourning for me.  I'd only seen her a few times in her Florida setting, so it was hard to miss her in a place I didn't know her.  But three months later, as the family converged at Grandma and Grandpa's lake house in New York, then the missing hit.  I still recall arriving at Conesus Lake, stretching legs and happy to have made the seven hour trip without succumbing to the desire to leave one of the children on the side of the road.  As we greeted family and shared anecdotes about the trip north with two little ones and a newborn, I kept sniffing the air for the absent smell of cigarettes.  I couldn't help but look in her chair and not see her.  That was where I missed her-- where I knew her.  Where she belonged.

I thought it was just me.  Just me who associated her so closely to that specific place.  But it wasn't until the following year at Conesus when my son, five years old then, ran through the living room excited to have arrived, stopped and asked me, confused, "I want to say hi to Great-Grandma!  Where is she?  She's not in her chair!", that I realized the concept of her death over a year earlier had never quite hit him.  He still expected her to be in that chair by the big picture window-- no matter where he was.

Four years have passed..  I-- and for all I know, others as well- still look in that chair each time we visit the Lake, not really "for" Grandma, but definitely in memory of Grandma.  It's not that I don't miss her the rest of the time, it's just that I didn't "know" her the rest of the time.  I could call her across state lines, but not being able to call her ever is, in some ways, the same as just choosing not to call her today-- or so it feels.  And many times since her death- often on the anniversary of, I think about calling Grandpa-- but I don't.  He'd never been the one who talked on the phone.  Oh, he'd be there, sitting on the second line, listening as Grandma and I would go on and on about what the kids were doing and how life was, but he wasn't a talker, only occasionally offering a comment on Grandma and my dialogue.  So I didn't call.  But maybe I should have.

When I lost my baby, I cried for days.  I moved around that Thanksgiving holiday, still holding that child in my womb, knowing it was dead, refusing to involve myself in the laughter going on around me.  I thought I would cry forever.  I thought that not a morning would pass that I wouldn't wake up, touch my belly, and remember.  But I was blessed with Micah and, while I still remember and mourn that lost child, it doesn't hurt as it once did. I have no memories that haven't been exchanged for better ones-- a kicking child, a live birth, a baby in my arms. I remember, but I don't mourn.  My mother lost multiple babies.  I call her on the dates of their birth, the dates of their death, when I recall them.  We don't speak of why I'm calling, what that date represents.  We just speak.  And we know what the other is thinking.  I didn't call my Grandfather because I argued "what would I say?  Do I mention it?  I never call him, we email (my moving-into-the-21st-century grandfather).  I don't want to bring up bad memories when he may be having a great day.  I don't want to cause him sadness today, when he must have so much more longing and missing after sixty years of marriage than I can ever imagine.  I don't want to interrupt a good memory with his new friend, if that's how he is spending this day...  but I know those are just excuses. Maybe Grandpa would have wanted that voice on the other end of the line.  Not saying anything, but saying everything I don't know how to say in the ringing of the phone itself.  So, I'm sorry, Grandpa.

Maybe I chose subconsciously to forget this date, this anniversary this year, refuse to assign it strength and power on my calendar because that's my way of remembering her.  If I don't make that phone call, she can't not pick up that phone.  If I don't see that chair sitting empty, I don't notice that she is gone.  There's no way I will ever forget my Grandmother.  No day that I won't, in some way, miss her and regret her absence in my life and the lives of my children.  But you can miss someone and mourn someone without assigning a time and date to it.  And I'd rather remember her in her chair, watching as her offspring... and their offspring... and their offspring... moved past her, around her, occasionally taking a seat next to her to fill her in on recent news or that day's events, if the seat next to her happened to be empty (which it seldom was).  I'd rather pretend she is still there... just waiting for the next visit from her family, then remember the day she died.

So, on that day, the fourth anniversary of her death, I thought of finding cleats for the soccer games and cupcakes growing stale on my counter, three pounds of crabs and a bottle or two of beer on the back deck.  I thought of my children, my husband, what laundry needed to be done and lesson planning....and I hope she wouldn't mind that she was missing all of that, since the lake is beautiful to look at this time of year from a soft pink chair next to a picture window.    

Friday, April 13, 2012

Letting go...

So, Micah turned two on Sunday.  This also happened to be Easter Sunday, which was fine for this year, but I can see becoming a problem down the road.  For one, we got so distracted with Easter dinner with family and friends that I lost track of time and neglected to make Micah a birthday cake.  I rectified this mistake two days after the fact and, safe to say, she didn't notice.  She blew out the candles like a champ- or maybe it was Kolbie... or Kayton... or Mason.... and her presents also got opened as though she'd been doing it for many years more than her two--although, again, she had a lot of assistance.

But birthday cake aside, her two year old birthday was even a bigger milestone for my sweet little girl than either she or I were prepared for.  You see, since her first birthday, I've been promising my husband (and my mother-in-law.... and my friends... and my own parents... and my other three children) that I would wean my dear sweet baby girl.

I am not a crazy nursing fiend. Personally, I can't wait to have my body back to myself and my sleep-time uninterrupted by a 5am nursing call.  Granted, it's been a few months since I've had to get out of bed to retrieve a crying child from her crib.  These days, I typically wake up sometime between 4 and 5 am to a little fuzzy head peeping over the edge of my bed, face even with mine, patting my face, softly saying "Mommy, nurse!  Mommy... 'ake up!  Nurse!"  If I am (and by "I am" I mean "they are") dangling too far off the bed she doesn't bother to wake me and just goes into nursing mode, standing next to my bed, half-asleep, but content--  reminiscent of what you would see if you visited a petting zoo.  Yes, some days I do feel like a cow.

And it's not just me that's ready for the nursing to end.  Many mornings JMahl has complained about Micah's half-awake attempts to find her source of comfort, patting him and pulling his chest hair to determine if... wait.. no, Mommy's not fuzzy right here and there's no milk forth-coming, so I must roll over, and... yes, that's Mommy... ah....  But the damage is already done.  JMahl is already fundamentally (and probably permanently) disturbed by either A/ the patting and groping hands in the early morning hours or B/ his inability to fulfill the needs of his youngest child.

I'm more disturbed by the fact that she's physically strong enough and mentally smart enough to discard any clothing I may have covering her goal, regardless of where we are.  And now she's vocal-- and by vocal, I mean she knows words-- alot of them-- although it's only six that really bother me.  "MOMMY, I WANT TO NURSE NOW!!!!"  Before she spoke, it wasn't such an embarrassing situation to nurse in public.  She'd cry, people would smile sympathetically and nod their heads understandingly when I would ask "you don't mind if I nurse her, do you?".  Now that she speaks, people look at me as though I'm nursing a nine year old.   My husband is concerned that I will be nursing a nine year old.

So, birthday number two was the designated "time to start weaning the baby" day.  And that day has come and gone.  Oh, I try, but weaning is not so easy as I thought it would be.  And yes, I did nurse my previous three, but Kayton and Mason weaned themselves, and Kolbie was easily weaned.  I clearly remember the first time I told Kolbie no.  She was about 22 months old, and I was pregnant with Micah.  She looked at me very solemnly for a moment, then turned around and toddled off to play with one of her siblings.  And that was that.  Weaned.  Micah isn't so easily distracted, although my husband says it's me and not her that is prolonging this issue.

And maybe he's right.  Maybe it is me; or maybe, Micah understands that I'm just not ready.  Physically, I'm ready.  Socially, I'm beyond ready.  Our society really doesn't approve of nursing past a certain point.  It's just "disturbing" to see a child nursing in her mother's arms, then sit up, buckle up the nursing bra, and in a clear voice say "Thank you, Mommy, that was yummy.  I'm going to go use the potty now, and then I'm going to read a book to you."  Yes, Yes.  I am definitely ready to avoid that situation.  But mentally... mentally, am I ready yet?

I have four children, and I know I will not have any more.  Micah is my last baby.  But it's not just about prolonging her baby-hood.  It's about, well, becoming unnecessary.  There is something amazing, magical, and , yes, prideful, in the fact that when I look at this child of mine, I can see that she is 100% the result of me.  She is, lives, and grows because of ME.  Every ounce of her body came from mine-- something that can't be said about children once they no longer nurse.  Then their body is made up of Daddy's sandwiches and Grandpa's cookies and the Cafeteria Lady's tacos and McDonald's chicken nuggets.  But Micah is still me.  And when she ceases to need me in this way, she not only ceases to be such a complete part of me, but I cease to be completely necessary.  Nursing is the one way that I and ONLY I can appease her needs.  Once she weans, she is an independent being, no longer relying solely on me for sustenance and comfort, but able to receive those from anyone who hands her a cookie or offers her a hug.

And maybe that's what this ultimately comes down to--- letting go of ME as the most important part of her life.  Once a child weans, they are independent.  They are their own person.  They steal cookies out of the cookie jar when hungry; they go to school and learn other people's ideas and theories; they listen to their friends' moms more happily than they do their own.  They become their own person.  And while there is something very wonderful about watching your children grow into their own bodies and their own personalities, there is something very heart-breaking in realizing that you are just now an addendum to their life--still an important part of their life, but no longer the Creator and Sustainer of that life.

But isn't this the ultimate goal of parenthood?  To create, to mold, to educate, to support, to love, to encourage, to promote the lives of our children, not our own?  We give birth to our children so that they will, in turn, give birth to progress, creativity, hope, a future.  We create them so they can create a better world, and very few people have been successful in this while still attached to their mothers.  Literally.

And while the desire to prolong this transition from "part of me" to "part of my life" is strong, I recognize it must come some day.  And it probably should come before my husband gives up sleeping in our bed altogether or I am completely ostracized from all polite society.  And I'd like it to come while there is still some chance that I can regain my pre-nursing body.... but that doesn't mean I'm not going to mourn this loss of my "baby", and it doesn't mean it's going to happen overnight; but it will happen, I'm sure of it.  At the very least, by the time Micah decides to run for political office, she'll know that she'll either need to quit on her own or do a darn good job of hiding it from the media.