Grower’s vision

“Try to see your child as a seed that came in a packet without a label.  Your job is to provide the right environment and nutrients and to pull the weeds. You can’t decide what kind of flower you’ll get or in which season it will bloom”

~Anonymous, as quoted in The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel

The chill, then stupor, then the letting go

It was Emily Dickinson who said in her beautiful poem “After Great Pain”:

This is the hour of lead

Remembered if outlived

As freezing persons recollect the snow

First the chill, then stupor, then the letting go

It is strange and amazing how we can read something one day and find it nothing more than haunting and beautiful and the next grasp the fullest meaning of each short word. It is remarkable how the death of a child can bring your senses to a sharpness you never experienced before. It is this sharpness that allows us to feel more intensely at these times though it doesn’t always feel like a gift. Often times I wonder what I would say to parents like these.

At one time I wore shoes that fit in a similar fashion. This doesn’t make me any wiser, but I recollect some of the things people did say to me and I wonder now as I did then, “what were they thinking?” I was blessed to have one woman placed in my life that acted as a guiding beacon to me during these times because of some of the advice she gave me–though not all of it came in the form of words. If I had to pass on anything to other parents who were hurting because of the death of their precious child what would it be? It wouldn’t be enough, it would be lacking, and it would be less than perfect. It would be heartfelt and honest though; it would be something like this: Continue reading

Leaving letters

Today I was talking with a friend.  She mentioned that when she was growing up she loved finding little notes to her from her stepmother, J–in her lunch box, in a box of cereal, inside her backpack. J worked full time as a professor and this was one way of connecting with her kids when she couldn’t be there.  For my friend, the lasting memory was that moment of glee, in finding something unexpected from someone who so completely loved her and told her so often.

Recently J received a cancer diagnosis, a blow to their family world. My friend has decided (in addition to giving support with rides and visits and food) to sneak into J’s house and leave notes in her cereal box, makeup case, purse. To give her that moment of glee in finding something unexpected from someone who so completely loves her.  Full circle, now.

It reminded me of an article I chanced upon in Esopus magazine (via Ali Edwards) about a dad who wrote daily letters to his two children. According to the Esopus 10 website, “exhibition designer Robert Guest has been getting up at dawn every school day for the past 15 years to write a note to each of his two children, Joanna and Theo. Included in Esopus 10 is a sampling of the thousands of letters written by Guest and collected by his wife, Gloria, from lunchboxes and laundry piles.”   Here’s the text from one of them (above left):

“The world Joanna–you can’t imagine how beautiful it really is.  Think of the different places–tropical islands, snow-capped mountains, deserts of sand, miles and miles of green fields.  It’s awesome! Think of the kinds of weather–bitter cold – blinding sun – stormy wind and rain – cool breezes – warm winds.  It’s awesome! Think of the people in the world –black & brown, yellow and red, and white – old, young and babies of each.  It’s awesome! And just think. You get to be here in the middle of it all. So what do you do? You smile, you say “thanks” and you live!  Love, Dad”

Every once in a while, I come across an idea that makes me wish I could go back and start parenting all over again.  Looking through a couple of these letters, this is one of those ideas (click on the above photo to get a closer look).  What I love about these is that they aren’t just about his love for the children (which of course is important) but it’s also about sharing his thoughts and perspectives about the world and life.

Luckily, it’s not too late to write something, even if it’s not the fantastic, letter-a-day idea.  Maybe starting with notes or drawings on napkins.  Or a yearly letter.  Or a shared notebook to exchange thoughts we might not be able to say face-to-face.  Or a post-it.

Here’s what I believe: Writing it down has power and longevity, more than the earnest lectures on responsibility or the new shiny birthday bike. Those tucked messages to our kids eventually nestle in pockets and fists and musty shoeboxes carried from home to apartment and home again to be pulled out and remembered.  Or at least that’s what I do with mine.

In the meantime…

Summer is slowly winding down around here and my thoughts are turning back to Letters to a Parent. I am excited to hear from the next batch of wonderful letter writers and hope you’ll join us here starting in September.  

In the meantime, head over to This I Believe for some lovely essays to buoy your parenting spirits.  They’re currently featuring a handful of essays about beliefs handed from parents to children.

I especially loved the ones about silly dances + being yourself, leaving the kitchen light on, and integrity. Click on over for some inspiring reads.

Scrambled Heart, Part 1

I have spent countless days in hospitals: Someone checks you in, you fill out papers, they take copies, you wait. Someone else rolls your son in a wheelchair down the wide corridor, past the grand piano where elderly volunteers play “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” or “Five Foot Two” or “Amazing Grace,” up the elevator to a private room on the sixth floor where you’ve been before. You follow behind, making small talk and smiling, packing the necessary equipment – cell phone, laptop and an unread book – you will need to stay occupied while you wait. And wait. You wait for blood tests and x-rays and doctor visits while you play with your cell phone downloading worthless ring tones and pictures of purple mountains you will never look at again. You watch the black shadows move down the concrete walls on the buildings outside the window. You rub your son’s palm with your index finger, the way you did when he was a baby. You try to read, but your eyes blur. You fill up the room with balloons from the gift shop, because no one even knows that your son is in the hospital, again, and no one sends balloons or stops by or calls. So you fill in the space. Continue reading

Scrambled Heart, Part 2

{Continued from last week’s essay}

Because of the Hepatitis C diagnosis and subsequent cirrhosis doctors later agreed to evaluate him for a heart/liver transplant, quite rare, but several have been successfully completed around the country. Doctors wanted to do some lung studies first, before sending him to Seattle for a heart/liver evaluation. The doctors discovered his lung functions were extremely poor, possibly due to fibroid tumors, probably from anti-fibrillation drugs: he would need a heart/liver/lung transplant. Although multiple organ transplantation has been successful, the three big guns have been transplanted only once before.

After six months of waiting for results and decisions, a letter from Mayo Clinic arrived stating the “constellation of his anatomy” was in too great a state of disarray and he was pronounced a non-viable candidate. The sand in the hourglass draining, Mike and I began measuring time as though a bomb were set to detonate at the end of the two-year death sentence. We never told Zeke about the letter from Mayo. We told him only that the doctors said “not now” on the transplantation. Doctors agreed to respect our decision.

Continue reading

7 things I’ve learned from motherhood

1. After you leave the hospital, in the middle of the night, when the baby won’t sleep…it’s all you. (And your husband, of course, if you’ve got a good one.) But the point is, from now on, when that little face looks around for food, comfort, nurturing…you are the one. And it’s a humbling, beautifully terrifying prospect.

We’ve loved our daughter since the day she was born, but because she came to us in a different way, I’ll never forget this experience:

When she was almost three months old I went to a luncheon. Many of the women there wanted to see and hold her, and she was getting passed around quite a bit. I don’t know if something happened or if she was just getting tired of all the passing, but she began to cry and look around. Finally she found me and her eyes locked on mine; she smiled through her tears as if to say: “Mommy, I found you! Save me!” All I could think of at that moment, was “Oh my gosh, she’s looking for me!” It was an emotional experience for me for obvious reasons. She knew I was her mother. And when she saw me, she knew she would be okay.

(First lesson: you are The One.) Continue reading