I made coffee on the first day of school. Right into my shiny new travel mug. It only takes a few minutes in the morning-- pop pod into the machine, put mug under spigot, wait for green light, press button; meanwhile, get milk out of the fridge, pour into a glass, pop into microwave (milk jug back into the fridge), start; after the coffee is done, add Splenda, wait for milk, pour that in, stir, screw the travel mug's top on, and done. As it turns out,
that day I made the coffee only to forget it on the kitchen table.
Not the first time, and not the last, of course. But as the emotions started to overtake me later, in the school auditorium during the first day of school assembly/introduction of new teachers/may this be a good and challenging year thing, it was that mug of coffee I was missing, blaming my sudden desire to weep, my sudden out of place and out of time feeling on its absence. Logically it's far more likely that the culprit was JD's absence-- away on business, and thus a lack of a hand to squeeze and eyes to exchange meaningful glances with. But logic was absent that morning. As was my coffee. And I was convinced that had I only had the coffee, things would've been better, each sip providing a grounding, and the mug-- a place for my hands to be.
So I was already wound up by the time we made our way from the classroom to the assembly-- by the commute, by lack of coffee, by lack of sleep directly related to the what the hell have I gotten myself into crazy busy work schedule I was in the middle of, take your pick-- when in walked another mom in the class, with a biggish toddler girl. I actually saw the toddler first, heard her say something, registered a fleeting thought about how I don't know her and wonder who she belongs to. Just then seeing who she attached herself to answered that question, and made me wince (on the inside, I am pretty sure I kept my actual face straight).
I was right-- I'd never seen the kid before. But the last time she was called to my attention stang. It still stings, through no fault of hers or even her mom's. She was still in utero then, two years and some months ago, during a meet and greet for Monkey's future kindergarten class. It was there that another mom in the class (one with whom I'd actually had a bit of a history) during the go-around-the-circle introductions said of her three months old baby "...and this is X, future [name of school] incoming class of 2012, classmate of Y [pointing at another family's brand-new baby] and [pointing at the belly] Z's baby." I knew she didn't know, but that didn't help. To be honest, neither did the history. Or that JD wasn't there then either, to, you know, provide me that much needed hand to squeeze and eyes to exchange meaningful glances with. (Um, yes... seems I'd had a hard time at all three significant school events he's ever missed.)
So there I am, realizing who this little girl is, and starting to fall apart on the inside. I can't even tell you exactly why. She's younger than A would've been, and a girl. I think about it, and decide that it must be because she marks time, the ordinary, predictable, uninterrupted passing of time. And popping like that into my world, fully formed whirling and chatting dervish, she reminds me, abruptly and three dimensionally, of what it is exactly that I am missing. It happens to me once in a while (usually when it's a new age-appropriate skill that I am suddenly observing, like when I saw that clueless mom's baby X run on the playground)-- I realize, with one cutting, blinding image, that the age-old saying of the bereaved parents is true. We don't just lose our babies, we lose also all the other ages they might've grown to be.
Time, for me, makes some blows softer. But not all, and not predictably. Something like ten days after that first day of class thing we took the Cub to his trial baby gymnastics class. It's at the place where Monkey spends inordinate amount of hours each week, and I thought we could spend one of those letting the Cub explore all the wonderfully climby things he eyes with envy every time we drop her off or pick her up. There were two girls in the class, both obviously older than him, older than two. I should've figured it out, seeing as the class is for kids under 3, but I didn't. I didn't give it much thought at all, I guess.
Towards the end of the class there was the tumbling run game, and the coach was giving different instructions to each kid/parent combo, depending on what skills the kid needed to work on. The Cub was trying to walk on the springy surface while holding my hands without falling. The girls were each assigned some form of a jump attempt. The coach said something to one mom, she answered, the other mom misheard and reacted, and that resulted in the moms spontaneously exchanging their daughters' birthdays-- February 23rd and March 16th. They were both surprised to find how close in age the girls were. I was surprised that the dates, neatly hugging A's due date on either side, didn't knock the air out of me, as I would've expected them to do even just a year ago. (In the interest of full disclosure, though, we haven't been back to the class yet. I tell myself it's because of how our schedule had worked out so far, and it is. But will we go now that there's no scheduling conflicts on the horizon, and now that the Cub is walking confidently on his own? I guess we'll see.)
On the other hand, Monkey this summer has been dealing with the whole issue of never. Never getting to see A, to hold him-- the past. But also the future-- not having him around, not seeing him grow up. That doesn't get easy. Watching her work it out, offering her support and love, but no shortcuts, no platitudes-- that shit's hard.
Time also appears to move at different speeds for me and in my understanding of the world outside. I think of A's death as not long ago, even if no longer yesterday. But it seems I don't have that firm a concept of how long it's been, really. One day this summer we were shooting the breeze at work, talking about issues of professional concern, including retention of women in graduate school and academia in general. Things that come up in these conversations always include maternity leaves and day care situations, inevitably causing conversations to cross into personal experiences. I mentioned the unheard of benefit of three months paid paternity leave JD had and took advantage of when Monkey was a baby. In response my officemate, her eyes filling with tears, said that when her brother's wife lost a baby, his boss was calling him about a client meeting the very next day.
I didn't want to do this in front of the others in the group, but later, back in the office, I asked her how far along her sister-in-law had been then, how long it's been, whether her sister-in-law had support, and about how they were doing. She had to think on the how long ago question, and worked it out to bout two and a half years. Pretty good while, said a voice in my head, and I let it go as we talked about other aspects. I went to the bathroom a few minutes later, and as I was walking it occurred to me that our own monthaversary that day was 30th-- two and a half years. Huh.
When the part of the first day for which parents were welcome to stay was over, and the now-second-graders headed off to their classroom, I was relieved as I walked out of the school. I thought about the route I might take to work, the tasks still left in the day, the lack of coffee. The route, I decided, would take me past the two-tailed mermaid's castle of caffeinated salvation. I saw that latte as stress relief in a cup, size venti. The first sip sent the wave of ahhhhh through my entire body, wave that told me I was not wrong. Triumphantly holding the key to my much improved day, I headed for the car. And then, at the intersection I drive through at least twice a week and know like the back of my hand, I promptly got on the highway headed in the wrong direction.
How have you experienced time since the death of your baby? Has it been a while, or just the other day? Are some things harder than others? Do you have your tricks for dealing with time's curve balls?