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Today Zoe’s school had a lockdown drill.
They warned parents this would be happening, in a note sent home last week. So I told Zoe there would be a drill, kind of like a fire drill but different. She doesn’t know about what happened in Newtown. She doesn’t need to know. I told her the drill was in case there was an emergency. “Like a hurricane or a tornado?” she asked. “Right,” I said. She doesn’t need to know about shooters or terrorists or bombs.
For her, it’s scary enough to be ushered into the coatroom in your classroom, see your teacher shut and lock the door, and turn off the lights. Being told to sit very quietly and very still in a small pitch black room is pretty scary for a kindergartener, even if you have no idea why you might be having such a drill.
I asked her if she held hands with one of her friends while they sat quietly in the dark coatroom. She said no, because none of her friends were nearby. I asked if the teachers said anything. She said the teacher’s aide said “Shhh…” a few times, and that her teacher whispered periodically that they were doing a good job and there were only a few minutes left.
She said she almost cried, but she didn’t cry, and neither did any of her classmates.
On the way to pick her up from school I was listening to radio coverage of the explosions and casualties at the Boston Marathon. Wondering what kind of a world we live in where marathon runners and spectators are maimed and killed by bombs and where our schools have to practice in case a heavily armed and deeply disturbed person comes along, which no longer seems as unlikely as it used to.
So on the way home from school I asked Zoe if she wanted to learn something to help her be less scared if they had to do another lockdown drill. Of course I also thought or, if, God forbid, you’re actually ever locked down. But I didn’t say that part.
I told her that first she could try to calm herself down by repeating
May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be safe
May I have peace
as many times as she wanted, in her head, taking deep breaths between phrases. Then I told her she could think of someone she loved, and picture that person, and say to herself
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be safe
May you have peace
as many times as she wanted, still taking deep breaths.
Then I suggested she could think of a person she knows but maybe not that well, and do the same for him or her. Then she could expand it to her class, or her school, or any group of people. And finally, she could think of wishing those things for the whole world.
May everyone be happy
May everyone be healthy
May everyone be safe
May everyone have peace
She liked this idea.
She told Randy about it at dinnertime.
We practiced it at bedtime. She sent lovingkindness to her brother still hanging out in my belly. To one of her friends at school. To her teacher. To me.
She seemed so relaxed and peaceful. I felt relaxed and peaceful, despite the horrifying events of today. Despite the stressful day we had yesterday in which many things went very badly and resulted in me feeling incredibly frustrated and disappointed in Zoe. Despite the past few weeks in which there has been a steadily escalating cloud of anxiety enveloping our house. Each of us in our own way has been freaking out to varying degrees on any given day about the imminent arrival of our baby boy.
How can you help but be a little on edge when you know your entire life is about to change irrevocably? Even if it’s changing in a way you’ve longed for for years. A good friend shared her insight that it made sense that we would be mourning the loss of our little three-person family even as we are thrilled for the person who will make it four. For six years we’ve been us and now we have this remarkable little girl who is so spectacular and loving and becoming so independent. And we’re starting over? It seems crazy.
So it’s been tense at times.
Thank goodness for lovingkindness meditation. While we were practicing tonight Zoe observed, “this is kind of like praying,” and I responded that yes, it’s kind of like that. To me it amounts to the same thing.
Amid a sea of uncertainty, I am grateful that I could give her this gift. And that in the process I can remind myself of the power of lovingkindness as well. I can always use the practice.
Zoe has been consistently thrilled at the prospect of becoming a big sister ever since we told her. She’d been wishing for this as long as we had–which was a long time.
The only reservation she had was about moving to a new room. We have three bedrooms, but since I work from home, one of them has to be my office. So we realized the only real option was to move Zoe and the baby into the slightly bigger bedroom. While she said she was up for the change, she expressed a lot of anxiety about it.
At Christmas, my sister’s mother-in-law, who recently moved to this area from South Carolina, surprised us with a generous offer to paint the new kids’ room. She had recently repainted some rooms in my sister and brother-in-law’s house and was in the process of painting in her own house and I guess she was in the painting groove. We happily accepted.
Last week she was here for three days, expertly applying several coats of a bright yellow shade called summer wheat.
When my mom asked Zoe what she thought of the new paint job, Zoe gushed “it’s so beautiful!” and when Randy came home from work, Zoe showed him the room and said, “even when it’s nighttime outside, I’ll have sunshine in my room, and even when it’s winter, I’ll have summer in my room!”
Then yesterday, we moved the furniture around and set Zoe up in the new yellow room. Until we have time to set up the crib, her dolls and stuffed animals have taken up residence on the crib mattress in the corner. At bedtime last night, Zoe said, “I’m not worried about my new room any more. I just couldn’t imagine what it would look like before, but now that it’s all set up, I’m used to it already. It’s fabulous.”
Of course at bedtime last night and tonight, when I told her to get undressed, she wandered into the office. And then turned around and came back down the hall. At bedtime tonight when she was saying what she was thankful for, she said “I’m thankful that Chris is alive and that she painted my room.” Me too! Thanks, Chris.
Our family loves Sweet Honey in the Rock. We have most of their cds, we’ve seen them in concert several times, and I was fortunate enough to meet member Ysaye Barnwell when I was singing with All Souls Church’s Jubilee Singers, which she founded decades ago.
Sweet Honey has produced a few kids cds, and Zoe loves them. One was a favorite when she was younger–it includes folk songs and gospel songs and African songs and is perfect to sing along with or sing to your baby or toddler. Another one is more geared toward older kids, about education, respect, and manners. This one she played over and over and over several times a day for weeks last year. As much as we like the group and the music, it made us insane. Finally we made her switch to something else. And I revealed that I owned several other Sweet Honey cds. So she asked me to get them out.
We transferred most of my Sweet Honey cds to the car, and Zoe quickly observed that the music for grown-ups sounds different than the music for kids. While there are definitely tight harmonies and creative rhythms common to both, the subject matter of the songs varies widely.
So I’ve found myself explaining a lot of things I didn’t expect to have to talk about with a person who is almost six. Last week in the car we listened to one cd that includes the song “Patchwork Quilt” about the AIDS quilt. Zoe asked me what it was about. So I tried to explain AIDS and the AIDS quilt. There were other songs about injustice, racism, rape, human rights, and all kinds of juicy stuff like that. I tried to explain what “This Is a Mean World” was about. And there were more questions I wasn’t even sure how to approach. I don’t like to lie to Zoe. I don’t like to be evasive. But I also don’t want to go too deep or too far or say too much. I don’t think she or I could handle it. So I cover the basics and leave it at that. She usually listens to what I say and then is quiet. I don’t know if she’s reflecting or she’s just moved on. Then if we’re lucky, an African song with a great beat will come on and she’ll ask me to turn it up and start it from the beginning. Then I can reflect on injustice, human rights, death, and why the world is the way it is.
It’s been a long, stressful week for us. Zoe was home from school with a horrible virus for four days. Randy started a new job–which is great–but of course mentally exhausting and physically draining with new things to learn and new routines and a new commute. I am 35 weeks pregnant and continue to be generally a mess. AND we turned our house upside down in an effort to rearrange our rooms so Zoe and the baby will have a larger room to share and my office, which was in the larger room, moves to the room Zoe was inhabiting. This sounded so relatively simple when we planned it out. Randy even created the computer model of the rooms and the furniture so we could make sure everything would fit where we needed it to go. But of course the computer model doesn’t include all the STUFF that is everywhere, and we had to haul boxes and boxes of junk downstairs and into our bedroom and all over the place in order to accomplish this feat. It’s still not done. But it’s getting there.
All this is to say that we were all dragging a little today. Zoe and I went to church, though, and midway through the service, she asked if she could lie down on the pew. She put her head on my leg and fell asleep. Zoe LOVES church. She begs to go. So I knew if she wanted to sleep that she really needed to sleep. So she slept through the sermon and the last hymn and the benediction. Her favorite part of the service is usually the music after the benediction. So I gently nudged her awake so she could hear the song. Today’s musicians were All Souls’ jazz artist in resident, Rochelle Rice, who has a fantastic voice and beautiful presence, and an amazing jazz combo backing her up. They performed an inspirational interpretation of U2′s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which was soul stirring. We were sitting up in the balcony and I stood up to clap and sway along, as did many others. Next to me, Zoe had a big brown bear in a yellow sundress that she brought to church because she made her yesterday at a Build-a-Bear Workshop birthday party. She had her bear dancing and clapping along on the balcony as well.
After the service a man I’d never met before came up to us and introduced himself. He said he and his family were sitting across the church in the other balcony and loved seeing Zoe and her dancing bear. “It was the most inspirational thing!” he said. He seemed so happy that Zoe and her bear had been dancing. Then we went downstairs to use the bathroom and two other people we passed exclaimed, “I saw your bear dancing!” as if it had been a Palm Sunday miracle. I was amused. I forget how visible we are in the balcony. But it made me happy that Zoe woke up in time to enjoy the last song with me and that she and her bear brought some sunshine into other people’s morning.
I often think about the parents I know who have a bunch of kids. Three or more is what I consider a bunch. I know a few families with five or six or eight. I don’t think this is good or bad, I just don’t understand how it works. As someone who was an only child until the age of seven, and then a proud big sister of one, and as a mom of an only child for nearly six years eagerly anticipating a baby, having so many children seems like an impenetrable mystery to me.
As it is, I’m having a hard enough time dealing with the transition from one to two even though number two won’t be born for a couple more months. And in case you didn’t know, number two was and is extraordinarily wanted. There is no question about that. And even number one has articulated her desire for a younger sibling for several years. She’s wanted it as much as we have. And even now she hugs and kisses my belly (and her brother) good night every evening. She talks to him and feels him kick and helps pick out clothes and toys for him. You couldn’t ask for a more devoted big sister-to-be.
But what’s proving difficult for both of us is–as much as the size of my belly increases daily–there seems to be less and less of me available to her. It’s nearly impossible for her to sit on my lap, which makes both of us sad. It is sometimes excruciatingly painful for me to sit on the floor with her. Even snuggling with her at bedtime is a challenge. I take up too much room in the bed and it’s difficult and painful for me to get up and down so I am less willing to rearrange, hand her the cup of water, or generally comply with what used to be routine requests.
I have been told by more than one person–both medical professionals and compassionate friends and family members–that she just has to deal. This is just a preview of what’s to come in terms of her having to share me and my attention with her brother. Of course I understand this is true. But that doesn’t make it easy. This is the child to whom I have given my whole heart and my whole self for several years. It seems cruel and selfish to feel like I’m holding out on her. Yes, I understand I’m not actually being cruel or acting selfishly, but that’s how it feels. Do you get that?
I know it will all be worth it and that the joy and adventure of having a sibling will be fantastic for her, and our new family composition and dynamic will be wonderful, however it plays out. But it’s a big freaking change.
Friends keep asking me if I’ve wrapped my head around the idea of having a boy. This is something I was previously worried about, which now seems very silly to me. Now what I’m trying to comprehend is just how different this baby’s existence will be than Zoe’s. Not better or worse, but different. We’ve been invited to participate in a loose group of new and expectant parents, most of whom are first-time parents. There was a lot of discussion about when to have an initial meeting, and several couples said they couldn’t meet until after a certain date when their kids had received shots, or after a certain number of weeks, because they weren’t supposed to be out of the house, or around people. I just had to laugh. Maybe we were the exact same way when Zoe was born. Truthfully, I don’t remember. But this time around, probably when he’s a week or two old, I will be taking this boy with me to pick up Zoe from school, to take her to tae kwan do, and basically anywhere else Zoe needs to go, and just hoping no one sneezes on him. This is reality. And clearly zillions of other parents do this all the time. Most parents in the world don’t have the luxury of cocooning themselves and their babies in germ-free isolation until a specified date. And I’m not asking for that. But just envisioning how much the baby’s schedule will revolve around Zoe’s, perhaps until he’s old enough to have his own schedule, is hard to absorb. I know it will be fine. I know we’ll figure it out. But we are spoiled by what we’ve dealt with for the past several years in just one child. And that’s been complicated enough.
We will probably buy a mini-van. Someday, hopefully not in the too far distant future, we’ll move from our townhouse to a slightly larger single family home. But in the meantime, our kids will share a room. Life will change. And we will adjust. I know there’s plenty of love in my heart to go around. I just wish sometimes that there was more lap.
I sent Zoe back to school today after her week at home to recuperate from eye surgery. She was so ready to go. She’s been for several days when she gets to go back. The surgical strips covering her stitches have fallen off. The bruising on her eyes has gone from purple to yellow to pink. The swelling has subsided. The stitches are still there–the doctor said they’d fall out in the next week or so.
I asked her if she was excited to go back and she said yes. She said “I have this idea that when I walk into my classroom everyone will come up and hug me!” I said that sounded like a nice idea, but that I wasn’t sure if everyone would hug her. I said maybe some people would be busy but some of her friends might hug her. She listed the friends she thought were likely candidates. I hope they hugged her.
Then she said, “for some reason E always wants to kiss me!” Oh? I asked if she didn’t want him to kiss her. She said, “no, I don’t want any boys to kiss me until I’m a woman.” OK.
On the way to school we talked about how she might respond if curious but not necessarily polite kids ask about her stitches or bruised eyelids. I imagine her classmates–who all made beautiful get well cards for her–will not ask rude questions, but other kids might. After we discussed that, I asked, “what would you say if E wants to kiss you?”
“DON’T KISS ME!” she shouted. I asked if there might be a calmer alternative. “I don’t want you to kiss me, E, but I’ll give you a hug,” she offered. I thought that sounded reasonable.
I will remind her when she’s 12 or 13 that she does not want any boys to kiss her until she’s a woman.
Not unusual for a five-year-old, I know. And necessary and worthwhile, because that’s how you learn. But oh so exhausting for the parents.
Recently, about God. We were driving somewhere and Zoe asked something like was God real and if so where does he live. She asked if God has human friends. And she asked about prayer and why people pray. So we talked about God not necessarily being a HE but maybe a spirit who isn’t a man or woman. We talked about God living in your heart. We talked about how many people think of Jesus as their friend and they find it easy to talk to Jesus because he was human too. Her only really familiarity with Jesus was as a baby, so I gave a brief overview of the important teachings of adult Jesus. We talked about being thankful and about wanting good things for people you love and for the world, and how you could pray about those things or meditate. She launched into a confusing story about some kids at her art camp who were trying to meditate and got interrupted. It was a good conversation, and the subject didn’t really come up again.
Until today, when we were leaving the Virginia Scottish Games, held on a giant field on a very hot and humid day and both of us were a little overcome by the sun and heat. I was trying to encourage Zoe to drink some water so she did not get dehydrated. She said “maybe you should pray for me.” “Why should I pray for you?” I asked. She said, “so I won’t get dehydrated.” While am not at all opposed to praying for her, I said, “or I could just get you to drink that water and get you out of the sun.”
Tonight, after a big family discussion about anger and how to handle it, which is always a fun and relaxing bedtime activity, I fielded many questions about surgery. Because in case kindergarten wasn’t enough to worry about, surgery is looming six weeks later. I could answer most of the questions, based on her previous surgery. I played up the new stuffed puppy we already picked out who will be a treat after she wakes up from the anesthesia. I emphasized jello and treats she can eat after we get home. I said we could get as many DVDs form the library as we want. She said she hopes someone will send her flowers.
So we seemed to have all that settled and I’d said one more good night and gone downstairs when I heard “mommy! Is that thunder?” and of course the huge storm had chosen that moment to erupt. So I returned to her room and moved approximately a thousand stuffed animals from her rocking chair so I could sit there. She said I could leave once I was sure she was fast asleep. I threw another dog onto her bed, and she crossed her arms over her chest, clutching Ralph in one and Jenny in the other. Finally, she did fall asleep, to dream of something sweeter than surgery or thunderstorms, I hope.
This morning while I was packing Zoe’s lunch she noticed that I was wincing and asked what what was wrong. I told her my stomach hurt. She said “I wish it was a weekend so we could stay home and you could lie on the couch and I could rub your belly.”
“Oh that’s so sweet,” I said.
“And I could lie on the other couch and you could rub my belly,” she continued.
“Why? Does your stomach hurt too?”
“No,” she said. “It’s just fun to rub your belly.”
A friend (who has already lost her parents) told me last night that she thinks we’re at the age when it is more and more common to start losing people. I struggle mightily with this reality. My mom’s oldest friend lost her husband on Sunday and my parents are with her today. This friend of ours loves poetry and she and I have exchanged poets and poems over the years. In thinking of her and feeling my own heart break for her and her son and her grandchildren, I found this poem.
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
~ e. e. cummings ~
Last night when Zoe’s foot was nestled in the small of my back and her elbow wedged into my neck, as we listened to the Banana Slug String Band for the fifth time, trying to drown out the sound of hail on the window and thunder in the air, I was thinking. What else was there to do? Sleep was not an easy option.
Among other thoughts, I was thinking about the appointment scheduled for this morning to begin testing for fertility treatment. After three years of trying to create a sibling for Zoe and only a miscarriage and two D&Cs to show for it, we realized that something needed to change. We didn’t want to give up. But continuing to do what we’d been doing seemed fruitless, and if you’ve ever been down this road, you know the fun diminishes rapidly. I’ve tried acupuncture, herbs American and Chinese, and supplements. I’ve taken all kinds of well-intentioned advice, and ignored some. What clearly worked like a magic charm for everyone else hadn’t done the trick for us.
And we’d already consulted a fertility specialist a couple years ago. He was rude and arrogant and supremely unhelpful. So part of me dreaded seeing someone else, given our unpleasant experience. But someone reminded me that our sample was very small. So I made an appointment. Then I postponed it for a week. They sent us a lot of forms to fill out. They asked me to call our insurance company, which covers pretty much nothing. They cover the cost of seeing a doctor to see if something’s wrong with you, and if it is, they will pay to have you fixed. But technically one’s inability to have a baby is not a medical problem that requires attention.
So every step I took slowly and consumed with apprehension.
I felt somehow like going to a fertility clinic was admitting defeat. Saying we’d failed at doing this thing that people are supposed to be able to do easily. This thing that everyone else in the world seems to have no trouble with, at least that’s how it appears when I feel like I’m being assaulted by an army of pregnant women every time I leave the house. I do have a few friends who conceived their babies through IVF. Of course I don’t think that they failed. They did what they had to do. But the fact that we’re at this point where I feel like we have to do something is maddening. I don’t want to have to make this choice. But I want a baby, and waiting around does not improve the odds. As our new doctor (who reminds me a bit of the actor Richard Schiff) reminded us when we met him, you really can’t think about the odds too much, because you’re either pregnant or you’re not. Zero or 100%. But when you’re thinking about treatment, you have to look at the numbers. At my age, the changes of getting pregnant during any given month are only 2%-3%. Turns out every month when you think you’re ovulating, you’re only sending out an egg–or at least a good egg-maybe half or two-thirds of the time. And you have no way of knowing when the good months are and when you shouldn’t bother.
The doctor said there’s no reason we shouldn’t have another baby. The fact that Zoe exists and that she was conceived naturally is the biggest item in our favor. But, as Tom Petty so eloquently put it, the waiting is the hardest part. So the doctor said he recommended IUI, which is a step below IVF in terms of invasiveness and in cost. None of this is cheap, for sure. And it all involves a lot of hormones and ultrasounds and blood tests and all kinds of things that you wish you didn’t have to do.
Which, obviously, I don’t have to do. No one is forcing this on me. But we want a baby. Zoe wants to be a big sister more than anything. She has long been so interested in pregnancy that we’ve predicted she will become an OB or midwife or perhaps a neonatologist. And I loved being pregnant with her. I want to be pregnant again. And I don’t want to be 45 when it happens. At the same time, we have this wonderful girl. As much as we all want a baby, when we are getting dressed at the pool, or going to gymnastics class, or driving anywhere, and I see families with more than one child, I realize how relatively easy we have it. Zoe can feed and dress and bathe herself. She can read. She can swim. We’re in a good place.
I was seven when my sister was born, to the utter surprise and delight of my parents. So I enjoyed being an only child for quite a while, as does Zoe, but I too begged for a sibling. I don’t even know what reproductive technology was available to my parents, but they just assumed they were lucky to have me, and that was that. I know we are spectacularly lucky to have Zoe. I don’t think it’s wrong to want more though. But having to step into this world of unknowns and procedures and calculating the odds seems so forbidding.
I had my appointment this morning. Everything was normal. Which is good. Next test is Friday. I’ve realized that the scheduling of this procedure will depend somewhat on Zoe’s school schedule, because the testing they do is all in the morning, when I am typically driving Zoe to camp. Obviously most people they’re treating don’t have to worry about anyone else’s camp schedule, and would give anything to have such a complication.
From down the hall I hear yet another round of the Banana Slug String Band. Evidently Zoe can’t sleep either. I heard her reading Mouse Tales. I heard her coloring pictures of princesses (ok I couldn’t hear what the pictures were of, but I went to inspect). I don’t know what she’s thinking about. I told her to count American Girls to help her sleep. Maybe I should try that too, or maybe visions of ripe follicles filled with healthy eggs ready to burst forth into fallopian tubes. Or maybe I should stick to sheep.