Thursday, July 24, 2014

Death in the Afternoon

When I was three years old, my dad's dad, my Grandpa Val, passed away in India.  I never met him as he never visited the states and I didn't travel to India until I was five.  One of my earliest memories (I think) is of my dad, sitting in the kitchen.  It was evening and the only light on in the kitchen was the dim one over the sink.  He sat there, silently, glassy-eyed, in between the kitchen table and the wall over. I remember hugging him, dancing around trying to bring a smile and after awhile, succumbing to the allure of banging spoons and pot lids together. He never said a word - it was almost as if he was running through every moment with his dad in his head.  In a hazy way, I recall my mom telling me that Grandpa Val had died but I don't really know if I knew what that meant or if she even tried to explain it to me. But I know, very deeply, that this memory represents my first experience of death.

On a recent Saturday morning, Brian's cell phone rang well before anyone in my house was stirring.  He ignored it.  When the caller tried again, we knew to answer - and learned that Brian's grandfather Clarence (affectionately referred to as Shorty) had passed away. This wasn't a surprise - Shorty had recently celebrated his 90th birthday and was bed-bound with a number of circumstances that invade the body in old age. The following day, we drove out to visit Brian's parents and my mind was with my husband and his father.  While I didn't have the pleasure of knowing Shorty in his hey day, I'd certainly heard stories of his humor, his energetic personality and his love of family.  As Brian drove down the highway, eyes on the road, he said to me " So.... how are we going to explain this to Cameron? I mean, explain what he's going to see?"

Oh crap.

Here I was, worried about the Siebert men and their ponderings of mortality - and it really didn't even occur to me that I needed to explain (or at least be ready to explain) death to an exceptionally inquisitive and sassy three year old. Brian and I realized we had about three days until Cameron would experience his first wake and funeral - and see his daddy as a pall bearer. Truthfully, we never considered leaving him home or leaving him out- we committed to including him in the grieving/good-bye to the Siebert family patriarch.

So... during another car ride later that week, Cameron asked me to tell him a story.  Rather awkwardly, I decided to tell the story of Snowflake....

"When mama was a little girl, she really wanted Grandma Gigi to get her a puppy.  But instead, for her 10th birthday, Grandma Gigi got mama a white parakeet with sky blue wings and some gray spots.  Mama loved Snowflake - the little bird lived in a black cage in mama's room. And mama had to feed Snowflake and give her water and treats and clean the poo out of her cage. But one winter Snowflake became very old and sick and died.  Pop Pops had to bury Snowflake in the backyard and mama was very sad." (I neglected to tell him that the ground was frozen, so Snowflake stayed in a plastic bag in the back yard for a few weeks until the ground thawed enough for burial...though at 32, I now wonder if my parents fibbed and actually just threw the corpse away?!)

Anyway..... Obviously Cameron was very interested in this story.  After asking to repeat it a BAJILLION times and as I attempted to draw some sort of connection between Snowflake's death and Grandpa Shorty's passing, Cameron crafted his own three-year old conclusions:

"So.. daddy and Grandpa Steve are going to bury Shorty in our backyard? But where will Mowgli play?"

"Is my Mowgli going to die? What brother will I have then?"

"When Grandpa Shorty gets buried in the ground, will he go to heaven? I think he'll grow into a beautiful oak tree. Or maybe some flowers. Or the clouds or a lumpy, bumpy sweet potato (the sweet potato thing was very clearly from our recent, much-coveted library book)

And then, as the two of us drove from the church to the cemetery:

Cam: Will you die?
Me: Yes, one day I'll die.
Cam: And, will my dad die?
Me: Yes, one day, a long time from now, dad will die.
Cam: And will I die?
Me: Yes, sweetheart, one day, so long from now, you will die too. Everything that is alive dies.
Cam: Well. I don't think that little boys die. Just oldy old people. That makes me sad (voice trembling).  But when I die, I want to lay down next to you so we can talk about colors (one of his favorite things to do before bed).

As a parent, I think there's all these things in the world that you want to protect your child from.  But you can't really protect your child (or really yourself either) from the truths of the universe.  And, when it finally comes time to address them, it turns out children are perfectly capable of defining their own reasons, stories and outcomes to make sense of the world that most of us adults are never able to quite make peace with. I always think I have so much to teach him..... But really, I am just at the start of learning all the things he'll be teaching me.

“And that's just it. This is how it is. Always. To pay attention to things. People. And the good-byes. You never have the time you think."
― Amy McNamara

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Women of a Certain Age

A few weeks ago, I turned 32.  Since my heart attack, I have taken great care to celebrate the hell out of my birthday - sometimes, it takes a week just to fully enjoy it.  Maybe that makes me selfish or self-centered... so be it, it only happens once a year. But something felt a little funny about turning 32.  I wasn't nearly as excited as usual - I hadn't roped Brian into nearly enough fun; I didn't pester Cameron to make his mama a cake; and I couldn't figure out what my friends and I would laugh about for the next year. Usually, it's just not that hard. I shared this with friends shortly after extinguishing my birthday candle (in a crepe this year!) and the bluntest of the group promptly responded -  

"You probably don't want to hear this, but you're just crabby that your 32 and still have one kid. I mean, even Cameron's asking for another one. I don't even like kids and I want you to have another one."


We love and hate this friend don't we?? The only one who says what you know is true even though you really want them to keep their damn mouth shut.

So, it was a while back when Cameron was about seventeen months that I really started itching for another child.  It wasn't really that anyone else cared; there was no pressure, no nudging, no nosy-ness. It was just me and that ticking clock. But, I figured it was coming.

Then you turn 32.  Though just a year from 31, it's apparently a huge leap in the direction of 35 - which I've learned from EVERY WOMEN'S MAGAZINE or morning show spotlight that 35 is when your eggs die and womb shrivels up and you begin avalanching downhill toward menopause. Your friends start to find comfort in sharing their "miscarriage" story (Sadly, it seems that more women that I realized have one of these). People begin the ask if your kid is the only child and tell you stories about the ONLY family they know with one kid. Your metabolism continues to slow; and then people eyeball your soft belly and ask if you're pregnant (Hooray, she hasn't doomed her only kid to a life of awkward loneliness!!).

                 A brief aside - if you ever think to ask a women if she's pregnant, consider the following:

                       a) Is a fetus actually falling out of her? (if no, do not ask)
                       b) It's none of your business.
                       c) She might not want or be able to have kids/more kids and now you've ruined her day.
                       d) It's none of your business.

 Ok, anyway - I really do find this business quite funny. I mean, whether your a mom with one kid or five - who really wants to hear about how Kelly Preston, Halle Berry and Gwen Stefani had children in their forties - so honey, there's still time! You can be one of those cool "old moms"!!!

Here's what's true for me - there is some kid in the universe besides Cameron that's mine.  I really hope that kid arrives in the next few years because truth be told, chasing little kids is hard business and I don't want to be the cool old mom who throws her back out playing wrestle and bonk. But I think it's really awful that many women like me (early thirties, able to read/hear) hear how often we're "running out of time" - to find a mate, to have a kid, to have another kid, to settle into our careers, to save for retirement, to have fun, to be young.  I mean, it's almost laughable if it wasn't sooooooooo annoying. And I know what is true for me isn't true for you. I hope you can embrace your truth (and even the fact that the truth can change!)

In the end, it just so happened that the Missouri Botanical Gardens threw a "Be a Kid" party on my birthday - inviting adults into the Children's Garden for an evening of kid-like fun.  Which wound up being the best way to spend my 32nd birthday.  Who would have thought?!

Climbing up was easy (In kitten heels no less!)
But getting down? Not so much

Lucky me, with the best friends & family!

Wishing :)

And, a few other photos from a GREAT birthday celebration - 

“To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know.”
― Barbara Kingsolver

PS - I just want to say that some of the most AMAZING women in my life are over 40 and if at 32 I'm noticing all this crap, they must be super annoyed! Or, maybe at 40+ you really screen out the crap.

PPS - I could just kick myself realizing how long it's been since I've had a chance to write. Don't let me get away with that!!