Sunday, September 28, 2008

Never Enough

I only met their daughter once.

She was about three or four weeks old, out for a stroll with Mom and Dad, who lived just around the corner from us. It was a beautiful early fall day and I remember feeling so happy for them. The last time I'd seen them together she was still pregnant and feeling heavy and hot. Now she looked tired but still so much better. She had the weary glow of a new mom, proud to be pushing her beautiful baby around, but still not quite used to the fact that this little bundle had to be packaged up and taken everywhere with them now.

I was pregnant at the time and like every first time expectant mother I was dying to reach into their stroller and stroke the tiny face, or pick her up and cuddle her for a moment in my arms. But the baby was asleep and I was hesitant to wake her, so instead I just stood and stared for a few moments and whispered my gushing ooohs and ahhhs and quiet words of congratulations to the new parents. Now I wish I had reached in and touched the sleeping baby after all. Now I know that such a tiny newborn would probably not be woken by such a gentle gesture.

I remember the little girl's face to this day. She was lovely and although I'm prone to tears anyway my pregnancy hormones didn't help any and I got a little wet in the eyes at the thought that soon enough I'd be the proud mom pushing the carriage. I had a million questions for these brand-new parents who looked, to me, like they already had it all figured out. I remember remarking how good Mom looked.

"Are you actually sleeping?" I asked her, "You look great."

"Oh yeah, sure," she said with a laugh, "This parenting thing is a piece of cake. No trouble at all."

Of course, she was teasing me. Because, as I know now, this parenting thing is very, very far from a piece of cake.

I never ran into Mom and her baby again, despite the fact that they lived so near by, but I did see Dad many times. He always asked how I was feeling and commented on my growing belly and I always asked after his wife and daughter. I still remember the day that he told me they had bought a new house. He was at the corner putting up an open house sign and we chatted for a while. He told me that although they had loved living in the area while it was just the two of them, she had started feeling anxious and nervous about it now that the baby had arrived.

We live in a rather "urban" neighbourhood, filled with train tracks and half-way houses. There's a juvanile hall around the corner and sometimes rowdy and drugged up teens crowd the streets and act up. At the time I didn't understand her fears. This is just the price for living downtown. I had never felt scared by the "characters" in my 'hood. But I wasn't a mother yet and she was. And now I do understand. Now with a heavy heart and a knot in my stomach I understand all too well.

As parents, almost instantly, you develop a physiological need to protect your children. It is not something that can be taken lightly or pushed to the back of your mind. It is all encompassing. It is overwhelming beyond description. This couple, with their beautiful baby girl, were listening to their instincts and moving away from her perceived dangers. They had purchased a house in a "good" neighbourhood, on a tree-lined street, a larger, cleaner, "safer" place to raise their daughter. He told me they were a little saddened to leave their urban life behind, but also very excited to start their new life as parents in a new house with more space and a yard.

We've all heard the stories about the mother who lifts up a car to save her child pinned underneath. When you have a child of your own, you understand where this hidden strength comes from. But the horrible truth of it is? Sometimes, despite your every effort, despite the fact that you have now devoted every ounce of your entire being to keeping your babies safe and sound, sometimes even super-human strength is not enough to protect them. Moving to a better neighbourhood or lifting up the car simply won't be the answer all the time.

Last week this lovely couple's baby girl died quietly in her sleep. She was 13 months old. I didn't know her and I don't know her parents all that well. But I am shattered by this news. I am devastated by the knowledge that this can happen at any time to anyone's child. And by the haunting fact that there isn't a thing that we can do prevent it.

My greatest hope today for this family, who must be broken into so many pieces at this time, is that one day they will be able to pick the shards and put them back together again. Perhaps not in the exact same shape that they were in before, but at least in a shape that makes some kind of sense to them and allows them to stand up and move ahead.

To really appreciate the people we love is one thing we can do to honour the life of a tiny little girl who was certainly loved beyond her comprehension and who will now be missed beyond belief. I know I'll be hugging my loved ones tighter from today forward. I hope that you all will too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mama Mia

Yesterday I met up with my BFF, Dings, and her daughter Livvie and we all went to go and see a real movie, in a real movie theatre. OMG! Why did we wait all these months to do this? It was so much fun!

Cineplex plays movies during weekdays labeled Stars and Strollers, and modified specifically for parents and infants. They turn the sound down a little bit and leave some dim lighting on. I was worried that these things, and a theatre full of crying babies would ruin the experience of seeing a film on the big screen for me but, in fact, I barely even noticed the difference. Oh, there are babies crying, believe me, but maybe my newly-acquired momness has made me more tolerant of it? I actually thought it was really cute and loved being in a big room with so many babies and moms.

Bella was a dream-baby as usual. She sat quietly on my lap for most of the movie, only fussing when she was trying to fall asleep in my arms, something she's not used to doing anymore. Most moms bring their car seats in so the babes can sit and snooze in the seat beside them. Dings and I were newbies so didn't think of that until it was too late, but I must admit, I liked having my girl in my lap for a full two hours. It's very rare that we get to do that anymore.

It was so very fitting that Bella's first big-screen movie was Mama Mia, for obvious reasons if you know me, but also for a few others. First of all, the brightly coloured and musical cheesy goodness of the flick was perfect for babies. And what made it even better? It was the Sing Along edition. UM? SO FUN. You see, I would have sang along anyway, but this way I could do it without giving the people around me the chance to get pissed off! I've seen the stage production of Mama Mia (LOSER ALERT) three times and always found it impossible to keep my mouth shut, so this time I sang my little heart out. Sure, Dings and I were the only people in the theatre that were actually singing, but at least we were doing it in harmony and under the guise of "singing to keep the babies engaged." Heh.

I expected to enjoy the movie, I mean really. ABBA, Merryl, Greece? What's not to love? But what I didn't expect was (LOSER ALERT) the minor break down I had during the part where Merryl sings the song "Slipping Through My Fingers." Full disclosure? FULL ON MELTDOWN. I'm talking neck tears, mascara running down my face, choking back sobs and using Bella's blanket to blow my nose. Thank GOD Dings was crying too because if she wasn't I would probably have had her drive me straight from the theatre to the mental asylum. What has happened to me?! I swear to you, during the (LOSER ALERT) THREE TIMES that I have seen the musical before I have never even NOTICED this song. Now it's sending me into hysterics? Really?

Here are the lyrics that sent me over the edge. I think next week we'll go and see a slasher flick or a political drama, anything other than a mother-daughter coming of age story.

Schoolbag in hand
She leaves home in the early morning
Waving goodbye
With an absent-minded smile
I watch her go
With a surge of that well-known sadness

And I have to sit down for a while
The feeling that I'm loosing her forever
And without really entering her world
I'm glad whenever I can share her laughter
That funny little girl

Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Do I really see what's in her mind
Each time I think I'm close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time

Sleep in our eyes
Her and me at the breakfast table
Barely awake
I let precious time go by
Then when she's gone
There's that odd melancholy feeling
And a sense of guilt
I can't deny
What happened to the wonderful adventures
The places I had planned for us to go
Well some of that we did
But most we didn't
And why I just don't know

Slipping through my fingers all the time

I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Do I really see what's in her mind
Each time I think I'm close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time

Sometimes I wish that I could freeze the picture
And save it from the funny tricks of time
Slipping through my fingers -

Schoolbag in hand
She leaves home in the early morning
Waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile

Monday, September 08, 2008

Happy Birthday to You: 7 Months Old

Dear Bella,

You are SEVEN! months old. I think that in honour of this latest milestone, I will approach this letter with the same enthusiasm that you use for each new discovery, each new sound, sight and taste. Each new friend, experience, butterfly and raindrop that comes your way. This month you have truly come to life and you are HAPPY! TO! BE! HERE!

HAIR! It was inevitable, Kid, given that both your father and I are Sasquatches adorned amply with what your dad likes to refer to as "the Devil's curl." Still, the fact that this month your own hair has finally started to really grow in leaves me feeling relieved. It's so pretty, Bella. So soft and fine, not quite as light as mine and not quite as dark as Dads but just a perfect blend that's all your own. To stroke it is heaven. Please don't ever dye it purple.

EYES! The jury is still out on what colour they will be but they definitely have changed a lot since you were born. They are not quite blue, not quite green, not quite gray and not brown. Confused? Me too. I'll tell you this much though, they are amazing. You will break a lot of hearts with those eyes. Remember, one day, to thank your daddy for those lashes.

FOOD! The feeding frenzy continued this month. You have a voracious appetite and it remains a great pleasure to introduce new flavours to your world. You are now eating three full meals a day, and have enjoyed many fruits and veggies including: apples, pears, peaches, bananas, prunes, apricots, avocado, carrots, peas, broccoli, sweet potato, butternut squash, cauliflower, potato, zucchini and an infinite number of combinations of the above. Soon we'll start to try some proteins like cheese and yogurt and (gulp) meat. I'm afraid of meat since, though not a vegetarian, it does seriously gross me out to see it raw, cook it myself and GOD FORBID puree it. We might use jars for this one. Don't judge me.

BEACH! My greatest pleasure this month, by far, has been introducing you to the beach that I love most in the world. We've walked on it many times this summer, but this month we actually got to hang out on it together, basking in the sun, enjoying the sound of the waves lapping the shore, swimming together in the lake and running the soft sand through our fingers and toes. It's no mistake that this memoire has "Beaches" in it's title. And it's not just because that's the name of the part of the city where I grew up. The beach is my favourite place on earth, it's my serenity, my paradise, my religion. I am never happier that when I am relaxing near the ocean or the lake and I have visited beaches in close to 15 countries all over the world. I can't wait to travel with you to many more, but until then I'm happy that you have been able to enjoy this very special place with me. This has been a magical summer, Anabella. There's a lump in my throat to see it come to an end already, it will probably be many years before we can have such a long and luxurious summer together again, but I want you to know that I will always remember it as the best time of my life.

VELCRO? Baby things are heavily adorned in Velcro. It's just an easy and safe way to attach things and makes putting things together quick and simple for busy parents who are doing most activities with one hand. Here's the thing, though. You HATE it. When I tear apart the two sides that make up this Velcro seal anywhere near you it's as if I am ripping the ear right off of your head. Has anyone ever tried to quietly rip apart Velcro? It's not possible. In a strange twist, once the Velcro has been torn apart, you are ever so eager to suck on it. Give you the rough side of a piece of Velcro to chew on and you're happy for hours. Weird.

SQUEALING! This month you have learned how to communicate with various forms of sea life. Orcas, dolphins, what have you. I'm surprised that Flipper, Shamu, Nemo and the gang haven't shown up on our doorstep yet, but when they do? At least you'll be able to engage them in some fascinating conversation.

POOP! You now poop solid turds like an adult. It's gross. Also, it doesn't happen everyday which upsets me even though I know it's perfectly normal. I find myself sniffing your butt like 10 times a day hoping for that familiar, and quite unpleasant, smell and actually feeling bitter disappointment when you smell pretty and fresh. This is how far I have fallen. I'm literally one turd away from wearing mom-jeans and joining the PTA.

DADA! You still say "Dada" five million times a day and have only said "Mama" twice. Both times by complete accident and it was probably more like "Baba" with a silent "b".

TEETH! Last but not least, the most exciting development this month, and it actually happened just days after you turned seven months but I can't wait until next month to spread the word. You have teeth! Two of them, on the bottom, they came through on the same day and they are sooo cute. You have yet to bite my nipple off with them and for that I thank you.

I also thank you for giving me the most incredible seven months. I'm so in love, I'm so in awe, I'm so lucky to have you in my life. You are amazing. I love you.