Dude, This Is Awesome

Sea turtles are very popular at my house right now.  They are quickly taking over my 21-month-old’s world, and by extension, my world too.  When we go to the park, we have to look for turtles.  When we go to the aquarium, it’s the turtles he wants to see, not fish.  And now that I’ve shown him parts of Finding Nemo, he constantly asks for “Turtles” at home.  In fact, I’m pretty sure he thinks the movie is called Finding Turtles and that they are in fact the main characters.  He doesn’t really give a care about poor kidnapped Nemo.

He has even started saying “Duuuuuude.”

I was never really into the movie to begin with, and now that I’ve faced infant loss and PTSD I really don’t like the movie at all (the dad’s character, Marlin, hits way too close to home), but my son loves his turtles, and they have an integral part in the film – one might even say the best part.  I know my kid would agree.

In the scene where Marlin wakes up and finds himself riding the back of Crush the sea turtle, he asks for help finding the “East Australian Current” so that he can get to Sydney, and Crush tells him they’re already on it.

The camera pans up as Marlin beholds a flock (?) of Sea Turtles swimming behind him, and you’d think my son has just witnessed a computer-animated miracle.

He holds his breath and screams “TURTLES!” over and over, flailing his little arms.  Sometimes he jumps up and down.  He experiences so much joy from those turtles, he can’t help himself.  He just loves them that much.

No matter how many times he has watched that scene, his level of exuberance is the same.

He also looks back at me (or my husband), as if he’s gauging our response, and waits for us to cry something like “Yeah, turtles!” or “Wow, look at all those turtles!”  Which we always do, no matter how sick we are of watching the same scene over and over and over and over.

He smiles at us, and then goes back to reveling in his joy.

I guess this is the part in Parenthood where your kid starts reminding you of yourself.

Because we are not so different, he and I.  I get just as excited about stuff that I like (a certain Toxic Event comes to mind) and if you were to witness me enjoying a particular thing (say, a show), I probably wouldn’t look that much different than my kid watching Finding Nemo for the millionth time.

I guess I’ve always been that way, even since childhood.  I’m a passionate person, and when I love something, I really, really love it.  I want to talk about it.  I want to tell you about it.  And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t gauging your response as a kind of way to validate my own feelings about it.

Because experiencing joy is great, but experiencing joy with someone else is even better.  Especially if you like the same thing.  That’s why there are fan clubs and Comic-Cons.  We all have something we completely “nerd out” about.  Being a nerd is just loving something to the umpteenth degree.

The problem is, of course, there are always haters.  There are always people who like to rain on someone else’s parade.  And no matter how much we tell ourselves “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,” sometimes it’s hard to shake it off and go on experiencing our joy.

No one should tell you to tone down your joy.  You have every right to be as happy as you can be, whether you are broadcasting your happy relationship on Facebook, sharing a hundred baby pictures on Instagram, going to your twentieth Airborne show, or watching those darn turtles in Finding Nemo.

There is enough sadness and tragedy to go around.  There is not nearly enough joy.

And while I am a fan of many things – bands, music, animals, babies, faith – after living through days of not feeling anything except lonely and being numb – I am a huge fan of experiencing joy and having something to be joyful about.

Even if it’s turtles.



The View from Here

Her words were kind.  Well-meaning.  She chirped good intentions like a cheerful bird in springtime.

“I hope things go back to normal.”

“I hope you find your old self again.”

From an aerial view, things look promising, like a construction zone.  Reorganize, rebuild, recover.  There are a million things to do and an endless amount of diapers to change.  Instead of sad songs, there are lullabies.  There is laughter.  Empty days of melancholy are now busy days of work and progress.  There is always laundry.  Dishes.  And more diapers.

There is a smile from a little boy that is like gentle sunshine through clouds, making the flowers grow amongst these ruins.

But there is still darkness.  A dread exists in the quiet of night.  I chase away fear on a daily basis.  I scold it like a naughty pet.  Don’t think about that.  That’s bad.  Then I tell myself:  Things are okay.  They are good.

Like the nurse at the hospital who kindly reminded me that I was in the “healthy” wing, not the NICU.  We were there because I had a full-term baby, and he was fine.  Still, she put a butterfly on the outside of our door, as a reminder to other nurses that we “lost” a baby.

Things are hardly normal around here.

I used to be sick when people asked if this was our first baby.  “No,” I would say as my throat threatened to close, “we lost our first baby.”  But I am sick of that word.  Lost.  As if he suddenly slipped away without our knowledge.  “Losing a baby” could mean a miscarriage or a stillbirth, both excruciatingly painful realities for a mother.  But Wesley died in my arms.  So instead I make myself say the word died.  “Our first baby died.”  The truth stings as it liberates me from ambiguity.

This truth makes me cherish every moment as much as every moment serves as a reminder of what we lost.  Every milestone is one Wesley did not reach.  Every hug, every cuddle, every coo.  I work to suppress the past and focus on the now.  Focus on the boy who is living, and remember the boy who lived.  It’s a balancing act.  One boy should not have to live in the shadow of the other, and neither should he live under the constant unwholesome fear of his mother.

Being a mother is hard.  Being a mother with a child who passed away is even harder.  Daily I am struggling to figure out who I am.  “I’m just making this up as I go along” is my official motto.  All I know is I want to be a kind, nurturing, patient mother with the ability to inspire confidence in my child.  This is a constant work in progress.  This is a construction zone.  Reorganize, rebuild, recover.

In the last few years, I have been a wide array of different people.  There are several different versions of myself in between the “old self” and the one that is presently occupying my body.  I haven’t been my “old self” in years.  In fact, I don’t really like that version of myself at all.  Yes, she had good intentions.  She was well-meaning.  But she was also judgmental, ignorant, and naïve.  While I hate the reason for the state of these ruins, qualities like genuine compassion and empathy that were borne from the ashes are priceless.

In the constant hustle and bustle that is happening here, I try to find a quiet moment when I can look back and see how far I have come.  Sometimes I am so deep in the rebuilding of myself and my life that I forget where I am in this journey.  In the past, the only way to do this was to climb a tree and see my progress from a distance.  Now I feel like I can fly.  I’m still a wounded bird, but at least I can soar to greater heights that would be unable to scale otherwise.  And I can see the mountains and rivers I’ve crossed stretch out before me to the horizon.  It amazes me that I’m still alive.

Things will never be “normal,” and I’m not interested in rebuilding with my “old self” in mind.  The person I want to be is far better than that, wounds and all.