Month eight — Henry

Dear Henry,

Today you turned eight months old. You are finally making yourself heard within our family. You are saying many things, important things that make you very enthusiastic. Daddy is pretty sure he hears you crying “Mama” in the middle of the night. We’ve got to work on your d’s, kid.

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You are sitting up, which makes it far easier to play with your toys. Almost as soon as you mastered the sitting up, you grew bored with it, and now you tip yourself over and roll onto your stomach so that you can work on crawling. You are so close. I walked into the room this morning after a jog, and you spun yourself 180 degrees and then began your beached-whale struggle to get to me. Sometimes the whole front half of your body is lifted. Sometimes you push back onto your knees. But these things never happen in conjunction.

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You continue to delight in every food we offer you, though it’s increasingly looking as though I will be pureeing your meals for the next 18 years. Where are your teeth? You’re so seldom unhappy that I tend to always ascribe your bad moods to teething. I have been doing this for months now. And it looks like you’re really getting the benefit of the doubt on all of this because you are not teething. There are no teeth!

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You have become so eager to connect with us. You can barely contain your glee when I sing to you, particularly “The Wheels on the Bus” and the alphabet song. You are always reaching out to grab my cheek or my eyelid (ouch!) or my hair.  I know that babies explore the world with their hands, but I also think this is your attempt to interact. You are a little person.

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We were a family of three for a long time, and I didn’t give a lot of thought to how we would adapt to you beyond worrying about whether Eleanor would feel forgotten. I did not know how much complexity you would add, and I mean that in the best possible way. I love watching you look at Eleanor and knowing that you two will share a relationship independent of your dad and I. I like imagining that your dad might have a comrade in the house, someone to stand befuddled with him as words spiral from Eleanor and I. Your sister is a lot like me. I think that I will have to work harder to understand you and to know how to be a good mom to you. I’m looking forward to that.

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Love,
Mom

Three years

Tomorrow should be Genevieve’s third birthday.

This was the year that I finally accepted her death. It’s not that I actively mourned her for two years, but there was this molten fork in the road of my life, a wavering, uncertain thing. Nothing of major importance had happened to me since her death, and I still dreamed that time would rewind and put me on that other path.

With Henry’s birth, that fork in the road set. We probably wouldn’t have had another baby had Genevieve lived, and even if we had, the timing might have been different. Henry in no way replaces his sister, but he keeps me rooted — happily — in the present.

The knowledge that his birth provided also healed a lot of the anger I carried. I had always felt that Genevieve’s life could have been saved with better medical care. In my pregnancy with Henry, I found the best, most watchful doctors that I could, and still they spent more than an hour debating whether to deliver him early — even with warning signs. He was only delivered early because of Genevieve. The sister who isn’t here saved his life, on the 15th of the month. Fifteen is the worst number. Fifteen is the best number.

I still imagine her there in the middle, consider where she would have been sitting during our family photos. A woman complimented us on our well-behaved children at a restaurant recently. I thought about how the crazy one wasn’t here. Genevieve kicked me far more than the other two did.

I thought I could cheat the grief this year. Last night I started looking at her photos, and that baby bed, that empty baby bed that sat next to my hospital bed for three days. Henry’s birth is fresh in my mind, and the juxtaposition between the bed with the squawking, mewing infant and the empty bed is too much. It is a leaden anchor at my waist.

I am happy nearly every day, without her. I will have a few days with tears for her, such a small thing to give.

Having her here would be best. Second-best is having her dad, sister, and brother to abide with me.

My three

Secret trip, 2014 edition

Greg took us to Estes Park, Colorado, for our vacation this year. I had warned him repeatedly that the plans needed to be simple. Does anybody remember Tofino?

We assumed that things went poorly with Eleanor in Tofino because we needed nearly three days of travel (plane, car, ferry, car) to get there. And Eleanor had always been difficult to get back to sleep at night. We had learned. Easy destination this time. And Henry, the easy baby.

We can now surmise that all babies are difficult to travel with. Henry awoke four or five times each night, and though he clearly wasn’t waking because of hunger, I had to feed him each time to get him back to sleep. Greg at least had the foresight to rent a house, so we didn’t have to worry about waking others. First we thought Henry was too cold. Then we thought he was upset at his new surroundings. One morning, our bear-proof trash bin had been toppled. Were the bears waking him? By the final night, we had configured the sleeping arrangements such that no one was cold or scared, and we were all getting at least six hours of sleep. It was time to come home.

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In our photos, we appear to be having a fantastic time. We did have fun during the day, and I wonder whether we will remember the sleeplessness years from now. Probably not. We have ruled out doing any more travel this summer, though we’ll see whether I stick to that when the August sun is licking the back of my neck.

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Eleanor has become a great traveler, happy to try new activities and eat new foods. But it will be a few more years before Henry gets there. I know plenty of people who quit traveling while their children are young because it’s too hard. It is too hard, absolutely. When we begin these trips, I do not ponder whether we will have fun. I ponder whether we will survive. Even the hardest trips have a smattering of good moments though, moments that leave me thinking maybe it was all worth it. I’d rather try and fail than never know, I suppose.

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