Originally Posted on September 8, 2011
This post is written on Labour Day (US public holiday). Since I work for a US Government agency, my workload was lighter. I tidied the house, cleaned all the dishes, made beds, and put away the kids’ toys. I find that I talk to myself all the time when I’m on my own, which is far more often than it used to be. I keep up major discussions on serious topics, such as Gadhafi’s fall from power in Libya and its affect on the global cost of crude oil per barrel, the recently closed football transfer window and whether Julius Malema will be kicked out of the ANC.
I also talk to myself about how I’m doing with the kids. I discuss the latest parenting moments, where I did well and where I must improve. I analyze my relationship with them carefully, going through how I reprimand them when they’re naughty (which isn’t terribly often, thankfully) and handle their unique temperaments and personalities.
And yes, I fight off sadness, since I would have talked about all these topics with Janie, were she here.
The babies truly love each other, but they are very, very different. Seanie is a pretty easy kid. He is very happy to be on his own, playing with his toys or humming to himself. Sophie needs more attention. That is not simply as a result of losing her mother. She has always been the more social of the two. Furthermore, she has quite the fiery disposition. If I’m not paying her the kind of attention she wants, she’ll get rather cross.
This morning, I became quite cross with Sophie. She ate her cereal until she was full, and then decided it would be awesome to throw the rest of it around the lounge and play with the remaining milk in her bowl. Perhaps this is a nascent creative impulse of hers. I have no clue. But I was quite irritated at her and was perhaps rougher than I should have been in the expedient application of wet wipes and imprecations at the almighty mess she had conjured.
Sophie is different than Sean in that she has several different types of cries. Sean has really only one volume when he cries: LOUD. If he hurts himself or has a toy taken away or is upset that I was cross at him, it’s always the same timbre, decibel level, ear piercing yowl of DESPAIR! It’s kind of funny, because everything can’t possibly require the same degree of sorrow, really, so I just kind of blow it off unless he’s really properly upset. Deciphering Seanie’s cries is a bit of an exercise in translation.
Sophie is somewhat easier to understand. She has her “I’m bored so I’m gonna cry” cry. Then there’s the “I’m not getting my way” cry. Then there’s the “ouch, that really hurt!” cry.
Then there’s the “you hurt my feelings” cry.
This morning, in my zeal to transmit the message that throwing Cheerios around the lounge and look at the mess you made lecture with accompanied vigorous wiping, I hurt my pretty pickle’s feelings. I didn’t mean to. But I did. So I had to try and reprimand and then console retroactively.
This is a really tight rope to walk. It would be easier if there were an infant template that I could superimpose on my kids to make them easier to predict and contend with, but that’s not how it works. People are individuals because of their inherent uniqueness, and everyone needs something different. Sophie has a thicker skin than Seanie does, so when she cries that one cry of “you hurt my feelings,” I really listen.
The funny thing is, Seanie is now starting to really come into his own as the eldest sibling. He’s rising to the role of Deputy Parent in Absentia, and he sprung to my aide by offering his own assessment of the situation:”Sophie, you made a mess.” I had to tell it’s cool, daddy’s got this one, buddy. Thanks for the help.
Poor pickle. She’s being parented by not one but two hapless males. She’s at the bottom of the slide. I relate to that. I too was a youngest.
I often wonder that, had Janie survived and been with us, if we’d have had another child. I know that I wanted one, had she made it.
That’s not Sophie’s lot, sadly. She’s in a house full of men now. Well, boys, really. She shot out of the womb yelling and has stood her ground ever since. She has the internal strength to handle this situation. She’s a pistol, a fighter, a right proper brawler. She’ll do just fine amongst us boys. We’re the ones who have to look out…
Digression… My pickle is a star. I’ll go and wake her from her nap in a few moments. She’ll be ready to tear things up between now and bedtime. I have a feeling she’s always going to be like this, an untamable, intrepid spirit. A world beater. A champion of everything awesome and sublime. My prettiest of pickles… I couldn’t be prouder.
Oh, and for the uninitiated: Pickle pickle is Sophie’s nickname. Ask me about it sometime.
She’ll always be my pickle, alternately sweet and sour. She is so very affectionate when she wants to be. She’s also bruisingly blunt if you’re not careful. But she never means any harm. What a brilliant person she is.
There’s a point to this post, but I can’t really remember what it is. I have special and individual bonds with each of my children. And as I stated earlier, they each need different things from me. This new stage in life as a single parent poses the challenge of deciphering what those things might be without the aid of Janie. That is a sad and frightening position to be in.
But when I get it right… ah, that is rewarding. I’m finishing up this post on 8 September, so a few days have elapsed since I began writing this. We have had a good week up until now. Sophie just keeps ticking over, a happy little pickle without a care in the world. She knows that the people in her life love her and that is enough. For now.
One day she will have to learn about her mommy. She will need to come to grips with the fact that her mommy died before she had a chance to formulate concrete memories of her. It’s the sort of landmark event that will largely define her as an individual: I am the daughter of dead mom. Thankfully, her dad is still around, as are her grandparents and aunties and uncles. She is not without a loving network.
But a mom is pivotal in that quadratic equation that ends up in an individual. It’s a tough one. I know she has the strength to work her way through it. I have no doubt that she will be fine. Still, I cannot relate to what will be her upbringing. What a strange, tragic situation for her.
I’ll not go on and on. This week has been miserably hard on the emotional front. I’ve done my best to be present for the kids, but I’ve had better at bats than the ones this week. And it’s been sunny all week. Not even the weather has helped. That’s all part of the journey: sometimes, no matter what, nothing helps.
My dear friend Emma sent me an article that you can read here. I found it very useful and encouraging. In it, the author at one point comments that his son did more to help him cope with his grief than the reverse. I find that to be true. Being forced into the rhythms of the day, day after day for the kids has kept me sane. They give me a reason to carry on living. For that I am so grateful, and hope that one day when they’re old enough to understand that I will be able to tell them that they helped me survive their mother’s death.