It’s been six-and-a-half years since he passed away in the comfort of his own home, surrounded by his wife of over 50 years and three of his children. On hospice, we knew death was imminent and arrived in town with our five-month-old Aurora in tow, just days before.
It was the first time I’d seen him not awake or talking and thus, the first time he hadn’t said the words to me he’d always said right before we parted ways. With a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, as if he had a secret he’d been anxious to share with me, he’d call me over and whisper into my ear: “Take care of my boy.”
In the same way my father gave me away to Emmett on our wedding day, Emmett’s dad entrusted his son to me. For rich or for poor, in sickness and in health, for better or worse, until death parted us, as it did for him that May day.
So, before the nurses took him away for good, I held his hand, leaned over his face one last time and whispered, “Don’t worry, Bill. I’ll take care of your boy.”
Let’s allow that to sink in for a bit before I explain that I am from a “blended” family.
I’ll never forget, at 6 years-old, when my teacher asked me to draw a family tree. I looked at her with a blank stare and no idea of where to begin.
How do you explain that you are the illegitimate, love-child of an affair? Of a mother that already had one and a father that had four? How do you draw the two-step siblings you later acquired when you were just three-years old?
It was tough to draw but never tough for me to explain. I always knew my step-dad was my “dad” and my real dad was my “father”.
But not once, not ever, did I know where I belonged.
My childhood was all about trying to find my place.
Where did I fit in?
In elementary school, I attended the meeting for children of divorced parents- but mine had not yet separated.
At home, I found solace in our nucleus of 2+2, until my mom and step-dad divorced when I turned 18 and off to college I went.
My mom sold the house. My step-dad remarried into a family with two new sons and ceased contact with me.
I felt completely lost.
Thanksgiving was no longer spent with the two step-siblings I had called my brother and sister. Christmas with my half-sister was shared with her father. And holidays spent with my father’s four children had never been done.
Where did I belong?
I searched. For many years, I looked for his face, his warmth and the security of his embrace.
And finally, I found him.
And together, we created where I’ve belonged, all along.
15 minutes here, 5 minutes there. A survival technique, part of our evolution as a growing family, these stolen moments sustain and fulfill us.
It began with an infatuation. Absorbing one another like the Vitamin D saturating our skin on those endless beach days. The dust settled in my apartment as my toothbrush claimed precious real estate on his bathroom sink. His place became ours.
Time passed, my belly grew. Date nights peppered our calendar, gradually lessening in frequency as my belly grew, grew and grew again. We treasured time together on the couch if we managed to get all of them asleep before we turned in, ourselves. If not, a quick kiss or a lingering hug sufficed.
Time with mommy became time with sissies. Mommy & Me music class turned into a dance party after breakfast, time at the salon to painting nails on our bathroom floor. Time with mommy became precious.
Not as long, no. Not what it used to be.
Instead, richer, full of more hearts, sharing the beat of the same bloodline.
Stolen moments layering the patchwork of our years.
I checked the bag three times before I left: Extra diapers, wipes, water for me, a burp cloth and even a nursing cover. I was ready to head to the doctor’s with my eldest and my newborn, or at least I thought I was. That is, until I realized, too late, I had forgotten my nursing pads. Milk saturated the right side of my shirt while the baby nursed in the waiting room. I positioned her to burp but before I could get the burp cloth situated, she vomited an entire cup of spit-up on my stomach and lap. Hot, sour milk saturated my shorts and coated the inside of my thighs. It was then that she exploded from her other end and it was then that I laughed and laughed.
Because, seriously. What the hell else are you going to do in a situation like that?
If I had a dollar for every time my mother preached about “choices” during my childhood, I’d be rich. Bottom line, no matter what life hands us, we all have a choice in how we respond. As a young girl, “She made me feel” was met with “You chose to feel” and “I can’t”, “You choose not to”.
It’s all about perspective.
So when I announced to my husband that I had shaved my legs for the first time in a month last night (my modern day attempt at foreplay) and he looked at me as if to say “Do we have to?” I laughed and announced, “You’re not hurting my feelings if you want to take a pass!” He chuckled a sigh of relief. We’ve had four children in 6 years. We’re, understandably, exhausted. Our energy focused on soaking up every moment with our children during the days and surviving the nights.
We will make time for one another again sometime soon, but the baby is only 8 weeks old and God willing, we’ve got a lifetime ahead of us.
I could have cried (rightfully so) in that waiting room and I could have been offended at my husband’s less-than eager reaction but instead, I listened to what my mom has been teaching me all along- I made the choice to make the best of it and I’m happier for it.
Welcome to the world, Elizabeth Joy! Our fourth daughter arrived two weeks ago, abruptly ending months of anticipation and successfully shifting the dynamics of our new “norm”.
We’ve experienced this change before. Beginning with the dance of labor, the rocking, lunging, swaying back and forth. The sensation of extreme heat immediately followed by chilling tremors of apparent sub-zero temperatures. The digging-in, the roaring-out. My arms, wrapped around my husband’s neck. My doula’s steady hands, applying counter pressure to my spine; propping me up, when all I want to do is fall.
Yes, we’ve journeyed along this road many times. When one is too weak to stand, the other is there to hold. And yet, what do we do when we are both weary, unable to withstand the weight of another in addition to the weight of the things we already carry?
My husband and I found ourselves in that position just a few weeks before Elizabeth’s birth. I, carrying an extra 30 pounds on my front-side, preparing for our fourth child’s arrival while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for our 2, 4 and 6 year-old daughters. My husband, juggling pressure from work and the sense of urgency to complete any and all major house projects before the arrival of our newborn.
Our tempers were short, our stress, high. We refrained from burdening the other with our concerns, afraid that our additional weight would throw the other over the edge.
Withered and worried, along we trudged until we simultaneously erupted, hurling accusations and proclaiming “I’m doing the best I can!” Our molten lava seeped from our mouths until there was nothing left to say except, “I know.”
Too weak to stand alone, not strong enough to carry another, we leaned-in. And it was there, forehead to forehead, hands to hands, we discovered that together, we were strong enough to hold.