“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.’
― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
It is a sunny afternoon, and for once, my newborn daughter is sleeping soundly, peacefully if not quietly. The wheezing, gurgling sound from where the tissue of her larynx flaps against itself surrounds her perfect, gorgeous face — it says cchchhhh sssccchhhhh ssscccchhhhchhh. But her eyes are closed, and I pass her from friend to friend in my living room, easily, with no drop of her head or arm stuck in someone’s armpit. This invention, I say to myself, is freaking brilliant. I need ten more, just in case.
It was called a “Baby Boo” blanket, and it came with a soft, memory-foam pad sewn into the middle section. The outer thirds folded over the baby inside, creating a swaddle blanket crossed with a straightjacket crossed with a gurney. I would be spending the next eight years contemplating all three. For the moment, though, Baby Boo was as goofy sounding and frivolous looking as it was crucial to our sanity. “Strap her into the baby boo,” I’d say, and she’d be a contained little unit: darling, sweet, soft, warm. Thank heavens for it. I haven’t seen one for years now.
It is 1:30am, and from a deep sleep, I hear crashing and a sudden scream. One part of me stays asleep, and the other, propelled by maternity and terror and lions’ roars, tears up the stairs to my three-year-old’s room where, with her eyes squeezed tightly shut, she is holding the rungs of the rocking horse in her hands to hold them steady while she bangs her forehead into them, hard. I say, simply, “STOP!” and she stands up, raging, furious, and grabs for the curtains behind her. In one yank, the pole and curtains pull out of the wall, land on her, and enrage her further. The part of me designed to protect her from predators grabs me by the arms, which grab her and – in one motion – turn her back to my front, bring her to the ground, and wrap my legs around her waist. She growls, screams, reels back against me and, after several minutes in the tightness of my body against her, slackens and sobs.
We make a deal: peaceful bedtimes, peaceful nights, twenty-five of each, represented by stickers in a notebook, in exchange for her very own source of light: a lamp. The lamp is pink, shades of pink from top to bottom, a pink wood frame with a pink satin shade, with pink plastic jewels sewn to it, and pink feathers encircling the top. Every five stickers gets her a nail polish, a lip balm, an ice cream. It takes five months, but the lamp comes home to sit at her bedside. We sleep. We all sleep.
Last week we cleaned the basement. She is twelve and likes the color blue. The lamp is in a corner, gathering dust.
III. Swoosh, Scribble
It is blue, and it gets duller with time. That is to say, it stays blue, but its blade, that gets duller. Every morning, the blade comes down, swoosh, and cuts a pill in half. Swoosh, then wait 30 minutes, then eat. Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh. The days go by, cutting Prevacid in half to bring down the acid content of my six year old’s stomach, my seven year old’s stomach, my eight year old’s stomach.
By age seven, she is old enough to take the halved pill and write down the time when she takes it, and so we take the wood-framed white board set, with its slots for pens and erasers, and its bright pink paint and its glued-on butterflies, and we leave it on the coffee table with a halved-pill. We swoosh, and we leave it there at night, and she comes down in the morning, takes her medicine, and scuttles to the kitchen’s digital clock to check the time. Scribble. She writes it on the white board, and we stumble down to check the time and make her breakfast.
At age eight, she stopped taking that medication. The white board was furniture, scenery, part of the landscape for years. Last week, we threw it out.
She was in the operating room when a stranger approached me and called me by name. My husband, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and best friend all looked up in unison, hoping for a nurse or a doctor with news, but it was a stranger in a long cardigan, holding a large gift bag. She was a representative of Mended Little Hearts, and a fellow alumnus of the cardiac ICU had sent her to us with a bag of gifts. There were books and coloring books for my daughter, a toothbrush and hand sanitizer and lip balm, notepads and paper, a baby-sized handmade quilt with Sesame Street characters on it. Most importantly, there was a small heart-shaped pillow. It was covered in zig-zag stripes in shades of pink, blue, white, orange, green, purple, like echocardiogram lines turned technicolor. It was just the right size and shape, the stranger told me, for holding tightly when my daughter would need to cough, to help her hold the aching muscles together that were, at that very moment, being gently stretched apart by a surgeon on his way into her chest.
Someone had obviously made this pillow just for cardiac patients, just for pediatric cardiac patients, just for the protection of little tiny chests by tiny little arms. Someone, somewhere, stitched it together imagining a child who would need it to protect herself against the pain her own body was creating. Someone made this knowing exactly what relief it would bring.
My daughter kept that pillow on her lap for most of her time in the hospital. It sat on the couch next to her when she came home, too, and then somewhere along the way, it got buried in the pile of soft things in a corner of her room. I cleaned her room and found it under a pair of jeans and three poop-emoji pillows last month, the forgotten heart of a sick little girl washed up on the shores of a healthy pre-teen.
It is winter in the midwest, in a big city, in my slog between grey streets and grey skies all day long. Last week, ice and snow covered my back yard, the alley behind my house, and every swath of grass along my path. My soul sunk into the grey, tired and lethargic. For the last two days, though, the temperatures climbed so high that everything melted, and I drove down a street with a big park and noticed how the color of the grass was off — it was green, yes, but a strange, mottled green, the green of hand-colored old photographs. It’s off, but it’s hard to tell if it needs more blue or more yellow or something else. With dark, empty branches in the trees above, it all seemed amiss: wrong-colored grass, wrong-colored trees, wrong everything, with a white-grey sky and my car covered in salt and dirt, and my boots scuffed and my joy there but muffled.
I was grateful for the warm weather, grateful for one less layer of sweaters, but still felt askew. This weather is the wrong tool for the wrong time, like everything I need to release from my house as I say goodbye to my daughter’s years of poor health. The winter needs the snow, though it soaks my boots and covers the grass. Too, the baby needed to be held; the toddler needed the light; the little girl needed to own her mornings; the cardiac patient needed her heart.
These were our favorite things, in their seasons, but those seasons have passed.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by Kristi of FindingNinee.com and Kenya of Sporadically Yours. This week’s sentence is “My favorite things…” and it’s actually a “listicle” prompt, and it’s supposed to be 10 things, but I have too much to say about each one, so I did five. I hope that’s ok, Kristi and Kenya!