radio silence and return
There’s been a lot of that around here, radio silence. It’s not that there’s nothing to say. There is so much. I just can’t find the words, the time, the energy, the will. Every time I sit down to write, I open up another window and direct my attention elsewhere. Anywhere but here, it seems. Not that I don’t want to write, I do. Finally, a moment of peace. Yet if I can really get into this post now, I am certain the baby will wake momentarily.*
A week ago, we returned from a few days at the beach, Baby J and I. We flew cross country together for the first time to meet up with family members who had traveled from afar to spend a few days with my ailing mom. We picked a rendezvous point in the middle for all of us. My mom had been looking forward to this trip for nearly a year, soon after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Truth be told, when I saw her in December, when we said our teary goodbyes, I thought she’d never make it to July. But there she was.
They planned a week at the beach in a penthouse suite on the boardwalk. We came along for just four days to spend as much time as we could. M was unable to join us, so it was just Baby J and me. One brother graciously put us up so we could spend some quality time together, while the other complained about the time commitment and other family obligations. Nice.
The visit was both fulfilling and draining on so many levels. It was nothing short of exhausting flying solo with a newly toddling 14 month old for 5.5 hours. Each way she slept just one hour. That meant I had to occupy her with food, books, toys and other distractions in 3 minute increments for the rest of the time. Luckily (and yes, I laugh at the irony of how unlucky I would have been in the past), each way there were sympathethic moms next to me who were both understanding and eager to help (one separated from her 13 month old for the first time and the other with a 15 month old at home).
When we landed at 5pm, it was still 100 degrees out. The weather was disgustingly humid, the kind where you begin to sweat the instant you emerge from the shower, assuming you can even take a shower with a demanding toddler attached to your side. The humidity hates me and I came home with a rash that still hasn’t healed. I know, lovely.
Still, visiting with my siblings and my nieces and nephews was wonderful, as we don’t see each other often enough and one brother and his kids had never met Baby J. Watching my daughter meet her uncles and aunts and cousins, some of whom for the first time, well, that was priceless. She romped around and joined in as only she could, as the baby of the group. She wanted to play with the 3 year old, follow the 6 year old, and was very curious about the 12 and 13 year olds. When more cousins arrived that were closer in age, she was excited to have other playmates her size.
Baby J was definitely overwhelmed at times, her routine disrupted in this unfamiliar place with strange new people in a highly charged setting, trying to sleep in her new tent crib in a room so freakishly loud from the amusement park below. She was attached to me and only me — which of course I am not complaining about — but which made it very difficult for me to be helpful as she didn’t want to be held by anyone else. Thankfully she did play and explore a bit, which allowed me to at least make some food and clean up, at least until she’d cry looking for mama. Sometimes we’d just sit quietly for a few moments and read a book before she’d feel comfortable enough to slide down my lap halfway through, having been grounded in something familiar, with confidence to go exploring once more.
At some point on our first full day there, all the siblings with our kids were in the pool, splashing and playing together. I was overwhelmed by the joy of that very moment — one that I had doubted would ever come. At the same time I felt a warm nostalgia for the golden years of my childhood — the innocent time before the madness, before divorce and death. As I watched my brother play with his kids and tug Baby J around in her float, instantly vivid memories flooded in of us riding on my dad’s back in the sun at our neighborhood pool. Sitting on the beach, my feet in the hot sand, taking Baby J into the edge of the ocean, lifting her into and out of the waves. Snapshots of my happiest childhood memories, intertwined with the best present moments. It was pure and beautiful.
There is too much drama in my family for the rest of the trip to have gone so smoothly, however. But that was to be expected. You enjoy it while you can and brace yourself for the rest.
The first night, as I put Baby J to bed and we said our goodnights, I got so emotional as I told her how happy I was that she was part of our family. She had felt the love of her cousins and family, just as I had imagined. Tears streamed down my face with gratitude and awe at my incredible good fortune. By the second night, I welcomed her to the family, once again, with all its dysfunction. Part of life, I told her. By the third night, I was half apologizing, telling her that families help you build character. Still, regardless of everything happening around her, she was the superstar, the focal point, the most popular girl in the room.
There was no question that my role in my family had changed. Until now, I’ve just been me. The childless aunt, sister, daughter, niece. The one unable to have babies. But this time was different. There we were, Baby J and me. Mother and child. It was really something.
Then of course there was my mom. Seeing her surrounded by loved ones who haven’t been together in more than a year, who have never all been together at the same time, who won’t likely be together again until her funeral, well, that was something too. Still hard to get my head around it. Emotional and wonderful and sorrowful all at once.
I had been concerned about her making this trip. But she did it. She was so looking forward to this and it was exhausting for her. Yet she really pushed herself. She insisted on photos. She made her rounds, she visited with old friends and cousins. Was she saying her goodbyes? Maybe. Probably. Though she won’t admit it, we all knew it. Now that she’s home again, I’m a bit worried about the letdown, that she won’t have much to look forward to. So we’re already talking about another visit in September. One of my brothers is talking about a visit in October. Whether or not he can make it, he’s talking it up. Something to plan, to look forward to.
She won’t be around much longer, I’m afraid, but it’s hard to know how long. Last fall the doctors said up to a year, though back then I didn’t believe she could hang on so long. The effects of her last procedure are now wearing off. Her liver is deteriorating, her heart is wearing down, and she is weakening. But she is still kicking. For now, my mom is still fighting.
* Case in point: one paragraph after I wrote this sentence, the baby started to stir. It has taken me more than a week to write this post. I am a bad blogger, I know. The only post I could muster in the past month was recycled photos of my old dog. Ah life.