A friend asked recently if I feel guilty about the way losing Libby has effected Will. Do I feel like days that should be his are tarnished from the burden we carry surrounding her – because the grief in our hearts surfaces with the most gusto on milestone days. Of course I feel guilty – I’m a mother – I always feel guilty – about something.
But Libby’s story is Will’s story too. The way our grief touches everything is a piece of Libby’s legacy, wrapped up in what makes Will, Will, who he will become, who Leighton will become. We cannot compartmentalize the grief, keeping it out of what shapes Will and Leighton. It is too big to wrap up and stash away like my Grandmother’s china or my wedding gown. It is as much a part of them as the eyes they got from Mommy and the height they got from Daddy. It consumes our memories, it works its way into our hearts and chests and takes over our breath. So do I feel guilty that it effects them? – yes, but its not a guilt I carry heavily. Because this too is part of him and Leighton – it is their story.
Libby’s battle was horrific. The memories keep me awake, the grief steels my hunger, her photos can ruin me for hours. Fighting for her life and losing her was an unfathomable terror. It was an experience that could not possibly leave our family the same as we were before. We could not live through that and be the same we were before that day in March 2013. Impossible. And so, our children cannot be the same as they would have been, either. And that might not be all bad.
Through living in the aftermath of that fight, Will has learned empathy, he’s seen tears, he’s seen real pain, he’s heard about Heaven as a tangible reality, he’s seen a mommy and daddy relentlessly pick each other up and come together on the hardest days. He’s seen a community support him and his family and fight for his sister’s legacy. He has seen unyielding love, devotion, acts of kindness, and friendship. His little heart has been branded by his sister’s story, so it is part of him, and will be part of Leighton too.
These thoughts are swimming around in my head more heavily today because of what tomorrow is – Will’s preschool graduation. Will my response tomorrow be weightier than that of most parents? Will my sobs come from darker places? Will my perception of the significance of the day be greater. Yes. Because she never got there. She isn’t here to see him. She never moved on to kindergarten. And these thoughts affect Will through how I approach the day, his life, my parenting – they are the insignia branded on his sweet, pure, heart.
And as hard as tomorrow will be, I know how proud we will be too – of Will, of Libby, of each other. We got him here. We did this. We pulled ourselves out of blackness to give him what he needs most – love, support, parenting, and the gift of being little – a gift we cannot as parents take lightly – for it is boundless, and hard to deliver.
So I am begging you – anyone who entertains me by reading my words – I am pleading you to LET THEM BE LITTLE. For as commonplace as it sounds, they are only little once – we cannot make time stand still. If we blink, if we turn around, if we even sleep too late, they will be little no more. I will see it tomorrow as my five-year-old walks across the little stage and says goodbye to the sweetness of pre-school, the innocence of those brick walls, the purity of being four.
But at least he got the chance to be little. He has had a childhood, where she didn’t for long enough. Her innocence was gone with the first blood draw. She was forced out of being little – into a very real, very adult, very cruel reality.
So if Josh and I can give our kids anything during this phase of life – we want it to be that gift of being little. Can’t you remember how it felt? – the magic of believing in Santa, pretending to be a fairy in your backyard, believing that pixie dust was real magic? That tingling feeling that you can’t have as an adult – let’s deliver that to our babies while we can!
So Let them explore, make messes, jump, climb, and roll in the dirt. Let them be funny, be cute, and sometimes naughty. Let them believe- in Santa, and magic, angels, goodness and love. Let them learn, thrive, and explore their little worlds. Let them ask questions, yearn for knowledge, figure things out, and find their own way. Let them push boundaries, explore limits, make mistakes, and find comfort in our arms when they fall down. Let them have ice cream and too much candy, and get off schedule on long Summer nights. Let them break the rules every now and then. Let’s indulge their imaginations, nurture their creativity, absorb their naiveté, encourage their minds to be children -to be little – to not hurry their childhoods – to not be little adults. For they are little – let them be there, breathe there, flourish there.
Lets watch them more than our phones, tell them “yes” more than “no,” and look into their little eyes directly and tell them how proud of them we are.
And is this hard – to be “in the moment” as parents, not forcing them to an age that will be easier for us? YES. But just because its hard, doesn’t mean its not right.
After tedious days of countless dishes, picking up toys, breaking up fights, packing and unpacking bags, being a short-order chef, driving from activity to activity, having no real adult-brain time…. I’m exhausted. And when I fall into my chair in front of the TV at the end of the day, glass of wine in hand, I know it is well worth it.
And day in, day out, the cycle continues, mundanely, ordinarily; but sprinkled in with that every-day monotony is wonder, magic, miracle moments that I cannot, will not, refuse to skip over. I get to guide them, be in them, absorb them, and cherish them. I get this gift, I get to be with them while they are little, so little I will let them be.