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Monday, May 20, 2013

Dear Emmett

Dear Emmett,

I can't stop staring into your perfect little face. The photos your thoughtful daddy has sent show you mostly with your eyes clamped shut, resting after your turbulent entry into this world. Be prepared for your exhausted and battered mommy to bring that up occasionally throughout your life to remind you both what it takes to bring a child into the light, long after memory of that pain and suffering has dulled.

When Daddy manages to capture you with your eyes open, I search for you behind the dark blue irises that many babies share. Your face even resembles what I remember of all of my little ones, your essential you-ness still not fully stamped upon your features. I have prayed for you to be healthy and happy, of course, but mostly I have prayed for you to be strong in the face of the harshness of this world and to be of service to humanity, to find that special niche where Emmett's gifts can shine. You are already blessed with strong, competent and loving parents as well as a host of extended family members who are besotted even though most of us have only met you through the images on our computer screens.

The day you were born I was surprised how little I felt beyond the extreme relief that Mommy had weathered the ordeal. I had been nervous just before and during her labour, an anxiety I never felt facing my own four labours and deliveries. But she is my baby and those protective maternal instincts never go away it seems. I was joyous, of course, that you had arrived but it wasn't until the next day, when your little face appeared before me through the wonders of technology, that I fell hopelessly and absolutely in love, a deep ache overwhelming me and a sadness that I cannot be right there to hold you in my arms. A friend, a fellow-grandmother, told me one day that being a grandparent is the best. I think I am getting a glimmer of what that feeling is and an understanding of my own parents' deep love of my children, a love that confirmed their love for us, their own offspring. It is a connection that is forged between the generations when a grandchild arrives, an unspoken bond of love and trust, even appreciation as the new parent suddenly sees the world through her own parents' eyes.

I will meet you in the flesh one day, God willing. In the meantime I have a very important job taking care of your grandfather whose name you now bear within your own. He needs as much care as you do, my love; he has entered his second childhood and needs constant love and attention. You have just arrived in this world; he is preparing to depart. Leaving him to the care of others is as difficult for me as was leaving your mommy and her siblings when they were little.

I hope you can know him one day but I fear he may be gone before you can love him yourself. I will be looking for him in you, looking for his kindness, his loyalty, his humour, his passion. The old Michael would have been misty-eyed on hearing of your arrival and would have scooped you up in his strong arms and held you to his chest, pacing and singing Daddy-lullabies from his treasure trove of music: Stan Rogers, Bruce Springsteen, Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seger. Many of the songs your parents might have had to ban, their subject matter questionable.

He would have loved you fiercely and mightily, little Emmett. I like to think his soul is connected to yours and will watch over you for eternity.

*Janis Rozentals, "Mother and Child" 1904

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sweet Relief

Her irritability was so high, it had to be channeled. Bedtime, when she's tired or bored, can seem like an eternity. Snack, medication, bathroom, teeth: all simple processes under normal circumstances but sometimes, with an advanced case of caregiver irritation, can take forever.

Earlier he had shown some impatience with her usual style of administering medications. Now tired of constantly having to cue him (Put the pills in your hand; put them in your mouth - no, not in the water; now have a drink) she simply tips the egg cup of pills into his mouth then shoves in the straws of his cup, whereupon he automatically takes a sip. In a rare display of independence he had petulantly insisted on taking the seven p.m. dose of medication himself, spilling pills and water in the process. Right, she thought sharply at bedtime, tonight I will let you do all of it yourself.

She plunked his bedtime snack, two yogurt cups, onto the table in front of him, careful to push the day's last dose of meds out of his reach to avoid confusion. She left him to peel off the foil wrappers and feed himself, then, standing close by in case of calamity, she let him try to figure out the medications on his own. Removing the wrappers was complicated, medications even more so. He sat and stared at them blankly, then looked up at her imploringly for a cue. But she was feeling uncharitable and turned away, leaving him to sort it out. After a few moments, he lost concentration and started scribbling busily on the newspaper. When several minutes had elapsed and the pills were obviously not going to move without intervention, she finally took his hand and coached him. Annoyance had to be swallowed.

Then came the visit to the bathroom for nightly ablutions. After helping him onto the toilet, a very necessary step if she wants to avoid a mess, she left him alone. By now her impatience to have the day end was reaching a fever pitch. On poking her head into the bathroom she saw that he was inspecting his teeth. She gave a gentle prod (in her own head a scream) of encouragement to speed things up but he seemed determined to slow things down. She knows he is probably not capable of deliberate behaviour anymore, but tonight felt like an exception. She knew, however, that her impatience was simply out of control.

She started to pace, nervous energy now nearly boiling over. She found herself humming a tune, then realized with a laugh that it was a children's song she used to sing with the kids when she wanted to joke with them about feeling crazy: "I am slowly going crazy. One, two, three, four, five, six, switch. Crazy going slowly am I. Six, five, four, three, two, one, switch." Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.

Faster and faster she paced around the large dining room carpet, then expanding the route around the stairs, speeding up the song until she was nearly running and shouting. If anyone were to see her now...

Finally he emerged from the bathroom. Whether he had actually accomplished anything she didn't care.  Hasty prayers and goodnights once he was settled into bed, then she nearly flew upstairs to her room.

Aaaaaah, sweet relief.

*John Tenniel's illustration from Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", 1865.