An unseen beauty in the ordinary

There are times in our lives when something that seems so very ordinary contains an unseen beauty. A beauty that may not be seen by the naked eye but that beats in someone’s heart, that is felt deep within a mother’s soul.

Recently I had such a moment. From the outside it may have seemed like nothing special but if you looked closely you would have noticed the twinkle in my eye, you would have felt the pride emanating from my heart and known the smile that spread across my face was expressing an unknown delight.

It wasn’t a huge event. We were sitting at story time during our family birthday trip to Great Wolf Lodge. The wonderful animated story-teller was engaging all the kids sitting on the floor in front of her and asked everyone to scream out their names. She counted down 1…2…3 and pointed to the kids. A loud, enthusiastic burst of names echoed through the lodge. You could barely make out syllables through the deafening noise of these wired children. I clearly heard Mr. T. scream out his name, because he was sitting right beside me or so I thought. The story-teller congratulated all the little ones on a job well done and said “I heard a ‘aaaahhhhrrrrrrr’ from one side of the room and a great big ‘Mr T!!!’ from the other side of the room.” All the parents in the room giggled and looked at Mr. T. smiling and agreeing with each other. A mother sitting right near him patted him on the back while she confirmed “it’s true all I heard was a thundering MRRRR TTTTTTT”. Mr. T looked at me with a shy smile, slightly embarrassed for being singled out but just that little bit proud as well. His eyes searched mine wondering “am I going to get in trouble for screaming” Most likely cause at home I’m constantly telling him to please lower his voice, stop screaming, use your indoor voice.

Chastising him for doing exactly as he was asked was the last thing on my mind. I beamed with pride as my mind replayed a scene from shortly after he was born. As clear as day I could put myself back in that NICU exactly 5 years before. Standing beside his little incubator listening to Mr. T’s surgeon explain what she was going to do the following day. My mind was fuzzy, I was exhausted, my eyes burned from what seemed like an endless flow of tears. I tried to concentrate as she explained the procedure and recovery. It was hard to focus I must say but I know she was confident that she would be able to fix this. She explained what this would mean for Mr.T’s future, the complications he may face in the years to come and somewhere near the end of the list she told us that Mr.T was probably going to be very quiet. She explained his voice may be raspy. She assured us he would be able to speak but that his voice just may not get very loud. I remember Mr. C. saying “I guess he’s never going to be an Opera singer” and she chuckled “No I doubt that will happen”

In those first weeks I didn’t think much of it. We were just so focused on Mr. T. making it through his surgery and then healing, learning to eat, gaining weight and finally coming home. Him being quiet was the last on our list on things to worry about. We did notice he was a bit on the quiet side from the very beginning. It was actually the first thing I noticed when he was born. His cry sounded muffled. It wasn’t loud and angry at all as I had imagined it would be. It was soft and quiet and sounded pained.

Here we are 5 years later and his beautiful voice echoed through the lobby of the Great Wolf Lodge singing loudly above the cacophony of giggling children all screaming their names. My heart swelled with pride as our eyes met and it was like we were silently, secretly giving each other a high five. I was trying somehow to convey to him that not only was it ok for him to be loud in that moment but that he has made me ridiculously proud. 

No one around us knew our journey. No one understood the significance of his little voice being heard above all others. No one knew just how far he has come. To everyone around us he was a perfectly healthy rambunctious little boy. No one but me saw the tiny little baby laying helpless in his incubator bruised and tubed fighting the strong fight.

The beauty of the moment was felt deep within my heart, right down where I store all of the memories of our emotional start. I pulled Mr T close to me, gave him a great big hug and kiss, tears filling my eyes. Mr. T looked at me a little confused and concerned, why was I crying he wondered. I pulled Ms. J into our little family hug (Mr. C. was icing his sprained ankle..another story in itself!) To the outside world this was just a regular everyday moment. A normal child being loud. To us this was a beautiful moment shared as a family. A wonderful reminder of how far we’ve come and of how strong we are as a family.

5 years my beautiful loud little boy and you have already come so far.

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How do we measure our grief?

I often speak, on this blog, of the emotional trauma I experienced when Mr. T. was sick. It’s probably one of the few places where I have been completely honest about how it impacted me. How the whole experience caused my entire world as I knew it to collapse around me. How in the almost 5 years since, I haven’t fully been able to rebuild my world to where it was. I’ve come to realize that I don’t think I was ever supposed to go back to where I was. I have permanently changed.

In a conversation recently I was explaining to someone why I began writing again. This of course, required me to explain Mr. T’s illness and hospital stay. I prefaced the story by explaining that he was ok now. The person who I was speaking with said to me “Don’t do that”. At first I wasn’t sure what she was referring to until she said “Don’t minimize what you went through” It was like a light went on inside. She was right I don’t have to minimize it.

I had never before realized that I did this but I did! Almost every time I speak of the experience I almost sweep away the pain by explaining that Mr. T is ok now. I sometimes feel such a sense of guilt over my pain. To explain my guilt simplistically is that I feel like I don’t have a right to anguish over any part of my experience because Mr. T. is ok. Yes, there are some complications that we have to face and some scary possibilities for the future. But he’s here. He lives a normal life. Who am I to distress when there are mothers out there who have to continuously watch their children suffer? When then are mothers out there who had to say goodbye and had to let their angels go?Who do I think I am? I get to kiss him every night. I read him stories and I tickle his back before bed. I watch him play soccer and play house with his sister. He gets to push my buttons and get into mischief. I have always felt like I didn’t have a right to feel sadness.

Throughout the past years I have become aware that there are people who tired of hearing me talk about the experience. They didn’t understand why I was having trouble dealing because to their eyes Mr. T. had no lasting effects. Yet I still felt the need to talk about it. I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t let go. There was a constant ache in my heart. Yet as I continued to try to verbalize that ache I could feel the judgments. I could almost hear “Oh my god not again” It was when someone mentioned that I needed to get over it that I stopped talking about it and started to write about it.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we feel like there is a chart for our grief and in order to make it onto this chart there is a list of criteria we must check off? We compare ourselves to others out there and think that because someone has it much harder than us that we aren’t entitled to feel sadness. Is this where our world has ended up? That even grief has become a competition? A sad little reality show where there is only one winner and only the most distressing story wins the right to openly grieve. Why would someone think they have the right to judge my feelings? Or to dictate how deep my worry should venture?

The conversation that started my whole change in thought was, as Oprah calls it, my light bulb moment. I will not apologize for feeling the immense anguish that I have felt. I do grieve. I grieve for the loss of that magical first baby experience. My heart aches a palpable pain every time I sit with Mr. T through another test, x-ray, needle…My wounds are my wounds to heal the way I need to heal them. They don’t need to be compared to anyone else’s heartbreak. We are all walking our own path and are climbing our own mountains. This is my mountain and with Mr. T, Ms. J and Mr. C by my side I will make it to the top. That I can guarantee.