“When I leave and go back to my world I am going to be a black bird.”
“I’m running out of time, words, mama, to tell you things.”
“I’m going to be an eagle when I grow up.”
Poppy says things, sometimes between drippy licks of ice cream cone, sometimes flushed with fever, words that freeze me. Sentences that make me lean on walls and grab at my chest. Stories soaked in too many sheets of the past-tense. Is she leaving me? That feeling of electrocution (grief) when I reached down and touched her crowning head – still in the world of my womb – still a literal part of my body – was it real?
What does she know about the future? Is she leaving me? There is no breath without her.
These things she says, I hold them in my heart and head and hands like bombs. I search for the meaning. I scour memory for reasons she might say them. A book, a show, the radio… where could it have come from? My guts turn. I already know she is magic.
At the moment of my father’s sudden death, she sat straight up in bed, and from a deep sleep screamed, “My head is breaking! My face is falling off!”
and then my phone rang.
Grieving my father, though not my actual blood-and-biology-father was, no IS, the single most startling experience of this life. I can feel the broken parts of my heart. I can feel the instant cold, clammy covering of my mama’s wail as he died in front of her, crouched beneath the gurney – still on the phone with me.
I didn’t want to see him dead, but I drove to the funeral home to sit in the parking lot and wait while everyone was inside. I pulled my car into the lot, turned it off, opened my door and RAN inside. I didn’t want to see him dead, but I wanted to see him. I needed to ask him for two things.
Poppy nursed for 3.5 years. She clung to my bosom for dear life. I nursed her into and out of unthinkable situations. Hovering over her newly reconstructed skull, squished into a hospital crib between wires and tubes and the hands of nurses, waiting inside of ER’s and outside of MRI’s. She was the recipient of much comfort, and I the recipient of many moments of needed rest. When my father died, she simply never asked again. Never pulled at the collar of my shirt or signed “milk”, never reached again, for that comfort.
When I could no longer calm her distress with nursing, I became even more aware of my fear and its capacity to debilitate me. Bad things happen. I am in wait. Life is ebb and flow, but I drowned long ago.
The last five years, Poppy’s whole life, were stacked wall to wall with surgeries and tragedies and fierce advocacy. For the very first time – there are no surgeries or invasive procedures on our current calendar. We could make it through this whole summer without injury! I want to cling to the ease. I want to bask in the lightness. I want to forget the fear that wrestles with blood for space in my veins. And for an hour, I do. I go to Poppy’s world and I swing and play and cuddle and memorize the lines of her face and weight of her hug and gust of her breath as it welcomes a laugh.
The truth is, in the ease, I am a different kind of scared. Careening through chaos and huddled in heart-sickness comes naturally. This new fear is almost worse. It isn’t, because I am the only one consumed by it – it is not a reaction to actual trauma, but it rivals actual trauma, without doubt.
Somehow, and for some reason – I could not bring myself to write, or post, or even really speak about the fact that POPPY HAS TEN BEAUTIFUL FINGERS. We spent last summer preparing for, enduring, and healing from hand surgery #1. As winter set in it was all just a block of waiting and preparing for hand surgery #2. Keeping Poppy healthy and away from germs is ALWAYS on the forefront, but it is multiplied by a million when there is surgery scheduled – especially at the height of cold and flu season! Combine that with my fear of flying (exactly entirely across the country!) and the logistics to make the whole trip happen as seamlessly as possible, and it was a cold dark winter. Too much time to think. Nowhere to go. Sadness creeps in and makes itself cozy. To top it off, our home of Poppy’s ENTIRE life was up for sale and we had to coordinate a move in the middle of the Boston trip!
Once in Boston, we buzzed through pre-op appointments and had a hotel birthday party because POPPY TURNED 5 just hours before her second hand surgery. She kept us all in good spirits and it was lovely to celebrate her and her MANY accomplishments in five short years.
The morning of surgery came too quickly, as it always does, and there we were in that “holding space” with all of the other frightened (and starving) parents and children. Her brilliant and beautiful surgeons came for us and we took that walk back to the OR. Boston lets the parents come into the OR and hold their children as they administer the initial anesthesia through a mask to put them under. Until the first hand surgery, I had never been into the OR with her and I had been pretty naive about the process of going under. They do not go lightly… the body fights to stay conscious. For her first surgery, she was already asleep in my arms when we went back, so I thought she would just, well… stay asleep. No. She woke terrified to a stranger holding a mask to her face and though she was in my arms, I was also accidentally breathing in the marshmallow mask air and getting dizzy and terrified, too! her body thrashed and fought and she cried and it was SO HARD. For this second surgery I woke her, explained what was going to happen, and it was so much better. Still, wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone – but it was as smooth as it could be for what it was.
Coming out of anesthesia is always the saddest part. She is usually ANGRY. There is a lot of crying and screaming and thrashing and begging and pleading and breathing issues.
We brought her headphones and played George Winston as she was waking up. She whined mildly, stirred, looked at her (AGAIN) fully casted arms, and bobbed in and out of sleep. No scream. No cry. No major oxygen desaturations. We were moved out of recovery and into her room where she belted out her first words since surgery (following me leaning down and kissing her face all over) “YUCK YOU DO NOT KISS A PERSON ON THE FACE!)
And basically, I fell in superLOVE with her all over again.
I caught a virus while in the hospital and was pretty feverish and ill for days while there – and the fear of her having it, too kept us in the hospital a couple days longer than expected – but we mended and headed to our BRAND NEW FOREVER HOME a week after surgery.
When the casts came off in March, something happened to me. Seeing those ten little fingers wiggling out of gauze and goo – an era ended. All of the fighting insurance and fundraising and advocacy and appeals and FULL-TIME work paid off. What 8 Oregon surgeons had told me was impossible was right in front of my face.
As joyous and amazing as the moment was, it was followed immediately by panic. Now what? The 3.5 year fight for ten little fingers had been acting as a blinder, guarding me from some pretty harsh realities on the horizon. It has admittedly been a really treacherous few months in ways of heart things. I’ve felt so selfish in not celebrating this milestone more, or better, or with the community of people that have followed and held and fundraised with us thus far – but I almost couldn’t breathe thinking about all of the words that would tumble out of well-meaning mouths, and in front of her!
We needed a quiet sigh. A fall-apart.
Our new home has consumed our spring with many projects. It really has become a wonderland for little Poppy Avalon. It is everything (and more) that made up my childhood dreams.
A place suitible for shooting down roots. thing one.
A presence so undeniable that my fear will begin to dissipate. thing two.