I wondered where they were that first game day. The family I had sat next to for all of the interminable practices over the last several weeks. The family with the other reluctant Tiny Tot Soccer player. The family with the other 2-year-old who played with ours. The mom who allowed said 2-year-old of mine to rifle through her purse and eat the rest of a bag of chips she had. The mommy I chatted to about starting kindergarten, her thoughts about wanting to leave the south to go home to the snow, about how our kids were more interested in us on the sidelines than soccer itself. Where were they?
Fast forward 10 days and the coach catches me on the sidelines of our second game. She knows where they were. They were with their boy, their 4-year-old Tiny Tot Soccer player, as he took his last breath just a day after suddenly getting very ill. He took his last breath on the day we wondered where he was. I doubled over and leaned my weight into my knees. I grabbed you Big One and held you too tightly. You squirmed away and searched my face. I plastered a grin on my face as a tear snuck down my cheek… and then wriggled your squirmy boy legs into shin guards and socks. I watched you (reluctantly) head out to the field and thanked GOD you were here and reluctant and squirmy. I couldn’t breathe.
Losing one of you is a fear I carry like a thousand bricks pressing on my heart at all times. I constantly worry– and use worry as a talisman. “If I worry enough about it in advance, there’s NO WAY it will come true. It’s the thing I DON’T worry about that will happen.” Lest we be caught off guard. This has allowed me to not at all live in the moment and given me yet another full time job. I alternately pray and worry, just the right combo to keep you safe. It worked through each of my pregnancies with you and dammit it’ll work for the next 75 years.
Except for that Tiny Tot Soccer player’s mommy– it didn’t work. What, did she not WORRY ENOUGH? I am very sure that was not the case. And in turn, I have been forced to face my most terrible fear. This shit just HAPPENS to people. Kids die. That sentence makes me tremble.
Today, I wrote a card to his mommy and I made sure to write his name over and over, to bear witness to the fact that her sweet boy was a real living being. That he had a NAME. That he was not just a 4 year magical figment of her imagination– a dream gone terribly wrong that she just cannot wake up from– no, a real baby boy she loved and rocked and nursed and gave life to. I also sent her my friend Anna’s book, Rare Bird. Reading that book, no STARTING that book, terrified me. It’s the story of her coming to understand her life as she mourns Jack, her boy that she lost 3 years ago. I have sobbed through the entire book, but also see so much light. I am also learning that there is not a thing I can do to guarantee that my sweet babies are mine until MY dying day.
This is a realization that is incredibly hard to bear. This is also a realization that has kicked my ass into breathing a little more deeply when I just want to rage: when bedtime goes horribly wrong, when Little One says “no I DO IT MYSELFFFF” for the 345th time, when you just. won’t. eat. Because I still have the great honor and gift of parenting you in this world.
Soccer mommy friend- I cannot begin to understand and I would never, ever, say anything as trite as “silver lining” or “learning from your experience”– cause I would give back all of this profound work my psyche is embarking on to give you YOUR boy back. To give Anna HER boy back. Take back this damn knowledge and all the gorgeous symbolism and the lessons we’re learning. Please, someone take it all back.