E is doing a daycamp this week while I work, and though last week she did it too and loved it, this week she’s been dragging her heels in the morning and saying she wants to stay home. This morning, after dropping M off at his daycare, E and I held hands while we walked the few more blocks to her camp and chatted. I told her that I can remember going to camp and having fun, but also sometimes just really wanting to be home with my mom and dad and brother and sister.
‘I only have a brother,’ she says, ‘except I also have a sister, but she will never be home with me.’
‘No,’ I said. ‘She won’t. I wish she could be.’
‘How could Anja die when she came out of your tummy? How could that happen?’ A pause. ‘She probably died because you ate too much chocolate.’
‘I don’t think that’s why, sweetie. Sometimes doctors don’t know why babies die. They did lots of tests and they couldn’t find a reason. She died inside my tummy, before she came out.’
‘How could doctors not know. I think you ate too much chocolate.’
My poor kid. Still trying to figure this all out.
‘Have you been thinking about Anja a lot these days?’ I ask her.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I hope when I grow up I have two baby girls.’ Pause. ‘How old would Anja be now?’
‘She’d be three. That’d be fun, wouldn’t it? To have a three-year-old sister here to play with?’
‘Yes. That’s how old P is.’ I watch her think, wonder if she is thinking about all the things P can do and what it would be like to have Anja here, doing those things. She thinks for a long time, then says, ‘I can’t wait to go see Inside Out with E.’ E is the daughter of my babyloss friend, Andrea; they are the same age and so obviously derive comfort from each other. Just like us adults, they find comfort in the company of others who have experienced the death of a loved, longed-for baby.
‘Mommy, can we do something special after camp today?’
‘Yes, sweetie, we can.’
* * *
There is so much in that conversation. So much thinking, so much figuring out, so much worry and blame and wonder. She’s six.
She’s been a bit wild these days. I think camp is stressful for her. She has a friend there who she thinks is really cool and she tries to emulate her. She is an imitator, always trying to fit in with her environment. I worry that she’s trying to please whoever she happens to be with at any given time. I worry that this – at least in part – comes from feeling like she had to cheer us up after Anja died, like she has to be more because Anja died, that she has somehow determined that she needs to be what others need her to be. I worry too much. She’s a great kid. She’s wonderful. I will always worry, though, about what damage has been done to her through the experience of Anja’s death and our family’s bereavement and the crap crap crap attitude toward that bereavement of most of the world around us.
She gets easily anxious. M had a rash on his belly this morning and I took a picture of it and sent it to my mom, who is a nurse. I just wanted to know if she thought it was something that merited being kept home from daycare. He was not feverish, had a good appetite, was his usual cheerful self. I wasn’t worried about him. But the simple act of me photographing M’s tummy and asking Gran caused E so much anxiety, though I didn’t see it entirely until later. ‘He’ll be okay,’ I assured her over and over. ‘It’s just a little rash. You have them all the time, and you’re ok.’ Oh no, I wonder suddenly: does she worry about herself? She worries when any one of us is sick. She worries quietly.
She’s been so silly and wild lately. She’s tired from camp, she’s picking up on different behaviours from other kids, she needs a holiday just like the rest of us. But I wonder, too…there’s been something about these last couple weeks. There were forest fires burning nearby and the air and sky were full of smoke. Something like this, not as bad, happened three years ago, that first summer, six months after Anja died. I thought about those days last week while the smoke hung low over the mountains and park. Those July 2012 days were some of the worst, and they were worse for being unexpectedly so bad. The half year. And yesterday it was the 14th. Three and a half years exactly, and my body, always before my head, remembers. I’ve been dragging a bit, feeling overwhelmed. I bet she feels it, too, my girl, my first daughter. I complain constantly that the world does not recognize children’s grief, but I am guilty sometimes, too, of that fault: I wonder how often I am and don’t realize at all?
Sweet E. I am still fumbling through this. I hope I am not failing her too badly. I’m doing the best I can. I’ll keep doing it.