[Looking Back: July 2006 - Baxter and Titi Dee]
PJ and I often marvel at the enormous task of single-parenting. Particularly when Bax is so BIG for his britches. Granted, Bax was younger then so the challenges were different, but I don't really remember how I did it. I remember being tired --- running to catch up --- and savoring my time blogging... those rare moments after Bax went to sleep when I felt the company of friends as I typed my every thought into the keyboard.
The entire time period when Mike was ill is a blur in terms of how I managed to take care of Baxter. Mike's mom was here for a few weeks in April. My parents came for a couple of weeks in May. But Mike was hospitalized from March 17th until July 19th. Most days were simple: drop baxter at daycare, take the train to Jefferson and arrive late morning, leave the hospital at 4 to pick up baxter by 5. Weekends were a challenge. One of the days I'd bring baxter with me for a brief visit to Daddy Michael. Perhaps the other weekend day, someone would step in to help so I could make a quick visit into the city.
[At Right: That same pool trip in July 2006. Bax with his juicy cup]
That is a time that...I do. not. visit. It's a time that doesn't bring me feelings of warm grief and connection to Michael, but rather feelings of anxiety and trauma and spiraling out-of-control. If anything, that time period makes me feel much farther away from Michael than I do on a regular basis - because the person I remember as my husband Michael is NOT the person who I visited at Jefferson.
So, today, I'm here on the computer, paying some bills, and I actually take a second to look at some of these jpg files on my desktop. This is Mike's iMac that I don't really use much outside of paying bills... so I don't really browse around here too much. But here on the desktop there are two pictures of Baxter, taken the weekend of July 1st 2005, by our friends Sasha and Dee.
I remember this weekend because it was the last weekend that Mike was at Magee rehab hospital before being taken back to Jefferson for the July 7th Hail Mary Pass surgery.
Sash and Dee played this role many times over that spring - stepping in to play parent to Baxter in my absence. On this particular weekend, they took Bax out to our friend Steiner's mom's pool for an afternoon of swimming.
I remember when Sash emailed me the photos a few days later. How grateful I was that Baxter was finding love and joy during this complicated time - and how sad I was at the intense disconnect between Baxter's naive bliss and Mike's impossible illness. Mike died 17 days later.
PJ, Bax and I had a wonderful weekend here at home - but it was supercharged with parenting issues with a smart and stubborn Baxter. It was oddly helpful this morning to momentarily recall how tumultuous his first two years were - and how remarkable it is that the struggles we face with Bax are the same exact struggles any parent of a 4 year old is going through. Defiance - Sassiness - Always trying to make you laugh, even when he's being wicked naughty - Not wanting to pick up his toys - Taking like 37 hours to get on his shoes and coat - Always wanting to eat something sugary.
What a blessing to have a child who is so freaking annoying in a very typical and normal way.
Yesterday afternoon, we watched the Eagles game at Heide and Daniel's. Bax played with Hazel and we sat with their chubby happy twins, Winter and Simone, to watch the game. PJ sat with Simone for most of the game - it was the cutest thing to see. Anyway, before bed, I told Baxter, "You know, holding the babies reminded me of holding you when you were a baby."
"Because you were so tiny and cute and you made little noises..."
"What did I say?"
"I think you said 'buh buh buh' a lot."
"Did I say Da-da?"
"Did I say Ma-ma?"
"Yes.... And, I remember you learned the word 'duck' really early, too."
"Did I have my yellow shaky duck when I was a baby?" (a duck with a rattle inside)
"You bet... Liz and Scott gave that to you before you were born. It was you first toy!"
He seemed pleased. He was quiet for a second, looking at the shaky duck in his hand. Then he lit up...
"And then Daddy Michael would tug the duck and say 'tug tug tug'!" He said, smiling....
And no, this isn't baxter remembering this event from his infancy. It's a charming anecdote I shared with him a few months ago that he loves to revisit.
"And would I would giggle and giggle?"
It's funny that something so hyper-loaded as impermanence is simply a part of Bax's vocabulary of the world.
We try to be quite mindful of this. That for Baxter, the disappearance of another human being - one who plays an integral role in your daily life - is a reality. you can't poo-poo it away when he says, "I don't want you to die." You can't say, "I'm not going to die." Because he'll say, "Then why did Daddy Michael die?"
And yes, this conversation has happened word for world - most recently just a couple of weeks ago.
We have noticed, though, that these questions and concerns are not always present. It seems that they are mostly around when our lives are hectic or unsettled. For about 10 days, our house was a bit chaotic, prepping for a holiday party, rearranging furniture etc.... His inquiries about death jumped that week. Cheryl (it's so good to have friends with PhDs in psychology) pointed out that for Baxter, an unsettled emotional state might simply activate other constructs that are unsettling - which, unfortunately for his way-too-experienced mind - have to do with death and impermanence.
But you can imagine that when I was at ComedySportz rehearsal the other week, and Baxter turned to PJ and said, "I love you dad. I don't want you to die." It tore PJ's heart out. I think his response was something along the lines of "I love you, too, Baxter."
And finally, another great Mike dream. (He's all over the place in my mind right now - which is quite cool because PJ and I are feeling really smitten and connected these days ... so to have that in real life and a healthy connection with Mike in my subconscious is helping me feel quite grounded.)
In my dream, we had rented a big house. I think lots of Comedysportz folks were there. I was cooking breakfast - ham steaks and other yummies sauteeing in olive oil, garlic, and onions. Now, remember, cooking is something I did NOT do at all until after Mike died and I had to fend for my damn self. So, in the dream, I reduce the heat on the burners, and go to the bathroom. When I get back in the kitchen - there's Mike - in front of the stove, collar-shirt, sleeves rolled up, black and white pin-stripe apron on. He has literally taken all of my dishes OFF the stove and placed them on the counter. he's started cooking his OWN thing.
"Smoosher!" I laugh, "What are you doing? I'm in the middle of making brunch?"
He laughs a little condescending laugh, and gestures with his left hand to "shush" me out of the kitchen, like saying, "oh, little girl, your ham steaks are so quaint. I'll take over now."
"Smoosher, I'm serious! I know what I'm doing. I'm cooking."
He doesn't even look at me. Instead, laughs a little more, staying put right where he is.
I was so annoyed with his cockiness. And it felt fun and wonderful.
So, (cut back to real life) - later in the day yesterday, I cooked a yummy vegetarian chili from Mike's favorite "Cook's Illustrated" Cookbook. PJ and I were quite impressed with the results. So, PJ, having been told about the "Mike boots danna from the kichen dream" says playfully,
"Tell 'Dream Mike' to Step Off. This chili is amazing!"
I was thinking of creating one of those Christmas Card inserts – you know, the kind with updates about the year’s events for the whole family… I’m not going to, but if I did, it would read like this:
House of Young and Gallagher 2008 Recap
Broad trends through 2008:
- Transition from the House of the Widow Young to the house of Young and Gallagher.
- Baxter is addicted to superheroes, fictional stories told by his dad, and the art of Kung Fu (which PJ claims to know). Bax also started digging phonics and sounding out words this fall…
- Baxter now calls PJ “dad.”
- May 23: PJ Gallagher proposes. Danna accepts. They’ll marry next Spring.
- June: Lonia (Mike’s mom) spends a lovely week visiting with us and has a family dinner with the Gallagher clan.
- June: Family vacation at a beautiful lakeside cabin in NH. Canoeing and swimming ensue.
- July: Big family house in Sea Isle with the whole Gallagher clan for a week of sun and fun.
- August: Danna starts rehearsing with ComedySportz again - with the love and encouragement of one PJ Gallagher.
- 3rd Annual Laughtastic Sketchopalooza raises another $2000 for the Mike Young Fund at
. PJ’s entire family is in attendance. The Fund is now up to approximately $10,000. Jefferson Hospital
- Autumn: PJ (an asst prosecutor for
) argues before the 1st Appellate Court of the Superior Court of NJ (again, with the whole family in attendance) and wins. The decision is going to be published… aw yeah. Atlantic County
- October: Danna, PJ, Baxter, and PJ’s parents spend a weekend together in
. Ocean City, NJ
- Also in October: Danna decides that the two cigarettes a day she's been smoking since Mike unravelled in March 2005 are no longer a necessary part of her life. Resolves to not buy another pack. As of Dec 18th, we're at 8 weeks of smoke-free living... and counting.
- October 12: Philadelphia Theater Company plaque is unveiled: Mike “Egg Foo” Young, Funniest Man in
, 1967-2006. Almost $5000 have been raised for PTC. Philadelphia
- October 25: Danna returns to the Saturday night ComedySportz Stage for the first time since 2004.
- Danna feels that the sun shines brighter since Obama won.
- Late November: Realizing she’s starting to forget the essence of mindful detachment, Danna starts paying more attention to mindfulness and resumes her yoga practice.
Bridging the Past and Present... through Musical.
So, last night, I had the urge to watch one of Mike’s favorite campy classics, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” from 1954. Mike LOVED this film. Check out the email he sent in 2003 organizing an outing to watch the film on the big screen:
From: Mike Young
Subject: Greatest Musical Ever Made
Sent: 8/11/2003 12:38 PM
This Sunday at 7PM, you have a rare opportunity to see perhaps the greatest musical ever made on the big screen. The Prince Musical Theater at
Seven Brides (1953) stars Howard Keel, Jane Powell, and a very young Russ Tamblyn, who later went on to star as Riff in West Side Story. It's colorful, corny, campy, and a time-capsule of sexist
Danna and I will be going, and you owe it to yourself to go if you've never seen it. Tickets are $8.50.
The film is priceless for its un-ironic misogyny. I knew PJ would get a kick out of it for its insanity. I told him how much Mike loved the film, and PJ eagerly expressed interest in watching it.
That's the thing about Peej. He doesn't get caught up in the emotional baggage of it all. "Mike liked it? Cool. I'll watch it."
The premise of the film is that the protagonist, Adam, a frontiersman, goes into “town,” takes a wife, Millie, and brings her back home. Only upon arrival at the ranch does Millie realize that she’ll not only be living with Adam, but with his 6 unkempt, unruly brothers. Millie takes it upon herself to groom the brothers and teach them how to “go a’courtin.” The brothers try to court the townswomen as Millie taught them, but they soon become frustrated and heartsick with the lack of response.
Like any good older brother would, Adam, finding his brotherly brood … brooding… gives them an instructional and horrifying pep talk in the form of a song. He suggests that the brothers should borrow the approach used by the Romans on the Sabine Women (as in … the “Rape of the Sabine Women”). He suggests that the brothers should kidnap their lady friends… and that eventually the girls would fall in love with them. It’s a classic tale of “No means yes!” … in a very catchy tune:
Needless to say, the mantra of our house right now is “On her face she seems annoyed, but secretly she's OVERjoyed!” …nice.
So, we watched the movie last night and laughed our way through the film. PJ acknowledged several times how priceless it was and how he agreed with Mike in his assessment that it is quite the cultural artifact.
It’s funny. PJ and I have our own life together, our own relationship, our own dynamic… But it was so wonderful to feel like – for a brief moment – we were all three sharing something. You’d think that with PJ raising Baxter (Mike’s biological son) as his own child (he is currently working out the adoption process), that I’d feel that sense of togetherness all the time --- but I don’t. Baxter is so different from the toddler he was when Mike was alive and home. As a result, the role that PJ and I play as Bax’s parents now is cognitively distinct from the role Mike played as father to baby Baxter.
But clearly, the feeling I had watching one of Mike’s favorite films with PJ, while sitting on the big plum colored sofa – which was Mike’s sofa from the house on
I know this because Mike was in my dreams last night. It felt like he was around all night – and I could see him as though he is here beside me right now. He was healthy and happy. Thin and full of life. His hair was floppy and long. He was wearing a mustard-colored button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up twice and a watch on his wrist. And he was so smiley. His eyes were smiling. I could see the smile lines around his eyes as he threw his head back in laughter – with a sentimental head tilt as if to say, “Aw…. Smoosher, you’re so cute.”
But the best part was, in the dream nothing really happened. Mike was sitting on the sofa beside me – but more importantly, beside us… PJ and me. Mike was angled a bit so that he was looking at us, but PJ and I were the ones sitting up close next to each other. Mike reached out and took my hand in one of his, and then took PJ’s hand in the other. PJ was a little surprised and awkward at first, but he didn’t pull away. We just all sat there for a moment, with Mike holding our hands, head tilted, sentimental and smiling at us.
Two nights ago, I confessed something to PJ. He and I were snuggling up after Baxter was asleep, and we were listening to the new Ben Folds album, Way to
“Four, three, two, one… I’m letting you go.
I, will, let, go… If you will let go.”
That’s it. That’s what I confessed to PJ. - that I sing that chorus up to the sky - to Mike. And that I feel guilty about it. Guilty for feeling an urge to move forward, but knowing that it's the right thing to do.
For those of you who may be horrified by this little confession, please know that this urge is not about forgetting Michael. He is a part of our lives. His pictures hang in the house. We talk about him with Baxter. Baxter sleeps under a quilt that has pictures of Mike scanned in onto the fabric. For gosh sakes, Mike's ashes still reside in our closet on top of the bureau where PJ and I keep our clothes. So no - this is not about forgetting. It's about allowing myself to move forward.
The thing is – Mike isn’t holding on to me. I get that. But I feel like my asking him to let go of me is my mind’s way of reconciling the convoluted feelings of guilt I have as the wedding to PJ approaches. I feel like if I ask him to let go of me, then I can move forward without feeling like I’m turning my back on him.
(this video is all whacky, but the chorus starts at 2:37 min)
This whole thing is so fucking complicated.
I am glad to say that throughout this process, PJ and I have grown closer. But, I am definitely superstitious – like if the universe learns how much I love him – then shit will hit the fan. So, I don’t write love letters and get all gushy like I have done in past relationships. In fact, I remember taking weeks with Michael to write our own heartfelt wedding vows. I want no part of that when PJ and I have our ceremony. I want Mother Anne to perform the ceremony using simple traditional vows – but without references to “until death do us part.” I’m not going to do some crazy fancy personal disclosure of our courtship and love. A simple: “I do.” “I do, too.” Done. I realize this may sound cold or crass --- But it’s not about my not feeling strongly towards PJ. It’s about not wanting to draw too much attention to the wonderful second chance that I have found here.
Perhaps if we do it quickly, we’ll slip under the radar… and not tempt the hands of fate.I know, Mike, "it's not fate. It's randomness." I'm still keeping it all on the D.L. - unless the big puppetmaster in the sky is reading this blog. Then I guess the cat's out of the bag, huh?