Oh... so THAT's how i did it.
[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!"