“Let’s Play Roughhouse!”

It’s a super simple request that Nolan has started making with regularity. He calls it different things: roughhouse, tackle, football, slam game (that one was new this weekend) but it’s always the same. He tackles me, I tackle him, he laughs (and laughs) and we start over again.

It’s a super simple request that is anything but simple.

I played the same scenario in my head from the moment we found out that Tera was pregnant with our second child. We’d play roughhouse. Our second child would distract me and draw my attention and when I wasn’t expecting it, Nolan would come flying in off the couch to take me down. We’d be piled up in a mass of bodies, laughing like crazy and doing it all over again.

And right now, Simon would be a little more than a year-and-a-half old. He’d be able to be the distraction and help Nolan take me down. He’d be mobile and strong enough to play roughhouse.

But he’s not.

My games of roughhouse with Nolan are 1-on-1. They are still physical, we both need several water-breaks. We both laugh the entire time we are playing.

And there is one laugh missing. What should be, and never will be, is the pile we’d all end up in together, me and my boys. There’s a whole in our game that I feel every time we play. Every time Nolan asks to play roughhouse, my heart breaks a little bit. But I’ll never tell him no. I’ll always keep playing tackle (even when an errant knee means a bloody mouth for daddy) because as much as it hurts me to not have Simon playing with us, Nolan needs that rough and tumble daddy time.

I know he misses having his little brother playing, too. He told us tonight that he misses Simon every day. He doesn’t get to play tackle with Simon…a game that always includes a fair amount of cuddles. This is how he gets to cuddle with his brother. The partner in crime that he’ll never get to plot a strategy with to take down their dad.

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One Son Is…

One son at four months loves to cuddle with his mommy. He is smiley and happy. He is not a great sleeper (at all). He is growing like a weed. We are starting to notice how strong he is. He’s got the beginnings of athleticism (seriously) and he is so fun to watch move and play, and to play with.

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One son at four months is black and white pictures of a perfect looking newborn. Eyes forever closed, and every visible inch of him flawless. He’s wearing a precious blue knit hat, the only one he’ll ever wear, and the outfit his mom and I dreamed of taking him home in.

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One son at ten months loves playing with the pile of toys he got for his first Christmas. He is sitting and smiling, clapping and crawling. He is a bundle of energy and he is (still) not a good sleeper. He is amazed by everything he sees and loves to experience everything he can. He is just over a month from walking, He has no idea how much his mom and I love him, and how amazingly special he is.

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One son at ten months is a weight in my arms I hope I’ll never forget. He’s got an adorable button nose, the spitting image of his older brother. He’s bruised and a little bloodied. His skin is so fragile and slipping of in so many places. He is the reason my heart grew, and the reason it shattered. He will forever look angelic, and I’ll always fear that he was in pain.

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One son at sixteen months goes for his first train ride and is instantly hooked. He is beginning to develop the sweet, kind, shy personality he still has. He loves to explore the outdoors and read. He loves the water and the sand. He is joined at the hip with his mommy, and is the most easy-going, happy little guy we could ever imagine.

One son at sixteen months, and at two, and at three, is just starting his life. Everything is in front of him, and we know he will grab onto life and enjoy every drop of it.

One son at sixteen months, and at two, and at three is still the brand new baby I see every night in my head before I fall asleep. He’s still the black and white picture on the wall, thee footprints and the tiny urn. Frozen in time, and in my memory. He’s everything I ever wanted, but not. Perfect, but not. Instead of having his entire life in front of him, I, his mom and his big brother, have the rest of our lives without him. He’ll always be the 6 pound 3 ounce perfect bundle. Forever loved, forever missed a forever the child we aren’t lucky enough to get to raise.

Both sons will forever hold my heart, and will forever live in my heart.

The Songs

I know I’ve said it before on this blog, but music is pretty important to me. Songs bring me back to times, places, people. Led Zeppelin will always make me think of sitting in the living room as a little kid with my dad, with huge headphones on learning what rock music really is. I could (probably) recite my entire marathon playlist if I needed to, and I’ll never forget that the song playing over the speakers at the finish line was Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. And one of my favorite songs ever written is God Only Knows by The Beach Boys. Nolan’s song.

I always knew that Simon’s song would be Bob Dylan’s Forever Young. I couldn’t wait to sing it to him while we rocked, while I put him to bed, while he was screaming at 1 in the morning and I happily tried anything to help him calm down.

But then it was sung at his bench dedication. And I sobbed as I heard it. I will never again hear that song without absolutely losing it. And I’ve done everything I can to avoid it. I honestly don’t think I’ve heard it since last August, and in a way that’s OK with me. And in another way, I feel like I’ve deprived Simon of hearing it, and that breaks my heart.

Then came Sunshine of My Life by Stevie Wonder. I love that song. I love the line “you are the apple of my eye, that’s why I’ll always stay around.” I was ready to sing that to Little Guy. I did sing it to him a couple times. That was going to be our song.

And again, I haven’t heard it, or wanted to for months. I avoid clicking on anything by Stevie on YouTube for fear that it’ll show up as a suggestion. Another song I just want to  escape but can’t get out of my head.

And the radio seems out to get me these days. Not with these songs, but with so many others that I listen to in an entirely different way. In the past week, I’ve heard a pretty tough list.

The One I Love by R.E.M. “this one goes out to the one I’ve left behind.” I wake up in a panic periodically feeling like Simon feels as though his dad, his protector, his hero left him behind, and this song made that feeling well up throughout my body. I sobbed on my way to work.

Lightning Crashes by Live. It’s a song about baby loss. What the fuck? How have I never know that?

How to Save A Life by The Fray. I just wish there was a way. I convince myself there was a way and I didn’t do it. I convince myself that I should have noticed something, said something, seen something, felt something. I couldn’t save his life.

Yesterday by the Beatles. “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now it looks as though they’re here to stay.” Yep.

I Am A Rock by Simon and Garfunkel, courtesy of a punk remake by Me First and the Gimmee Gimmees. This one blares in my ears while I’m on the bike. I pedal and sweat and try to feel good as the lines ring out. “If I never loved, I never would have cried. I am a rock, I am an island.” Quite literally every word of this hits really damn hard. I loved my boys. I still do. I always will, and that’s why I cry, why we grieve, why we hurt. And so often feeling like this world is an island. That no one really gets it, and so few want to understand me…us, it’s so frustrating, and angering, and heartbreaking.

This is one week. And only the songs I could safely type into my notes as I drove listening to the radio. It’s every day. It’s so many songs. There’s so much hurt and so many reminders.

Hell, I didn’t actually know until I sat down to write this that Simon and Garfunkel sang I am a Rock. SO there’s another reminder.

The Book

When Nolan’s “pregnancy” Shutterfly book arrived, we ooh-ed and aah-ed. We reminisced and cried happy tears. The weekly belly pictures, the ultrasounds, the pictures of the hard work we put in getting his nursery ready. The book was such a special chronicle of such a special time.

And when it arrived, we read it to Nolan.

Since than, we have looked through it countless times…with Nolan.

Today I got home to an orange box on the porch. Another Shutterfly book. Another pregnancy journal. Another book telling the story of the nine months we had with our second son. The only nine months we had with him.

It has the same belly pictures, the same ultrasounds, the same memories of putting together his crib and getting his nursery ready, this time with his big brother’s help. It’s another chronicle of a special time.

But this time the ending is just that. An ending. It’s our goodbye to Simon in the hospital. It’s the only pictures we will ever have with our son.

This book is the story of our time with our son, and he will never see it.

We will never read it to him.

We won’t look through it countless times with him.

Just like last time, as soon as I opened the box, my eyes welled up with tears. But the smile wasn’t there. Like last time, I felt my heart swell with pride looking at the pictures of my son, and it broke knowing that there will be no more. Just like last time I spent the evening reading it over and over. But this time, I’m not ooh-ing and aah-ing.

I’m sobbing.

And I’m spiraling.

So I’m writing.

I’m so damn glad we have this book. We’ll keep it forever, and read it with pride. And we’ll read it with a hole in our hearts.

30 Pictures

I’m that dad.

I’m that dad who posts countless pictures of my son. When he rides a bike, when he climbs a big rock, when his hair looks especially out-of-control. I am unapologetically proud of my son, my Nolan, and I want the world (or at least the world that my privacy settings allow) to see him.

I took 14 pictures and 2 videos of Nolan at tonight’s soccer practice. 14 pictures in 45 minutes.

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And we have 30 pictures of Simon. That’s all we have, and that’s all we’ll ever have.

I’ve spent the last week scrolling through these pictures. His hand. His ear. His perfect little nose. I look at them with the same pride I have when I look at Nolan. I look at them and I see how perfect he is.

And I look at them and the anger, the heartbreak, the confusion, swells. The anger that his pictures from our hospital room are his only pictures. The anger that he’ll never grow up.

The anger that no one has ever, or likely will ever, ask to see him. He was battered and broken, bruised and bleeding. And he was perfect.

I will be forever grateful that we have 30 pictures of our little boy, and I’ll be forever broken that we have 30 pictures of our little boy.

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Happy Birthday, Simon

I’ll never get over the “shoulds” in our new life.

Simon should be a year old. Simon should be walking. Simon should be chasing his big brother around, trying to keep up. Laughing, playing, eating way too much cake as family and friends gather around to celebrate.

He should be all of these things.

But.

But instead, we celebrated his birthday the only way we felt we could. We left. We went away and got into nature and off the grid. (Or, as off the grid as possible with an iPhone in your pocket.) We didn’t plan. We let the day go as it needed to, with one exception. We were going to see the sunset, and we were hoping for a beautiful one.

As with anything, that was out of our control. It was a cloudy day, and we were afraid we wouldn’t see the sun at all. And then, just before it dropped below the horizon, it dropped below the clouds and lit up the valley. We saw this.

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It was beautiful. It brought a smile to our faces and tears to our eyes. We walked away after it got dark saying that Simon put on a hell of a show for us. It was a view, a sunset, an experience I’ll never forget.

That was his birthday.

It left our hearts both broken and full. We got what we needed in that moment, and I truly feel we celebrated his birthday, we celebrated him the best way we could.

And the shoulds return. We didn’t get a first birthday party, we got a sunset. We didn’t get to laugh as he tasted his first real bites of sugar. Nolan didn’t get to give his baby brother a birthday present.

We got a sunset.

Simon,

As we celebrate your first birthday, my greatest hope is that you know how loved you are and how missed you are. We will never stop thinking about you. We will never forget. I’ll be your daddy always and always, and I’ll do everything in my power to make sure the world knows your name.

As I look back at pictures of you, the only pictures we’ll ever have, I am reminded how perfect you were, and how perfect you’ll always be in my heart.

I would give anything ANYTHING to hold you one more time. To give you one more kiss, one more hug. To sing to you. To read you a book. To tell you one more time how much I love you.

Because I do, and I always will.

I love you Simon,

Daddy

The Way I See It

I see things. Everyday. Sometimes several times a day, and sometimes they wake me up in absolute terror and heartbreak. I see things I’ve seen before. Things I can’t un-see. They are burned into my retina and into my memories.

I see the nervous look on Tera’s face as she tells me she hasn’t felt the baby move for a while. I tell her I’m sure it’s ok, just eat some sugar and I’ll put Nolan to bed. I see the phone number pop up on my phone. It’s the doctor calling back and telling us to go to the hospital. I see the worried, but not scared look, now on Tera’s face. I see the harried and rushed look my mom has when she gets to our house to stay with Nolan. I see the pitch black night as we get in the car to go.

I see the lights on the road changing from red to green and the way Tera looks at me nervous and a little irritated as I watch the lights change on the ross-streets knowing that I won’t have to touch the brakes. Then there is the bright lights of the hospital. We are there. I see the valet guy in blue grab the keys as we hurry inside. The elevator to the maternity floor. The button…there’s only one.

The desk in front of us where the woman checks us in quickly. She’s a lefty and deftly puts the wristband on Tera. They were expecting us and everything is ready.

The room. There’s a window with the blinds open to the dark night outside and the lights of the city are visible. Tera lays down and nurses swarm. One nurse gets the monitor out. It was blue with Nolan, this time it’s pink. Not sure if that means anything, must just be different at different hospitals. She squirts gallons of that blue ultrasound goop onto Tera and starts looking. She starts on the left. She moves it up. She moves it down. She’s looking worried. Tera isn’t. She looks panicked and says she’ll get ultrasound into the room.

The ultrasound shows us our baby. He’s still breach. But that flicker isn’t there. I’ve seen enough ultrasounds to know what I should be seeing and I’m not.

I see Tera’s eyes scream, her face break, her body slump.

Through my own blurry eyes I see utter pain and agony and confusion and instant sorrow.

Another room. I curl up on the small bed with Tera and see her body heaving with constant sobs. I see the doors open frequently and a flurry of activity. Computer screens with questionnaires being asked and answered and filled out. The white collar as a  chaplain comes in but it’s not the right time. We ask him to go.

I see needles being shoved into my wife’s arms. I see her eyes numb to the pain and numb to the noise of the hustle and bustle going on around us. I see it all. I see everyone that comes in treating my wife the way she needs to be treated; gently and with great care.

I see the white board with all of the medical information on it. And next to my name is Nolan’s with a little heart.

Another chaplain. This time at the right time. I see his comfortable walking shoes, he must be on his feet a lot. The kind look in his eyes as he tells us he can’t answer why bad things happen to good people.

I see piles of paperwork we have to fill out, to figure out. The words on it are still unfathomable to me. Cremation, burial, autopsy. I shouldn’t be seeing any of these words, but ten months later I still am.

I see Tera so badly needing rest but it just isn’t coming.

A stream of people. Doctors and nurses that except for one I couldn’t tell you their names, but I could pick them out of a crowd if I needed to. I don’t know what any of them said. I know they all said it with a tear in their eye and such empathy for Tera.

I see the thermostat. I keep making it colder. Tera needs in colder. I see her face flushed. I see the numbers lower and lower.

I finally see Tera’s eyes close. She’s asleep and I can rest too. I see the door open and the one nurse I remember brings me a blanket. The one act of giving aimed at me.

The hallway. I see it more than I see anything else. The walk to the opposite end past endless closed doors filled with happy people. The walk past the nurses station where everyone, overtime lowers their eyes and pretends not to see me. They think I don’t notice. I do. The freezer full of dozens of flavors of popsicles that Tera desperately craves, and the walk back to the only door on the floor with the picture of a leaf with a raindrop on it. I had never seen this image, but I know what it means.

It’s time. I see the room fill up with those same doctors and nurses. Tera is sick with fear and too many popsicles. Scrubs are thrown at me. Everything is happening around me but I’m not included. An outside observer with a huge stake in what’s happening. I see the gurney rolling down the hall so fast I can’t keep up, and they aren’t waiting for me. The door closes and slams into my shoulder. It should hurt, but I’m running on adrenaline and I’m already in too much pain to notice.

Then it’s the operating room.

Tera is thrown from the gurney to the operating table. Her arms out like she’s on a cross. Even more people. More bright lights. More chaos. I see one nurse shove me to the side. I don’t know what she says. I see Tera in terror as everything is happening to her. My wife, my everything, moves further and further away from me as I’m shoved into the furthest recesses of the room. I’m a part of what’s happening, but apart from it.

Finally that same nurse that gave me the blanket brings me to Tera’s side. We lock eyes and are both so afraid.

More chaos.

Then he’s born. That flash of pink. He’s taken so fast to the scale, to learn anything they can about why he died. He’s pulled away, then brought to us as we’re whisked back to our room.

These visions haunt me. I never said “I saw” in this rambling, stream of consciousness post because I still see it. Every day. None of it happened to me, but I watched it all happen through tear-filled eyes and with a clouded mind.

I don’t know if everything happened the way I see it. But it’s what I see every. Damn. Day.