An Empathetic Child

Tonight was a guys night. Tera is out for sushi with a friend, so what does that mean? Ice cream. And not just any ice cream. Little Man ice cream. (Why not big man ice cream, was Nolan’s question.) The long line, the beautiful just-barely-fall evening, the two-and-a-half year old that everyone else said was being such a good boy waiting like he did. It was a picture-perfect evening.

See? Perfect.

We laughed and joked. We ate ice cream. Nolan wanted chocolate, in a cone. After we finished, he played on the slide. He was nothing short of amazing tonight.

And that continued when we made it back to the car.

We were about to get back in and our little guy said something that I will never forget. He looked up at me with the most earnest, loving look I think I’ve ever seen and said “I wish Simon was at ice cream with us.”

Needless to say the tears started immediately.

I said I wish he was with us too. It was a great guys night at ice cream, but having Simon with us would have made it even better.

Nolan climbed into his car seat (by himself,now that he’s bigger) and again, he blew my mind. “Simon would sit there in his car seat and I sit here in my car seat, and we laugh.”

I wanted to make sure I heard him right,so I asked him to repeat himself. He said “I want Simon in his car seat right there and we laugh.”

Waterworks.

They wouldn’t stop.

What seemed like 20 minutes pass, it was probably 2 minutes, before I could put the car in drive and head home. The whole time we sat there waiting,Nolan asked my if I was sad. What I missed. I said I miss Simon. Nolan said he doesn’t, but he wishes Simon was here. Me too, Nolan. Me too.

Tera and I have been talking a lot about how to raise an empathetic kid. One that understands emotion. One that understands how having his little brother around would make his life, our lives, more complete.

I don’t know what we’ve done. I couldn’t write a book giving anyone else advice. I sometimes feel like there are some people who were born with the “empathy chip”, as I call it, and some who weren’t.

Nolan has it. He might even have an extra one.

Doing the Dishes

When Tera was pregnant with Nolan, we decided we needed to pick jobs. We would both change diapers and we’d rotate who’s turn it was to wake up in the middle of the night, but some jobs (for obvious reasons) were not possible for me to do. So I picked some others that would be all me.

One was dishes.

I’ve never minded washing dishes, and Tera hates it. Easy choice. And a lot of dishes, as it turns out. I did my research on best practices, how often to sterilize the bottles, and weeks before Nolan was born, I started boiling bottles. From that moment on, I washed dishes every night. Sometimes it seemed like I was doing it all night. It was the job I took on, and I did it well.

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Another job that became mine was the emergency runner. We need diapers late at night? I’m on it. Formula won’t last through tomorrow? Got it. A nose sucker at 11pm because Nolan had a cold and wasn’t sleeping? I’ll be back soon. I knew the baby aisles of every grocery store, Target and Walgreens in the metro area. It was another job that was mine, and I did it well. And often.

As Simon’s due date drew nearer, I geared up. I refreshed my memory on bottle sanitization. I made a pact with myself to always have enough gas in the car to get to and from Safeway without having to stop.

I wasn’t “as ready as I can be” like you hear all people say as they are expecting a child. I was just ready.

A few weeks ago, we realized we didn’t need all of the “grass” we had on the counter. We were able to pare down the drying racks and we now have one small rack. Plenty for Nolan’s cups. I put the rest of it in the crawl space.

As I trudged under the house, I sobbed. The grass I was putting away should be full right now. Of freshly washed bottles, and nipples, and pump parts. It should be in high demand, not gathering dust.

A few days ago, we ran out of milk. Nolan needs his milk the moment he wakes up, and we didn’t have a drop. So I made an emergency run. And when I got to Safeway, I was halfway to the building from the parking lot, and I turned around. I went back to my car, and I cried.

I wasn’t making a midnight trip to make sure Simon had diapers. And I would never make that trip.

My jobs, the ones I chose and was so ready for were taken from me. I’m not the all night dishwasher, and I’m not the emergency runner.

I was beyond ready to take on those tasks again and to do absolutely anything and everything I needed to do to care for my son. And now I’m still ready. I’m just not sure what for.

Reaching Out, or Not

I’ve learned a lot about grief since Simon died. Buying an urn for the son you never got to bring home is a nearly impossible task that you have no choice but to do days after losing him. Grief messes with your body’s ability to function physically. When you have a toddler at home, you have no choice but to power on and function anyway. Grief is utterly exhausting.

And grief is isolating.

It keeps you locked up in your home, your bubble. It needs the calm, the peace, the space. And it is scary to invite someone in.

It takes a lot of work, even now, 5 months later, to be around people. At work, I have no choice. I am around people all day, and it is exhausting. To keep up the charade that I am feeling ok. To talk, and listen, and retain what needs to be retained. To be creative, and for me the most difficult thing is to be organized. My brain is a jumble most of the time. Thoughts, fears, should haves and could haves. There’s a lot that demands attention.

I say all of that to say this. Odds are good I’m not calling you. I don’t have the energy and I don’t often have the inclination to sit and chat. Or at least I don’t have that when I am the one picking up the phone. I need your help in that. WE need your help. Your calls, your out of the blue “check-in” texts. Your contact. It’s not that I don’t want or need it, I just can’t typically initiate it.

And another thing.

Tera, and I live in this new world. This world of grief that I wish no one had to live in. But we do. Every damn day. A call or a text looks to us like an acknowledgement that you, too are ready to climb down the hole and join us.

We are (almost) always ready to talk. About how we’re doing, how Nolan is doing, about Simon. But we aren’t going to drag you kicking and screaming into the hole with us.

Imagine if you will. You’re at a family BBQ have a great time, drinking some beers and playing yard games. Your phone rings. It’s me, so naturally you answer, wondering if I need anything or whatever. I start to unload about my terrible day and the awful (or not awful) thing that happened that made me think of Simon and break down.

That’s a pretty shitty thing for me to do right? To mess up your perfectly lovely day to dump all over you? I think it is. Truly.

But if you’re ready to ask me those questions and you really care about the answers, I’d love for you to call, text, etc. I’d love to talk about Simon and how we are all doing.

With anyone that wants to listen.