“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 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

Sunday Dinner

We have always wanted our Sunday dinners to be family time. A time when we make sure all of us are around the table eating together, talking and enjoying each other’s company. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Tonight it was frozen pizza.

Sunday dinner has become something else in our home. It’s still a night we gather together and eat together. It’s still a night we all enjoy each other’s company. But no matter what we do, for the rest of our lives, there will be an empty seat.

We have our family dinner with me, Tera and Nolan. And instead of having Simon sitting with us, we have a candle.

It’s a tradition we started VERY shortly after our son died. To light a candle in his perfect shattered votive. It’s a tradition that I am so glad we started and so glad we do. It allows us a dinner with Simon, and it is a time to think of him together as a family. And I’m so angry that instead of him, we have a candle.

Tonight as I sat down, it was already burning. I looked at it, and I lost it. I couldn’t stop crying. It was anger and denial and depression and a whole lot of other feelings that don’t fit the “stages of grief” that everyone seems to think you go through and get better. It was uncontrollable.

And while I was bawling, Nolan said that “when Simon gets here, he’ll sit on my lap!” He was so earnest and so proud of himself for offering up his lap. He had a big smile. And I had to tell him (as I could barely talk) that Simon isn’t coming home. That his little brother’s body stopped working and that he died. That he won’t, in fact, get to dress up as firefighters for Halloween with his brother. That his brother won’t be in the carseat next to him as we drive to the cabin. That his brother won’t get to play with him in the tub on Sunday night bath-nights.

Instead we have a candle. A fucking candle.

 

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.