A Conversation with Charlie

C: “Mom, where is Dad? I mean, physically. Where is he right now?”

Me: “Well, Buddy, his heart was too big and his body got tired. His spark just flew right on out of there. I was holding his hand when it happened and I saw it.”

C: “So if his body doesn’t work anymore, does that mean he can’t use his brain? Dad always said when he couldn’t use his brain anymore, it was time to move on.”

Me: “Well, that’s a good question. I don’t think it works in the same way we’re used to.”

C: “Can he remember things?”

Me: “I like to think so.”

C: “Is he conscious?”

Me: “I think it’s a different kind of state. Something we can’t really understand yet.”

C: “If he’s not conscious and his brain doesn’t work like it used to, I’m scared he doesn’t remember me. And if he doesn’t know who I am, then it makes me feel different.”

Me: “Different how?”

C: (Pause) “You know how you look in the mirror every day and you see your reflection, right? Like every day. There you are, just like you expect.”

Me: “Yes…”

C: “Well, now I kind of feel like I don’t really have that reflection anymore. Like when Dad stopped being able to remember me, my reflection kind of just disappeared.”

Me: “Oh my goodness.”

C: “What?”

Me: “Not only do you look just like your father, you’re starting to think like him, too.”

C: “Is that a good thing?”

Me: “It is. Just remember, your Dad is always with you. You carry him around in your heart and in your memories, and I feel he is with us.”

C: “I know all that, Mom. I know that when I miss him I can remember him; I just…wish he could remember me.”

Me: (Hugs for hours.)

Charlie Blog

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The Sweet Spot

The hustle and bustle of the holidays are weeks behind us now. The stores magically disappeared the work of elves before I could finish singing the last verse of the Twelve Days of Christmas. A new holiday is already upon us, drowning us with reminders in the forms of super-sized, heart-shaped Whitman’s Samplers and cheaply constructed plush toys bearing promises of eternal devotion. And my dear seven-year-old daughter repeating at regular intervals, “But it seems like it was just Christmas. I just want time to slow down.”

I don’t think I wanted time to slow down until I was at least 30, but my sensitive, soulful daughter has already encountered something that has taken me years to realize. There is a very delicate balance between enjoying the anticipation of something and dreading its passing.

The day after Thanksgiving, we took Blackberry the Elf down from his hibernation spot in the coat closet. We placed him on a high shelf and waited for the kids to discover him the next morning, signaling the official beginning of the Christmas season. As expected, they awakened with excitement and set out to find him. Pitter patter down the hardwood hallway they echoed.

“There he is!” Poppy shouted. “I found him!” It was only a few minutes later when I heard her sigh at the breakfast table, “Well, only a month until Blackberry has to go back to the North Pole. I sure will miss that ol’ elf.”

“Sweetie,” I encouraged. “He’s only just gotten here. It’s only just begun!”

“I know,” she replied. “But I already feel how much I’ll miss him when he’s gone.”

“Why don’t we focus on the positive here?” I tried. “Aren’t you looking forward to baking cookies, and singing carols, and spending family time in front of the fire?”

“Of course,” she answered sincerely. “But when I’m in the middle of doing all those things, then that means that it will all be over soon and I will miss Christmas when it’s gone. I just want it to be Christmas forever.”

The poor girl is stuck between looking forward and backward at the same time. And this is her character, not just during the holidays.

She expresses with regularity the following:

  • “I don’t want to go to college because that means you and Dad will be old.”
  • “I don’t want to turn eight because I like being seven just fine.”

  • “I don’t like your new iPhone case because you got the last one when I was five, and I’ll never be five again.”
  • “Can you still find your favorite curl, Mom? If it’s not there, will you still love me the same?”

  • “You remember when Daddy didn’t have a boo-boo leg? I am starting to forget and that makes me sad.”

She strives to make everything special. She is devoted to the wellbeing of her stuffed animals. She apologizes to her towel when she steps on it. She tells us every single night that we are the best parents she could have ever gotten; sometimes while tearing up.

She envelops every moment in time with a sentimental blanket, hoping desperately to preserve its perfection, at that particular instant.

This is a lot of pressure for a little girl. This is a lot of pressure for her mama.

I often encourage my oldest daughter to live in the moment, not to worry so much. To find her happy place. We take deep breaths before bed and talk about what it means to be at peace.

Her brother and sister are the opposite. They seem rarely to do anything but live in the moment. They are like playful puppies, happily distracted by whatever comes their way. They appear fun loving and carefree. They rarely reflect on the context of the moment they are so effortlessly devouring. At times, I think Poppy wishes she was more like that. I am not sure which is the better fate.

Is it truly possible to appreciate the fullness of a moment if you are not also keenly aware of its temporary nature?

My husband has kept a journal for years. Decades, actually. Often he is worried when he has not yet documented the events of the day in the form of a permanent record. Sometimes I suggest, “Maybe you could catch up on the journal another day? Maybe spend more time doing and less time writing about the doing?” He always replies, “But I’m afraid I might forget something.”

Yes, I get that. That speaks to me. I don’t want to forget the good stuff either. But there must be a balance, a neutral place, where the anticipation and the reflection meet in the middle and shake hands. Where joy and perspective agree to play nicely with one another.

I wish I could help sweet Poppy come to peace with her predicament. Loving things (like family, holidays, cars, old socks, and worn out pajamas) so wholly and completely sure does make a little body vulnerable to the passing of time.

I do not have the answers for her. But I will certainly ride on the see saw with her and strive to find that balance between happy and sad, hopeful and wistful, fulfilled and lonely. Maybe, just maybe, we can find that sweet spot together.