Oceans Apart

Yesterday, I went through our bins of preemie and newborn baby clothes. I was surprised at how little emotion I felt as I methodically separated the clothes into piles: donate to the NICU, sell at consignment, and keep for the kids. There were only a few items that I kept for the kids, just a few reminders of their time as tiny babies. I thought I would be sad as I pilfered each bin, ruthlessly getting rid of the clothes my babies wore when they were tiny. When they were in the NICU.

In an odd way, it was the realization that I will never have another tiny baby that made me sad. It’s not about the clothes at all.
So, as I worked at my task, J wandered over to me. He now has two favorite words: no and why. I love both of them, because they mean he’s developmentally where he should be, challenging and questioning everything about his world. Until he asks me “why?” over and over and I run out of answers. This serves me right for all the questions I asked as a child.
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J: “Mama, what doin’? What doin’, Mama?”
Me: “I’m sorting through your baby clothes. These are the clothes you and M wore when you were tiny.”
J: “Why?”
Me: “Why am I going through the clothes?”
J: “Why, Mama?”
Me: “I’m going through the clothes so we can give some away.”
J: “Why?”
Me: “Because we don’t need them any more.”
J: “Why?”
Me: “You’re big, not tiny any more. You and M can’t fit in these clothes.”
J: “Why, Mama?”
Me: (Sigh…) “Because you grew.”
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I held up a tiny onesie, one that I’m keeping for J. It’s the size of my hand. It shows how small three pounds really is. I held it up for J and told him that when he was little he could actually wear this onesie.
He looked at it, he looked at me, and then he ran off. The conversation was over. And he has no idea what I’m talking about. For him, the idea that he was ever tiny makes no sense. He still lives in the here and now. The past is too far gone for him to appreciate, especially a past he can’t remember.
But, some days I feel haunted by his past. His past was the one that marked me, changed me, shifted everything in my life. His past is the one that terrifies me with what ifs. Now I know so much more than I knew then. Thank goodness I had no idea how fragile his life was.
What if that tiny baby hadn’t lived?
I know one day he’ll be bigger. One day he’ll have more perspective. One day he’ll have his own big babies, and he’ll be amazed by the trinkets I’ve saved from the NICU. That onesie will shock him when I hold it up, a witness to how tiny he really was.
But, now? Now, it means nothing. J and I are oceans apart. All he knows is being big and healthy. He can’t imagine that he was ever separated from me, that he ever lived in a hospital, that his life was anything other than it is now.
And I keep imagining him as that baby, that tiny, fragile, fit-in-your-pocket baby.
I’m glad he doesn’t know what I know. Actually, I hope he never knows. I want him to know his story. I want him to read the journal I wrote just for him. I want him to grow up knowing he’s special, that his life has meaning and purpose. I want him to sift through the trinkets I’ve saved, the microscopic blood pressure cuffs and the tee-niny hospital ID bracelet. I want him to appreciate where his journey began, and I hope that he’ll love that his mother and father tried so hard to make the most of his first days in the world, though they were spent in a hospital. Maybe he’ll even read these words. 
But, do I want the man whom J will become to ever know what his mother and father actually felt? Never. I hope he has big babies. I hope he rejoices in his big babies, and I hope he never has to see them in a hospital.
I hope his babies are so big that they skip newborn onesies. I hope J’s wife complains that her babies didn’t even wear all their newborn clothes. I hope I’ll smile to myself and think about how J was six months old and wearing his newborn clothes. I’ll think about that first onesie he wore, the one his daughter can’t even fit on her doll. And I’ll be so glad for him.
In some ways, I hope J and I are always oceans apart.

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