“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Think of the Good Things

My Sicilian mother taught me that if you have a dream that someone dies, someone (not necessarily the same person) is going to have a baby. She also said the reverse is true, if you dream someone has a baby, someone else will die.

I have never found this to be true.

Oddly enough, however, every time I am pregnant, a lot of people I know pass away. I am not saying I have any sort of power over this. I know that I don't, I just find it to be an odd coincidence, especially in light of my mom's old superstition. Right around the time I learned I was pregnant with Joey, my great uncle passed away. "It's going to be a boy," my mother declared. Despite the fact that I called him my little Isabella until the sonogram, my mother was right. During that pregnancy, a number of other close relatives passed away, as well.

When I found out I was pregnant with Noah for sure (the only baby who was not a surprise in our house, despite what nosy, know-it-all onlookers may believe), my husband Joe was so excited he dashed out to tell the whole world. I was so annoyed! To me, pregnancy kind of "belongs" to the mother and he totally stole my thunder. I guess that seems unfair to a lot of people (namely men), but that's just how I see it. But it ended up being a wonderful thing that Joe did, because he was able to share the news with his grandfather, a very beloved member of our family, before he passed away just days later. And during the next nine months, though something wonderful and exciting was happening for us in our house, we lost several other people who we knew and loved.

Just a couple of months ago my sister invited me to help her paint some rooms in her house. She helps me with a lot of things (like...a LOT), so I agreed. On our way to buy the paint, I brought up Mom's old  superstition, and then shared my own experiences.

"That's weird," she said.

It happened that day that we had just lost our uncle. It was sudden, and he is our closest relative in our family we have ever had to say that kind of good-bye to. Jane, especially, was affected--I'm not sure if it's because she is the oldest, more sensitive than the rest of us, or just saw him often. For me, it was a shock. I'm not sure I'm even over it, or able to talk about it much. My dad's family is a huge part of who I am and choices I've made. Losing part of them is strange, especially since we didn't see it coming.

"Yeah," I responded to my sister after a moment. "Because I'm pregnant."

I'm pretty sure she almost drove off the road.

This week alone I've found out that two people I've known have passed away. I don't know if I'm seeing this because it's merely part of getting older and growing up--I'm sure my elders would assure me it is--or if it's my emotional state due to being pregnant. I can't imagine it's actually true that more people I know die when I'm pregnant, and yet as I feel myself growing excited about my something new and different, I am surrounded by a grief that doesn't seem to have a chance to lift.

I remember once when I was teaching, I asked my students what they noticed while they were reading. It's an innocent enough question with lots of room for right answers, but nobody raised their hands. (Typical little jerks.) So I prompted. I prodded. I threw out leading questions. They gave me plot summary, rather than the unusual and special little details authors leave in stories, like footprints to the ending.

"No!" I shouted. They all leaned away, as students in my class are wont to do because I'm told that I'm scary. "No! Don't you want to be noticers? How many of you can tell me what the poster above the drinking fountain says?"

None of them responded. (Typical little jerks.)

"It says 'Character is who you are when no one is looking.'"

One kid shouted out, "I knew that, I was just afraid to say it!"

Yeah, right. Like that person who watches Jeopardy! and always knows the answer right after the contestant or Alex revealed it.

Anyway, it led us into a huge discussion about how in life, it's really important to not just float along, taking things as they come, but to also notice things. People, though we might not often think about it, do act in a purposeful way. Signs are hung for a reason. Rules are there for a reason. Usually, there's a great story behind them. But if we try harder to notice the things that everyone does on purpose, and to even notice the patterns in things that aren't deliberate, we might become fuller and more compassionate people ourselves.

"Be a noticer!" I shouted with enthusiasm.

They rolled their eyes. Some yawned.

I learned this from my parents in very different ways. My mother always reminded me that people are always watching us when we don't know it. They're noticing me when maybe I'm acting like a jerk. "That's what they'll remember," she always said. "Not the good things you do to be noticed, but the things you do that show who you really are." She was always right about that.

My father, on the other hand, was more the type to pay attention to the small things. On warm summer nights, he could always be found lost in thought on the front or back patio, peacefully watching everything around him. It was these times when I loved to go and sit beside him, because he was likely to share a neat little story from when he was young. His life was fascinating to me. One night watching the sunset on the beach, he revealed to me that when he was a little boy, he'd sneak away from his family to come and sit just as we were. When I asked why, he chuckled and said, "Usually to sneak a smoke." He was seven in that story, by the way.

A lot of the time, we forget to slow down in our busy lives to be noticers. When I learned that a high school classmate of mine passed away suddenly, and my heart crumbled inside of me, I realized how much about her I could remember, though I haven't seen her in fifteen years. I remember the exact shade of her hair, the way she laughed at everybody's jokes in class. I realized she was in most of my classes all four years of high school, and while we weren't close friends, she was present in many of my high school memories, all of which have become a part of who I am now. Realizing all that I noticed, and all that we were both a part of, is both jarring and reassuring to me as I deal with how unfair it is that she is gone. Because while she is gone, she is still present in many, many people. She is a part of us.

The last thing I want to say incorporates two more things I've learned along the way. (Sorry if this is preachy...is it preachy? I'm sorry.) One comes from a friend and colleague of mine, a person who is crazily different from me, so much so, we end up believing a lot of the same things. (That's not the lesson.) Something she always says rings so true for me right now, as I feel all the the things pregnant ladies feel. She says, "It's amazing how weather is so often a metaphor for what's going on in life." After I dropped Noah off at school today, I was driving down one of the older streets in our town and enjoying the canopy created by the full, old trees lining the road. Noah calls them "summer trees" since they only have leaves in summertime. While I drove, I did something I do every year. I thought about all of the things that will happen while these leaves, these in particular, are in bloom. Everything that will happen before they fall for another winter.

When spring came in 2005, I thought about how those leaves would see my first baby. I would spend a whole summer learning what it meant to be a mother. In 2008, the buds on the trees meant my second baby would arrive at any minute, and the leaves would see Joey become a big brother and Joe and I struggle to learn how to do all the things we'd learned...with two.

This year, these leaves will be falling as our third child arrives. Before, having children seemed like new beginnings to me. And in a way, that's what autumn is. But to me, it's more about change. I am so excited for a last chance to do it all, for tiny clothes and tiny fingers and little hats and first steps. But this time, it will mean change for more than just me. It will be a change for all of us, who have grown into a routine we did not expect to be altered in this way. Noah, our baby, will surrender his throne to become a middle child. Joey will give up having his own room. And Joe and I will find out what it means to not have an even parent-to-child ratio. What it will mean to have an eighth-grader and a kindergartener, a college student and an elementary student. It is something new, it is something scary. It is something different.

But that brings me to my last lesson. Noah turned to me today in the middle of my morning grumpiness and said, "Mommy, mornings are okay. Just think about everything good. Don't think about anything bad. Then you can feel good again."

I realized--I noticed--that it has become a habit to me to always prepare for the bad days. The tough days, the ones when you don't catch a break. With kids, I find they come much more often than they did before. But I think I've become so used to preparing for these days that they have filled my head a little too much. Amidst the grief and the sadness around me, it will be okay if I follow Noah's advice. There are wonderful things, too. And as I fill my heart with prayers for the families and friends who need them, I think I will also fill myself up thinking about the dream I had last night, where I held a tiny baby girl in my arms and felt her soft fuzzy hair on my chin.

Disclaimer: I have not had THE sonogram yet. I have no idea if I'm really having a girl. It was just a dream. 

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