My kids were off from school Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday. Since I’ve learned that it’s impossible for me to get any work done on school holidays, I’ve come to relish the laziness that comes with them. My husband left for work at 6:45 a.m.; I grabbed my phone and crawled back into bed. I checked my email, perused Facebook, and checked Jane.com to see if there were any worthwhile daily deals.
At 7:15 my oldest son Carter climbed into bed with me; his younger brother Preston wasn’t far behind. We sat in bed and chatted for a while, then the boys asked to do one of their favorite things – look at pictures on my phone.
“Do you have any pictures of me when I was a baby?” Carter asked eagerly. “Like right after I came out of your tummy?”
“I sure do,” I answered, searching my phone. “Here you go. This is right after you were born.”
Carter stared at the picture in awe, trying to recognize himself. “Why are you wearing glasses?” he finally said.
“I want to see!” Preston grabbed the phone from his brother’s hand.
“Do you have any pictures of Preston right after he came out of your tummy?” Carter asked.
“I do.” I took back the phone and scrolled through the album. “This is me and Preston.”
My youngest gazed over my shoulder and started jumping up and down. “That’s me, Carter! That’s me and Mommy!”
I got up to brush my teeth while the boys were busy analyzing their younger selves.
“Mom?” Carter followed me into the bathroom, sounding much too serious for his five years.
“Do you have any pictures of Avery on your phone? Right after she was born?”
For a second I froze, unsure of where to begin. Avery was my first child. When she died I could have easily hidden her existence from my future children. It would have been simple to sweep her short life under a rug, to only whisper her name when I was certain no one was listening.
But I chose to go the opposite route. I wrote a book about my daughter that anyone with ten dollars can read. Every year at Christmas we hang a stocking for her – she doesn’t get presents, but we collectively fill it with our love. Our house has bursts of pink toys here and there, reminders that a girl almost lived in a home now dominated by boys. Avery’s existence has always been celebrated, and in doing so I’ve inadvertently placed my sons in the middle of something they don’t entirely understand. The older Carter gets, the more questions he asks about his big sister, and I always try to be as truthful as possible yet delicate with the harsh realities of life.
My son looked at me with his huge green eyes – they always remind me of Gizmo from Gremlins. He is so inquisitive, so thirsty for knowledge, so desperate to unlock the secrets of The Universe. My thoughts fell into a tangled mess in my head; there was so much I could say. Why don’t we have pictures of Avery on our phone?
It was almost seven years ago, we didn’t have an iPhone, the last thing on my mind was pictures, we were so sad…
“Mom?” Carter asked.
“Is it because she was dead, and pictures are meant for happy things?” he said.
I smiled at my son, once again amazed by the depth of his reasoning. “That’s exactly it, Carter.”
My five-year-old walked over to the picture of Avery we keep on our dresser. “So this is the only picture you have of her, huh?”
“We have others,” I softly explained. “But you need to be a little older to look at them.”
Our other pictures include my husband and me and radiate grief; I’m not quite ready for Carter to see his parents so haunted.
“Can I say hi to her?” Carter asked, picking up the urn with his sister’s ashes.
“Hi, Avery,” he sang, tickling the top with his fingers. “Coochie coochie coo!” He gently placed the urn back on the dresser and stretched, his hands finally resting on his stomach. “Man, my belly is hungry. Can we make waffles?”
“It’s a holiday. How about we go get donuts instead?” I offered.
My room erupted into screams of joy over their favorite deep-fried pastry.
“Donuts! I love donuts!” Carter exclaimed.
“Donuts! Donuts! Donuts!” Preston cheered from the bed.
“Come on Preston,” Carter instructed, pulling his brother from the bed. “Let’s go get dressed so we can go get DONUTS!”
I watched my boys bound up the stairs to their rooms, so wise beyond their years, but with so much left to learn about life.