Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Forest Fire

Dear Ellie,

By far, the last few months have been the longest gap between letters since you were born.  I feel guilty for it in a way because your mind has flourished so much in the time since I last wrote to you.  You are now, unambiguously, a person.  A normal person.  A normal person with a growing vocabulary, a budding love of numbers, an irrepressible sense of humor, a prankster streak, and a willingness to express your love and affection to all things beautiful, kind, and furry.  You have at least a dozen forms of laughter.  The chuckle, the mischievous snicker, the full throated bellow.  And the kisses are as abundant as the laughs.  Ever since you learned to kiss, they have been dispensed liberally.  Mommy, Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa get them, but so too does the cat, the dog, the cookie lady at the grocery store, your favorite books, my cellphone, the remote control to the television and of course, Oliver the Eel.  Sometimes, if you judge that your own affection is not enough, you'll demand that myself or your mother shower kisses on Oliver the Eel as well.

Pictures of you snuggling with Oliver the Eel.

But while you are quick to laugh and kiss, you are also heartbroken easily.  On the occasion that I am callous or cruel enough to toss Oliver the Eel over on the couch like a sack of potatoes or Grandpa walks away without saying goodbye, your eyes take the shape of little teardrops, your big, expressive eyebrows turn up, and the tears start to roll.

It grates at me to see that face, because whenever I do, it reminds me so much of the look you had about you the first time that I ever saw you.  And then, somehow, I feel like I've failed you.

And so that gets to the root of why its taken me so long to write again.  I have about 6 letters sitting unfinished.  Each time I started, I'd get halfway through, then glance over all of the other letters I'd written you during your first 100 days.  Then I'd realize that it could all happen again with your sister.  Then I'd step away from the keyboard and set about convincing myself that there was no sister for you right around the corner.  I never finished the letters about how you landed in the hospital with a meningitis scare, or finished the letter about your first unambiguous words, or finished the story about two mermaids that are very different from one another and who live on an enchanted reef (even after I got the illustration made...)

Hopefully I'll have the gumption to finish it...

Over the past few months, I've intellectually acknowledged that your mother is pregnant, but utterly denied it emotionally.  It still has its troubles and uncertainties, as it has from the beginning.  So I've avoided conversations about names.  I turn away from the newborn clothing and diapers, piling up in preparation.  At 22 weeks, your mother wanted me to feel for your sister's kicks.  In the same way I couldn't feel yours when you were in the womb, I couldn't feel hers either.  As the pregnancy continued, your mother kept trying to get me to feel for them, but I grew more and more unsettled until eventually, I just refused to feel altogether.  At first, I didn't understand why I was even acting this way.  But then, I remembered the night before you were born.  How I only felt you kick once we discovered that you would be born the following morning.  How it might be the first and last time I'd ever feel the thrum of your life.  And so now, even after your sister has passed the 24 week mark, and then the 26th, and then the 30th, I've still pushed it all out of my head.  All the while I've had this vague sense that I'm letting something important slip away.

What strange things we do out of fear.

So why am I finally writing now?  Well, my perspective began to change about a month ago when a violent thunder storm rolled through.  Lightening lashed the neighborhood all through the night, and at one point, I heard the wail of sirens.  I peeked out the window to see firetrucks racing by.  In the morning while we took our walk, I discovered to what crisis the firemen were responding.  The lightening had sparked a fire, and in the corner of the neighborhood I discovered a charred, burned out section of woods.  Before, it was so overgrown and tangled that nothing new could grow there.  Now, it was an eerie, frightful thing to see.  Black.  Vacant.  Blighted.  At first, it was easy to think that the fire had caused nothing more than destruction.

But as you and I took our walk each morning together, I began to notice that black patch of forest begin to change.  Little buds began to sprout from the ground and the trees and the scored palmetto stalks.  Little green buds, vivid and striking on a canvas of black.  Each day, more and more life sprung forth, and I found myself stopping there often so we could both watch.  Before, that patch of woods was so choked with brush and debris that scarcely anything could live there.  Now, new life began to emerge that had never been there before.  That spot in the woods would have continued to be decrepit and overgrown had there been no fire.  What appeared so unambiguously a trauma just weeks earlier was in fact the thing that was needed to spark and nourish a renaissance of life.

So I began to look at my own life in the context of that fire.  Before you were born, my own life was like that tangled patch of woods.  I spent all my time trying to convince myself that I didn't have anything to offer the world.  But then you were born, and like a forest fire, your struggles burned away all of that stagnant undergrowth that kept the light from the soil of my mind.  In wanting to show you all of the best things about the world, I realized I had to show them to myself.  It started with picking up the pen again and making worlds for you, but it hasn't stopped at that.  

A few months ago, I was thinking about all the things I'd teach you one day and realized I'd never be able to teach you to program, because I didn't know how.  It was something I'd always desperately wanted to learn but with a resigned attitude, I just assumed I'd never have the right kind of brain for it.  Then, with you sitting on my lap, I decided that that needed to change.  I threw myself at the subject and soon discovered that I did have an aptitude for it after all, and it was far more creative and far more enjoyable than I ever thought it would be.  As I write this, I'm gleefully imagining little games of charades that we'll play one day when you are little to help you understand the logic of coding and programming.  

And so I understand now that I don't need to live in fear of what happened to you, or what might happen to your sister.  In the same way that the fire stained the forest black for just a short time before spurning a Spring of fresh life, a trauma or tragedy can spurn a Spring in your own life, if you are willing to let it.  

A day or two ago, we were walking at sunrise on the first day of Autumn.  The rabbits were out in force.  You pointed and squealed with glee as they darted through the grass.  I stopped.  Knelt down next to the stroller and took a deep breath.  I wanted to remember that moment clearly, because it was the moment I wondered whether these could be the best years of my life.  And the moment I realized that the only true tragedy would be if I let any part of those years be smothered by unnecessary fear.


  1. So thankful I looked for a posting today! You should write often! Your words express thoughts and insights that need sharing. What a blessed girl is Ellie, to have you share this way with her (and we are blessed that you allow us a peek into your lives). Enjoy every moment that you possibly can. While you know the day to day can get long and tedious at times, the overall picture will zip by in a blur. How wonderful that you capture so many snippets for Ellie, and for her sister.

    1. Thanks Debby! And yeah, I think I'll crank up the Letter machine again, though I suppose pretty soon it will have to be "Letters to Ellie and Maya."

    2. And you think you are busy NOW! lol Hope Rani is feeling well, looking forward to hearing more stories, and seeing you folks one of these days.