Today is my son’s first birthday. Hard to believe it’s already been a year since I became a portal to the world. I’m still amazed at how much we – or I guess, really, I – take for granted…What women go through as mothers. What parents experience and sacrifice. And more generally, the hardships people go through that are sometimes too much to share. In a world where it’s a favorite pastime to complain about slow internet service or bad coffee and publicize it on the internets as though it was somehow newsworthy or meaningful to anyone, when you don’t complain or express your pains, aches, and sorrows, I think we tend to assume you’re moving through life just as mindlessly as we are. I realize just how profoundly foolish I’ve been. Thanks, Life, for reminding me of this. Yet again.
This past week prior to my celebrating one year of keeping another human being alive, we’ve been dealing with a lot of death. Our sweet dog, Sunny, had a growth in her left lung which didn’t seem to bother her much until a couple months ago. She is actually so sweet, I wanted to name her Sweetie when we adopted her. But we agreed it might reveal too much sappiness and sentiment to be heard calling out “Sweetie” in public. My second choice was my favorite name, “Bud,” but that seemed a bit too masculine for our sweet bitch. Sunny (often presumed to be “Sonny”) seemed just right.
On Monday, Sunny had a difficult time breathing and we had a difficult time watching her struggle. On Tuesday, I took her to the vet. Actually, I tried to take her to the vet. I strapped the baby on, had the leash in one hand and an umbrella in the other, and made it about halfway through the park on our way to the neighborhood clinic when she decided she couldn’t go any further. If I could, I would have sat right down beside her and waited as long as she wanted. But it was raining. Great thing about dogs is they’re always happy to see you and they love you just because, and they never complain about anything. But I know Sunny hates the rain. And I didn’t have her yellow slicker on her. I was determined not to let her stand in the rain if this was going to be her last day on earth.
After some phone calls along with some begging and pleading, the clinic finally sent someone to help. He stayed with our dog while I ran back with the baby to get the car. He felt that Sunny was in no shape to be carried. After a couple hours at the vet, my husband left work to meet us there. It’s not easy saying goodbye. And she was really our first baby. If you’ve ever had to put a pet to sleep, you know how much that sucks. I’m tired of saying goodbye. I couldn’t go through that again. And I had to take our human baby back home to eat and sleep, so my husband served as the portal this time and shepherded our sweet Sunny back out of the world.
Wednesday, we packed up the car and the baby and headed south to Virginia for my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. A lot of Leos in the family. Just a few months ago, we were planning on throwing him a big blowout to celebrate this great milestone. But plans changed. We discovered that my father-in-law had been diagnosed with cancer two years ago but he did not share this information until he couldn’t hide it anymore. He went through chemo and then dialysis and has decided he’s over the accommodations at the hospital. We got the official word yesterday that there’s nothing more the doctors can do. It’s time to go home. We celebrated his birthday with immediate family, an ice cream cake, and an unlit candle. No open flames near oxygen tanks, of course. Happy Birthday, Pa P.
On our drive back home late last night, another soul I would have named Sweetie, my cousin – more appropriately named Grace – texted me as she has been, checking in on how my husband’s father is doing. She’s much younger than I am and an only child. My brother and I used to change her diapers. She moved back east from LA to help out her parents. My aunt is in the hospital up in Boston also fighting cancer with chemo. Grace has accompanied her mom to every doctor and hospital visit acting as dutiful daughter and translator and primary caregiver and all the roles no young woman should have to shoulder alone. She sends my kid birthday gifts and wants to make sure I’m okay and offers relentless positivity and optimism when I’ve found myself having none. Grace, indeed.
There’s a lot of other stupid crap on top of this mountain of crap. And I’d be lying if I said I’m handling it well. I try my best to lean on gratitude and recognize that so many people bear a much heavier burden. I’m not dodging bombs hoping I make it back alive when I walk to the store for eggs. I’m not trying to figure out where to sleep after a natural disaster has taken my family and home. I’m not in a prison camp sifting through feces for bits of food being forced to watch loved ones get executed.
And in the midst of all this bullshit, I have this tiny person next to me who smiles and laughs and sticks his toes up his nose with glee. I have friends and family – not many – but they leave me messages or call or send texts and remind me that I’m not floating around in space untethered or drowning in an ocean of doom. I don’t know why but for some reason just knowing someone sort of gives a shit gives you just enough air to keep trying. I will be sure to pay it forward.
I think going through any one of these things is unpleasant and stressful. Going through all of these things at the same time while trying to raise a baby in NYC living as an artist? I’m not sure I’m capable enough or as strong or as smart as I thought. No, I am sure. I’m not. I miss the days when my biggest dilemmas and complaints were bad coffee and what to wear. But these days, it’s amazing how much happiness you can glean from someone holding the door or just time spent with a friend or watching a little human discover what it’s like to hold a soft teddy bear for the very first time. It’s hard to believe there was a time I actually cried every day for two months straight because I couldn’t believe how happy and lucky I felt. I know I am lucky still. I can walk. I can communicate. I have a bed to sleep in and food to eat. I’m just really tired. And I feel really sad.
You’ve beaten me down. You’ve made your point. I get it. You’re hard. And you will go on with or without us. I don’t take you for granted. I hope to have more compassion for others and never assume someone is not struggling or in pain. I’m really tired of witnessing suffering. I’m not cut out for feelings and emotions. I hope I don’t need any more reminders of what’s really important and what happiness really is. You win. I lose. And thank you for my kid. Because without him, I couldn’t do any of this.