The sun was sinking in the sky, throwing gold glitter across the lake we’d been swimming in all afternoon. I was in it to my ankles while Phoebe played at my side and Julia made one last swim for the floating dock. Dave was back at the blanket with Lucy and Jack and the rest of our group getting dry and packed up for the day. The last of the thinned-out crowd were heading for their cars. Per usual, we were the ones closing the place down.
I shielded my eyes from the glare off the water and watched Julia swim. She slowed to a stop part way to the dock and turned around.
I waved and shouted, “Change your mind?”
She lingered there, bobbing.
“Julia? You okay?”
Her face slipped under the water and reappeared for a second before going under again.
I screamed. “SHE’S DROWNING! OH MY GOD, SHE’S DROWNING!”
A life guard was in the water before I’d gotten all the words out. I was still screaming as they brought her back on the beach and when she fell into my arms, coughing and crying. Only then did everyone else realize something was wrong. It happened so fast, they didn’t see it and they hadn’t heard me shouting.
Though Julia seemed alright physically, I took her to the emergency room. They did a chest x-ray and made her run up and down the hallway and listened to her lungs, which were clear and healthy. We got home late that night and after everyone else went to bed, we cuddled up on the couch, just the two of us, and watched movies. I wrapped my arms around her and relished the feeling of the rise and fall of her chest and her breath on my cheek.
I’ve spent a lot of time soothing myself with the sound of my children’s breath. It’s what kept my heart beating when Jack was in the NICU. And in the two years that followed, sitting in their bedroom in the dark after they fell asleep, listening to their breath was what kept me breathing when my room was too quiet and I was overwhelmed by the the thought that breath is all that separates us from death.
You can’t always tell when someone is drowning. Julia didn’t really look like she was in trouble at that lake two years ago. She didn’t flail or scream like she was fighting for her life. She was silent and still, pleading wordlessly for me to realize she needed help. I watched every excruciating second of her struggle in the water without realizing for most of it that it was a struggle.
The same is true with depression.
After Jack was born, I struggled with it. I had panic attacks that left me fighting for my breath almost daily. I kept reliving the experience of nearly losing him. And I found it hard to live with the thought that I could lose any of my children, and I thought about that all the time. So I was silent and still and careful and fearful and miserable, until I asked for help. I took antidepressants for a while. I leaned on Dave more than I ever thought I could. I had some dark days, but things are much better now. They are getting better every day.
When I sat down to write today, my intention was to tell you about Phoebe’s fifth birthday. Then I realized I had never written about her fourth. I’d wanted to. I had started a draft and uploaded the pictures. But I was too afraid of inviting judgment I didn’t feel strong enough to handle, which seems sort of silly now. I know I can still write about it and I will. It feels like poking a bruise when I think of all the memories I didn’t keep here during that tough time. Even when things were difficult, there was still joy to be found.
There is always joy to be found.
It’s so much easier to remember that when you have a place to keep evidence of it.
We went around the room and introduced ourselves and our children at Story Time today at the library. I was the only mother there with her child, the rest were grandmas. And Jack was the only littlest brother, the rest were the firstborns of their families or had new babies in their homes. All of those big brothers and sisters were smaller than Jack, my baby.
I’ve been used to having little kids, but even my littles aren’t so much anymore. With potty training started and only months of breastfeeding left, motherhood is starting to look different.
When I’ve asked my mom what she wanted for her birthday, all my life she has told me the same thing. “To spend it with you.” And now that these yahoos have come along, she wants to spend it with them, too.
Truly, this is all she wants, on her birthday and in her life, is to be with us.
Today is her birthday, but she is the gift – to us. I am thankful every day to have her in my life and the lives of my children. We are all better people for loving and being loved by her.
“He’s being a dinosaur.”
I have to explain.
(He’s actually being a pirate in the picture.)
I took Phoebe out for some back to school shopping the Thursday before preschool began. We arrived at the mall early. The stores weren’t open yet, so we walked to the fountain. We took a selfie.
We each threw a penny in and made a wish. Then Phoebe threw three more in – one for each of her siblings – and all four of them wished for the same thing. She said they wished that Phoebe would get her ears pierced.
None of my kids have their ears pierced. I’m not opposed to it. My attitude is, if they want their ears pierced, we’ll do it, but I’d like for it to be up to them. That’s how my mom handled it with me. I still remember how special and grown up I felt when I had mine done. I’d like for my kids to feel the same, but any time they have expressed an interest, the conversation has gone like this.
“I think it’d be cool to wear earrings. Mom, can I get my ears pierced?”
“Well, does it hurt?”
But this day was different.
“Phoebe, do you really want your ears pierced? For real?”
“Yes! Let’s go, Mom. They do it here,” she said, walking to the tall chair in the doorway at Claire’s.
I reminded her that it hurts. By then, the store clerk had made her way to us and was telling Phoebe it feels sort of like a shot at the doctor’s office. “But it doesn’t hurt forever.”
“But it does hurt,” I said.
She said she wanted the Rainbow Dash earrings. I suggested we go get her shoes for school and come back for earrings, if she still wanted them. She scrambled up in the chair. “I want them. I’m ready.”
The clerk told her to relax, it would be a while. We needed to learn about how to care for her ears. I needed to fill out the paper work and she had to get everything ready.
“Are you sure, Bee? You have to wear them for a long time before you can even change them.”
“Mom, I AM SURE.”
It was clear she had made up her mind. “Alright then,” I said. And I got excited. “Let’s do this!”
We giggled. We squealed. We fantasized about how jealous Julia and Lucy would be. I let her pick out a stuffed animal since they were only $5 with ear piercing and they would pierce the animal’s ears, too. She chose a cat she named Polka Dot I Love You Cat.
The clerk drew dots on her ears with a purple marker where the earrings should go.
“Okay. Are you ready?”
She was shocked. It hurt! She did not expect this! Why didn’t we tell her it would hurt!?!?! Why did we do this to her! She was only joking when she said she wanted her ears pierced! “I said, ‘I want to get my ears pierced!’ and Mommy said, ‘For real?’ and I said, ‘No!’ But she made me do it anyway!”
We showed her the earring in her ear. Wasn’t it beautiful? It was! Beautiful! She was so brave! So grown up! So…regretful. So afraid of feeling that hurt again. The clerk and I tried to cajole her into getting the other one done. A grandmotherly woman shopping nearby stopped and joined us in our efforts. She offered to buy Phoebe a pair of earrings! We offered a variety of solutions. You can close your eyes! Sit in Mommy’s lap! Mommy will hold you! Once your ears are pierced, YOU can pierce Polka Dot I Love You Cats ears! You count this time! Phoebe suggested we count to one hundred.
A shameful amount of time passed. I finally said, “Let’s just do this, Bee. Let’s just get it done.” She knew I was through negotiating. She jumped from the chair and, in her panic, broke a store mirror. The food court patrons turned toward the crash and Phoebe started to sob. An indignant voice rose above the chatter, “She’s making her get her ears pierced.”
I picked Phoebe up, hugged her, and sat her back in the chair. “Phoebe, are you going to get your other ear pierced? You’ve already got one.”
“I’ve changed my mind. Take it out.”
I knew she was through, too. I hung my head. “Can we take this out?”
The clerk looked apologetic. “You still have to pay.”
“Of course.” I considered it a fine for my idiocy.
We walked back to the fountain, exhausted. Phoebe carried Polka Dot I Love You Cat. I carried the “I just got my ears pierced at Claire’s” bag with my new, $50 Rainbow Dash earrings. We sat on a bench.
“I’m not mad at you, Bee.”
“I’m not mad at you either.”
But I catch myself correcting her when she says she got her ears pierced. And she doesn’t want me to wear those Rainbow Dash earrings, ever.