Archive for January, 2011

Yellows and blues

A new reader came by these parts yesterday, searching for posts on sibling loss. It brought into focus for me the fact that I do not write much about Helen these days. I used to write about Helen a lot, now I write about Leila a lot.  Well, I don’t write a lot of anything really, but when I do, it’s pretty much omniLeila (new word there, think it’s going to be HUGE).

That doesn’t mean that Helen is further from my thoughts. It’s just that having a baby is massively diverting- nay, consuming– and takes up around 99% of my immediate headspace. But  beyond that immediacy which a baby commands,  a whole reservoir of thought and feeling still swirls at a slower, more contemplative pace . Much of this is still taken up with Helen. For some reason I feel- or maybe, have imposed- a tension between the unstoppable fiesta of joy that is Leila’s presence in my life, and the dark, deep stillness that is Helen’s absence.

It’s the guilty burden of the bereaved. Am I allowed to feel happy? Is it decent for the corners of my soul to be filled with a quite blinding floodlight of joy, where once they dried and curled? Can I be at once broken and stuck back together, and shiny and whole? I still don’t know the answer to that, but I sense that the answer isn’t to shout in peoples’ faces “I’M STILL SAD YOU KNOW!”, as I sometimes feel the urge to do.

On the other hand, it’s easy to wonder whether, in mourning my sister, I’m cheapening the happiness I’ve found. Should Leila’s birth draw a line under our grief? Is it time to count our blessings in gleaming stacks, instead of keeping our eyes on the gutter, watching the coins of what we had drop down and disappear? Some might assume that Leila being here should heal the wound of losing Helen.

But of course is doesn’t. Leila is not a replacement for our beloved Helen (though it’s quite uncanny to me how similar Leila is to Helen as a baby- holla to the original goblin face!).  I don’t owe it to Leila to forget about Helen. And I don’t owe it to Helen to feel any less bombastic about Leila. They’d both be horrified by the idea- if Helen were here, and if Leila had developed the consciousness to be horrified, that is.

Helen’s death made me sadder than I had ever known. Leila’s birth made me happier than I thought possible. I’m still sad, and I’m still happy. I’m living my life in yellows and blues.  It’s not easy, but it’s colourful.


Letter to Leila: Elevenish Months

Dear Leila,

It’s probably more traditional to write a letter to your baby when they reach one year old. But you’re a quirky girl, so I’ll quirk that particular convention for you. In any case, this elevenish months milestone feels like the biggest one we’ve approached yet, what with me starting work and you going to your childminder, both of us in our Big Girl clothes.

You’re doing so much and changing so much: cruising around the furniture, pulling the books off the shelves, grabbing the spoon to feed yourself… And it’s exciting to watch you pick up new skills. But whilst many parents (parents who I find hard to bear) measure their babies up against developmental milestones and average ages, to proclaim them “advanced” (when really, surely, it’s a case of there being a relatively small window of a few months in which babies tend to learn to do things, and of course there’s variation? Anyway), I find to my surprise that this isn’t my thing.  Baby girl, don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t know if you’re advanced, and I don’t really care.

No, I’m not concerned with the When. But I love the How. I do know when you first smiled, because the day is etched into my heart, but I’m more concerned with how you’ve barely stopped smiling since- when you’re not exercising your developing diva ‘tude, that is. Obviously I notice when you learn a new way to move around, but when you learned to dance about matters far less than how you love to dance about at any opportunity.

And I notice too when you learn a new word, of course, but I’m more enchanted by which words you say and how you say them. “Hi” and “wow” are your favourites, and as my sister said, no two words could better sum up your personality. For you, “hi” and “wow” are not mere words, they are a way of life. And how this neurotic mother has thanked her lucky stars for this as she entrusts you to the care of somebody else, as you’ve pretty much approached this new adventure by saying “hi there new people, wow this is going to be fun!”.

You’re such a very, very jolly baby. I’m not a person naturally prone to spontenaeous outbursts of joy, but you send me, honest you do. I can’t even describe everything you’ve taught me, and the warm yellow furry ball of happiness that lives at the top of my chest and rises into my throat when I think of you, and now I’m going to cry.

Every couple of weeks you throw in a wakeful night or two (or ten) which make me think “oh GOD how will we ever manage two babies?”. But that’s about the extent of the hardship. Most of the time your sheer deliciousness makes me squeal inside “oh GOD when can we have another?!”. But for now I’m enjoying you, my Leila, so so much. My goblin child, my 5am raspberry-blower, my avocado artist, my increasingly big girl.




ps One day, when you are a teenager, I am going to wake you up at 5.30am, bite your face to say ‘good morning’, and sytematically pull all the books from the shelf behind your bed, making sure several of them land on your head. And then look really pleased about it.