The Familiar Stranger

Natalie, Logan, and Ely came to visit for a few days this past week. People keep asking me how that was, and I just don’t even have the words for it. I feel like I can’t process it because I don’t have any words.

Photo by Natalie

We’re beyond words, now.

I tried to keep my expectations low. I’ve had more times than I can count when family members were offended that my toddlers didn’t remember them. They’re kids! Six months is nothing to an adult, but to a toddler, that is literally half of their life. I was ready to not feel a particular connection to her, or for her to not want anything to do with me.

But…she did seem interested in me. She was reticent at first, but she warmed up really quickly, and before I knew it, she was bringing me a book and asking me to read to her.

I didn’t expect to feel anything different from how I feel about my other niblings–again, low expectations–but that was wrong, too. I felt connected to her. Not as much as my own children, but more than with other children. Maybe a little like how I feel about Carlos–I don’t want to be his mom, as he has a really great one, but I think I’m more than an auntie or a friend. Our chosen and confusing family.

I keep thinking about the astonishing and wild morning when she was born. It’s harder to understand everything about it now than it was in the post-birth euphoria. I didn’t realize until I read through the midwife’s report much later how serious my situation was immediately after her birth. I’m grateful all over again to Misty for being amazing and smart and level-headed. It’s a lot to process, though. Thinking of it gives me the shivery feeling of just catching myself when my sock slips on the stairs. Only, obviously, at a much larger scale.

Photo by Tiffany Showalter

I’m grateful that we had Tiffany do birth photography for us. The whole thing feels like a strange and impossible dream, and I’ve looked back over her photos, just to assure myself that yes, this really happened.

Although I’ve video chatted with Natalie a fair amount over the past year, and said hi to Ely during those calls, the reality that the last time I held her, she was three days old is just boggling.

Photo by Natalie

And now she’s… big! She’s tall for her age, and jabbering constantly, walking around, climbing up on things.

Photo by Natalie

People have asked me, over the past year, whether I have a sense of mourning over not having her be my baby. I don’t, and I never have. My own children are plenty, some days a bit too much. Nothing in me wants another baby. But I do wish she lived close enough that I could be in her life more, have a better sense of how she got from seven pounds of fuss to this twenty-two-pound person. I’m deeply jealous of the family members who get to see her every week. I know that’s ridiculous. As she gets bigger, I think it will get easier–video chats with a toddler are challenging at best, but bigger kids can start to hold a conversation.

I was concerned that Petra and Silas would not be kind to her. Petra, in particular, does not get along well with smaller children, and can be quite mean to them. Before Ely came, I told them, “You don’t have to play with her, but you absolutely cannot be rude to her.” They surprised me by engaging with her right away, inviting her to play, calling her outside to see the first fireflies of the summer.

Photo by Natalie

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though. I hadn’t given enough thought to how the kids would be doing their own processing on seeing Ely again. After all, the last time they saw her, it was during total chaos in our house, I was completely out of commission, and they’d seen me give birth just days before. That’s A Lot for anybody, especially small children.

Photo by Natalie

By the end of the second day, they were clearly struggling. They both have a thing where they deflect thoughts that they want to share but know are not socially acceptable by claiming that somebody else said them. Petra claims that the ceiling says all the nasty things. Silas claims that Petra does. So when Silas said that Petra said she wanted to kill Ely–and Petra, rather than saying that the ceiling had said that, just insisted that she hadn’t–I realized that I needed to check in with them about how they were feeling. I didn’t think Silas meant that he literally wished Ely dead, but obviously, there were some big feelings. I said, “Do you have anything you want to talk about or ask about Ely?”

He said, “I just don’t really get why you had to have their baby.”

I realized, we hadn’t talked through the why or the how since I started IVF meds, over two years ago now. So we reviewed the whole story. And after that, I think both of them felt better. They didn’t have any follow-up questions, at least. It’s a confusing thing, and I need to remember to check in about it with them more often.

We had a great time with Logan and Natalie and Ely, despite it also being very emotional and strange. Spending time with them reminded me how backward our relationship is–we did this one huge thing, barely knowing each other, and we’re still learning things like what each other’s favorite ice cream flavor is.

We went to the lavender farm–not as much hands-on animal stuff as there has been in the past, though, which was disappointing. Petra and Silas were SUPER GRUMPY about that, but we got to pet some bunnies and a pig that Silas and I agreed looked like Uncle from Charlotte’s Web. The kids ran a labyrinth, once they decided to stop grumping temporarily.

We also went down to play in the river. Jacob and Safira came to visit as well–he and Natalie spent a lot of time together when she was here waiting for Ely’s birth, and if the baby had delayed another day or two, I’m certain she would have gone home with a baby AND a rescue dog.

Photo by Natalie

Petra and Silas were thrilled that the water is the perfect depth for playing, and I taught Ely to chuck pebbles in the water. Endless fun.

Photo by Natalie

Bubbles are another sure-fire hit with kids of all ages, so I mixed up some bubble solution and plugged in the bubble machine. Bubble machines are The Best, always and forever. Ely was enthralled with them–and also with our porch steps. They don’t have steps at their house.

As if that weren’t bubbles enough, they even stopped to visit “Bubble Grammy” on the way to the airport.The last time Ely saw my mom, she couldn’t even hold her head up. And now she’s chasing bubbles!

I don’t know how to finish this. Like so many things about this experience, I can’t begin to describe how it feels.

All of us are, once again, as always, held in love, and that covers a lot of the awkward and difficult bits.

And I can’t wait to see this familiar stranger again.

Photo by Natalie

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