When I knew our baby boy, Charles, was going to be born to die, there was one song I knew for sure must be sung at his funeral. “Love Abides,” by Cori Connors, had comforted me through my pregnancy, and expressed how I felt:
Mother Earth may quack, but cannot shake where love abides. In spite of all the world, the spirit will survive. Through it all, I know that love abides.
Tonight as I took a minute to wipe the counters, I popped in one of Cori’s CDs. (It’s not the shower, but kitchen cleaning is a good second-best venue for thinking. Especially if you’re careful not to do it too often—the cleaning, I mean.) I thought it was her Christmas album, but then I heard “Love Abides” begin to play. This song will always be a bit mournful for me to listen to, as will “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from Charles’ funeral. But mournful is not a bad thing.
As I listened to the song, I found myself remembering a thought I had while driving through my neighborhood one day when I was pregnant with Charles. I remember exactly where I was on the road. It’s funny how you can remember one of your own thoughts, one never spoken aloud, and even remember where you thunk it. I remember thinking about what I was going to name this unlucky baby, and whether I wanted to give him a ‘virtue’ middle name (as Ruby and I have, and Jasper sort of has). My middle name, Faith, has been important to me and has given me courage throughout my life. Ruby’s middle name, Thankful, illuminates how I felt when she was born, and has definitely been a point of strength for her. Jasper’s middle name is Maxwell, but his nickname is “Reliance Wheeler,” after a favorite book character of mine who was a mother’s first born son, and upon whom she relied heavily. Jasper has earned this name.
That day I remember thinking, “If I were to assign this boy a virtue, it would have to be ‘Resilience.’” This baby was beset with a rare developmental defect, Campomelic Dysplasia. Virtually every part of his body had formed incorrectly. Yet his heart was sound. It beat strongly, and he swam around vigorously at every ultrasound. (I say swam, because he was extra small and I had extra fluid.) “He’s resilient,” I thought. At the time we didn’t know if he would live or die, but we knew that if he lived his life would be extremely difficult. I figured if he did live, he would need a whole lot more of that resilience to bounce back from each difficulty and keep on living.
We didn’t end up naming him “Charles Resilient,” (you all breathe a sigh of relief) but I thought a lot during those months about what it meant to be resilient—to bounce back after life beats you down. I decided that resilience was probably the single most important trait I wanted to try to instill in my living children. I figured that if I could somehow teach them to bounce back from anything life threw their way, they would always be OK.
I haven’t thought about this much for a long time, until tonight. I was mulling over talents. Because we have two new children in our family, from a whole new gene pool, we are discovering lots of new talents. I know this is hard for Ruby. She sometimes feels that her new sisters can do everything she can’t. Saffron is a flexible, budding gymnast and dancer, and she learned to ride a bike in a day. She can knit, and braid, and even little Willa can braid. Ruby is brimming with her own talents, in my opinion, but she’s feeling inferior. Jasper has gone through the same fears with friends over the past couple of years, as he starts different sports thinking he’s really good, and then discovers that other kids are better. In the past few days I’ve started to worry: what if we have some kids with all the visible talents, and others who are perpetual spectators? That sounds like a minefield for a parent, especially when two of the kids were adopted.
This all reminded me of The Middle, a new TV show with Patricia Heaton that has Steve and me really chuckling. The “Heck” family has three odd children, including a middle daughter named Sue. Poor Sue is a perpetual tryer-outer. Every episode she is trying out for something new, from the showy stuff like cheerleader to the low hanging fruit like stage crew. This poor, awkward girl never makes anything. As her mother says, she may be the only child ever born without a talent. As her parents supportively cringe at her every attempt, I find myself thinking “Go, Sue!” Persevere! Between chuckles, I want to remind Sue’s parents that their daughter has the most important talent in the entire world—she is resilient!!
So then it hit me—Sure Ruby is feeling beaten down a bit, but she is also learning to bounce back. She is learning to persevere. She is learning resilience! (These life lessons are how I justify all my TV watching. I sometimes want to quote an episode in church, but I stop short of that.) In fact, so is Jasper. This whole experience has been an exercise in resilience. So was Charles’ death. You’d be surprised how much a sister and brother can be disappointed by the loss of a baby brother, and the re-adjustment it takes to decide to want kid-sized sisters instead. The last six weeks have been all about getting beaten down and then deciding to bounce back for another blow—for all of us. And Saffron and Willa? Well, let’s just say that if their middle names weren’t “perseverant” and “resilient” they wouldn’t even be here. (Figuratively speaking guys—no, those aren’t their real middle names. Do I have to spell e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g out?) They survived everything from birth in a shack to life without a mother and they’re not just still alive, they’re still smiling.
So, the counters are clean for one second, and I discovered all four of my kids have the SAME talent--resilience! OK, so it’s due to the school of hard knocks and not to my award-winning parenting. But at least I can try not to screw them all up—too badly.