Friday, June 11, 2010

In Her Skin

Ever since you were born and I could hold you in one hand because you were that tiny, I knew that whatever affected you would affect me profoundly both physically and emotionally for the rest of my life.

You were a preemie and undersized (less than four pounds) born five weeks early. The exact size of a chicken (hence your nickname and woe to me if I ever tried to to call any other child that name affectionately).

The doctor had decreed that once we were released from the hospital you had to come back every day to have your blood tested for the bilirubin level because of your jaundice. Not unusual for a preemie. Stressful but not unusual.

The nurse would grasp you by the heel (some might say professionally, I would say roughly and coldly - how I loathed that woman for the way she handled you), plunge the syringe into your heel and withdraw the blood that had to be tested. You, of course, wailed and then I would start with the tears and your poor father had two females to console as we both held you. It was the first time that I had felt someone else's pain so keenly.

This went on for weeks until the jaundice receded. Poor little mite, born just before winter in a very cold year. If you had had more exposure to sun you might have healed more quickly. As it was, I was afraid to take you out, you were so small and it was so cold. I had no friends with children that age. It was a lonely winter - just you and I in the little house on Harcourt surrounded by a small mountain of snow and ice.

As I watched you sleep the first few weeks you did the oddest thing: if you slept on your side, you would raise one little chicken wing arm gently in the air and then it would slowly float down to your side. Then you would raise one tiny leg and do the same thing. It was an odd sweet little dance that you did only when you slept.

If you cried I carried you in one hand, cupping your head in the other hand and whispered in your ear, that seemed to calm you.

I would carry you around on a pillow, like a wee princess, in the house and rest you on the sofa in a shaft of sunlight beside me as I read. Your little diapers drooped, you were too tiny and they didn't manufacture anything that small at the time. Your clothes were ill fitting. You looked like a doll who had been placed in clothes too large for her.

One day recently I showed you your first bed: a large straw basket swathed in green cloth (it resembled the basket of reeds that Moses was found in, in The Ten Commandments) that sat at the headboard of our bed every night. You couldn't believe that you had slept in it. Now you are as tall as me and are absolutely delighted when people say that maybe you will be as tall as your father one day.

Not much has changed in a way.

I can't bear to look at a cut on your skin or think of you in pain of any kind. Your suffering is unbearable to me. I think that all parents feel this way. That anyone should hurt you infuriates me and summons up a dark and implacable desire for revenge.

While you were ill with strep throat recently I found it hard to contain my anxiety. Familial illness provokes this in me. Nonna was not well either recently. She was finding it difficult to stand without the use of a walker. Both of my girls were likely to be okay but still there is that nagging worry. What if it is something else, what if it is more serious and we just don't see it?

The illness seemed interminable. You looked so weary, so fatigued with resisting it. I missed your singing in your "old man" voice, your impromptu dancing, your goofy jokes, your sneaking of chocolate chips when you had craving for chocolate. But lately I am heartened by the sounds of the "old man" which have returned and resonate in the house. Your appetite has increased. I hear peals of laughter when you are on the phone upstairs talking to your friends. You don't crawl into our bed in the middle of the night because you are sleeping more peacefully.

And when you asked, in earnest, if we would take you to Vancouver to hear your favorite band I knew you were feeling better. Not entirely rational, but better.

In an interview once, the filmmaker David Cronenberg was queried about his "obsession" with illness and disease that seemed to pervade his films. The interviewer asked him if he often thought of disease and the possible death of his family members and he said "Every day". I understand that sentiment now. I get that undercurrent of anxiety. And the desire to take away your pain and carry it for you.

Girl, you smile, I smile. 


Andrew Smith said...

Very beautiful letter to a loved one. Thanks for sharing it. Andrew

Michelle said...

Thanks Andrew, just love my girl to bits.

Cheryl said...

They are always our babies, forever and forever. One of the more beautiful parts of motherhood, I think . . .

Michelle said...

That's what I tell J, it doesn't matter how old she gets, I will always think of her as my baby.