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Moving Forward, Looking Backward

I was at the White House for a meeting, and I looked up to see someone I knew from the school where I used to teach, accompanying some students on a tour of the space.  It was the perfect moment for seeing someone familiar, especially someone I actually liked.  We only had about twenty seconds to talk before he had to continue on with his group (and about fifteen of those seconds were used up exclaiming that we couldn’t believe we were seeing each other).  The last time he saw me, I was more than a little lost, leaving teaching to try to work out of the house so I could be with my newborn twins.  I had no idea what sort of work I could do from home.  And now, seven years later, I was at the White House for a meeting, two books published and two under contract, and the newborn twins learning how to do two-digit addition problems.

I wish the Melissa of 2005 could have glimpsed the Melissa of 2012.  Not that she would believe all the things that were about to happen.

Not that she’d believe what wouldn’t happen as well.

*******

Because that’s it, isn’t it?  It isn’t just marveling at what has taken place since.  I’ve obviously accomplished a lot; things I didn’t even think were possible much less probable back when I left my job in 2005.  It’s also that other plans we had for ourselves — a different neighbourhood, a third child — haven’t come to fruition.  And how you view these years is all a matter of whether you’re someone who sees my glass half full or half empty.

From the inside, I usually see my glass as fairly full.  Though, as I’ve said, sometimes I’m carrying that ghost child, though at this point in my life, with the exception of all of you, I don’t think most people who interact with me on a daily basis would suspect that my brain is keeping track of three people — two that they can see and one that isn’t here.

Such an odd thing: to have something occupy my thoughts so completely that it almost becomes corporal.  And yet no one around me suspects the ghost child.  Maybe they did when the twins were little, but now that they’re eight, no one asks anymore.  In fact, when I’ve brought up having another child, most of my new friends look a bit surprised, even though I’m still young-ish.  At least, I see myself as young-ish.

But they didn’t know me before.

*******

I am the queen of nostalgia.  My friends joke that I become nostalgic BEFORE an event has ever taken place.  I am already sad about the twins graduating high school.  Did I mention that they’re eight?

But I chose not to go to my high school reunion this year, which was an odd choice for me.  There are a bunch of reasons for that decision — the largest one being financial — but it also boiled down to the fact that it felt more right to not go than it felt to go.  I wavered the night of the actual event, and I feel a bit of regret looking at the pictures.  But the decision was made, the event passed.

The reality is that I was in a very bad place at the last reunion, ten years ago.  It was a few months before we got to the RE, and I was already massively depressed.  When we got home that night, Josh went to sleep and I wrote in my journal about listening to everyone describing their children.  Standing there with a frozen smile on my face, repeating over and over again to each person who started a conversation that no, I didn’t have kids too.  Wow, their kids sounded great.  A handful, a real blessing, wow, that must be so hard.wonderful.sweet.fulfilling.

This time, I could go back armed with the answer I wanted to give.  Yes, I could tell people, we have eight-year-old twins and they rock harder than your children.  But what was the point?  You know?  Going backwards, trying to fix something that happened years ago.  I couldn’t fix my high school years by revisiting with people now — as lovely as those people probably turned out down the road — and I couldn’t fix how I felt at that past reunion by going backwards either.

That night would have been the wrong type of nostalgia.  Not the sort that makes you sigh happily as you relive a moment in time.  More the sort that would bring out the ghost child, and I would be carting her around the room for the evening, feeling shittier and shittier as the night wore on.  Sometimes I want to forget about the ghost child, but more more often than not, even if we’re not talking about her, I want to be around people who know that there is someone else in the room with us; at least mentally.

Maybe I will go to the next one five or ten years from now.

*******

Where does this leave me, the mother of a ghost child, one that I don’t want to carry nor do I want to set down?  Not that I really believe that I could set her down.  Ghost children are somewhat like flesh-and-blood children in that they demand your attention and don’t come with an on-off switch.  As I said, more often than not, I want to be with people who know that I have a ghost child.  Who know that I’m counting a third person who isn’t here.  I have friends and family who also have ghost children, and when we are together, our ghost children can have a ghost play date and it doesn’t require explanation.  We all just know.

Which is to say that the situation itself is not the thing I am trying to fix at the moment, but rather how I approach everything around the situation.  Am I continuing life?  Check.  Am I working on re-doing the house?  Check.  Am I parenting the children I do have well?  Check.  Am I taking opportunities and make plans for the future and surrounding myself with people who understand me?  Check.  The ghost child will stay or go, but I can choose whether or not I am focusing on what is here or what is missing.

Right now, I am focusing on what is here, trying to fill the glass, even if I know that life has a way of always keeping it at half.

11 comments

1 a { 12.06.12 at 9:05 am }

I think, in some ways, ghost children grow up too – they get to the point where they need less and less attention. It’s probably due more to age (and the removal of possibility) than anything.

Also, aren’t we all trying to fill the glass? It’s a tough job and requires lots of energy…and it’s good when we have tangible people in our lives who can help with that refilling. I think you are especially blessed there.

2 Peg { 12.06.12 at 9:10 am }

I meant to comment yesterday after reading your lovely, heartbreaking post about your ghost child.

We have one of those too. Before adopting the girls, we were planning on trying for another child. I still have all of our baby stuff for our ghost child. I can’t give it away. I imagine another little boy with big cheeks like his brothers. Oh and how his brothers would love him.

thanks for putting into words what I feel in my heart. talk about not feeling so alone.

3 Esperanza { 12.06.12 at 9:37 am }

Man, some intrusive ads floating around on blogs lately. Just saying…

This post hit a cord with me, as did yesterday’s (I’m sorry I never commented), especially the part about looking at the past as others would see it. Sometimes I look back at 2012 solely as the year we DIDN’T get pregnant and I totally look past the fact that it’s the year we did buy a house, which is a MASSIVE accomplishment for us where we live and something that really MEANS something, even to me. I know no one else would look past it though, to them this has been an incredibly fruitful year.

As for ghost children, I always wanted three kids and my visions of my future family contain a set of three little ones. It was made clear when we started trying that a third child would not be possible and I wondered if that ghost child would haunt me all my life. Now that we can’t seem to have a second child and we don’t have the financial resources for treatments, I wonder if I’ll have two ghost children haunting me, and how ill ever find happiness if I do.

4 dspence { 12.06.12 at 11:16 am }

This is exactly what I tried to explain to R last night. He read my post about the ghost child (thank you for giving me the words I was searching for!!) and was concerned.

I tried explaining to him that yes, she’s there, but that doesn’t mean I’m unhappy. I want her while recognizing that I likely won’t have her to touch and feel and cuddle. But she’s there, and most likely always will be. And her presence in my heart doesn’t mean I am unhappy in our current family and relationship.

I will always notice her, but I won’t stop living or loving my life because of her.

5 Lori Lavender Luz { 12.06.12 at 12:43 pm }

Can you talk with her, and will she talk back? Might she tell you the path that brings you together?

6 Pepper { 12.06.12 at 1:48 pm }

I am constantly nostalgic for those events I wish I could go back to now that I have my daughter, who is so much more awesome than all those children I exclaimed (my heart quietly breaking) over. Again, you have written me.

7 Brid { 12.06.12 at 10:57 pm }

Hey Mel,
I have been thinking about your posts for the two days they have been out there. I want to comment. I just don’t know how.

8 Tiara { 12.07.12 at 2:31 pm }

This post has bubbled up so much emotion in me. Thank you for posting & for your honesty. I am at a loss as to how to express this emotion articulately.

9 Mali { 12.07.12 at 11:15 pm }

Really interesting post and comments. I didn’t go to my school reunion which was around the time of my ectopic pregnancies/infertility. I discovered that not many people I knew would be there, but equally, like you 10 years ago, I couldn’t face reporting that I had no kids, and that I had at the time quit my job to become self-employed. I felt a bit lost.

I would go now though. I would go, because I know who I am. And I know that I am okay, that I don’t need to have children to declare I am a success in life, that I don’t need to be CEO of a company (way over-rated, having met many CEOs) to be a success in life. It’s the change in my mind that is the important thing, that makes me feel I could go. So I admit that I am a bit uncomfortable that some people feel only now, once they’ve had children, would they like to go back. (I’m also thinking of the infertiles/childless/free having to face them). Because in my mind, if you’ve survived IF, then whatever the outcome, you’re a success and should be able to hold your head up proudly.

10 luna { 12.08.12 at 2:35 am }

first off, beautiful.

I don’t think it’s a matter of half empty-half full, in this case. because longing for that child is not even measurable in such form. there’s no vat or yardstick large enough to contain that want, that need.

I think of our ghost child as the baby boy we lost, the son we never got to have, the grandson, nephew and brother never born to life. yet he is there, in his absence, if only to me. in our family, among the cousins there is a gap when our son would have been born, closest to my nephew who would have adored him, yet instead he has SIX girl cousins nearby. and of course knowing his little sister/s only makes me wish I knew him even more.

so hugs to you my friend. I wish there was a way to unite you with your ghost baby. I’m with lori. xoxo <3

11 Mud Hut Mama { 12.09.12 at 3:37 am }

Another beautiful post Mel. I think you are very good at focusing on filling the glass (both for yourself and for others) – but that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.

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