PAGE # 92

As soon as "Sara" arrived home from school today, she asked for gift wrapping supplies. I gave her some scotch tape and scissors, a dozen stick-on bows, and a few selections of holiday paper. She chose a shiny blue paper decorated with snowflakes because, she explained, it looked good for both Christmas and Hanukkah. 

"Stay in here and don't peek in the living room," she said. 

I figured Sara was wrapping presents for me, until she called out, "Mom! How do you spell Yoga Bear?" 

She needed my help with the bows too. The backings were difficult to peel off, even for an adult, and once I got the sticky side exposed under each bow, Sara stuck them on some surprisingly well wrapped gifts. I read the gift tags:

To Samantha (her American Girl Doll)
To Yoga Bear (a flexible teddy bear)
To Sheepy (a tiny stuffed lamb)
To Teddy (the stuffed bear she sleeps with nightly)

To say Sara plays often with her toys is an understatement. My daughter, now age 7, has cultivated some intense relationships with these inanimate objects. Of course, she animates them herself, lending unique voices for each beloved creature. 

"What's in their presents?" I asked, pointing at the new pile beneath the tree. 

"I can't tell you. You and my stuffies have to wait for Christmas morning."

I wondered if I'll miss any household objects between now and the holiday--Sara has a history of re-purposing things. For sure, Christmas morning will be interesting. Interesting to see what Sara has "chosen" from our household accumulation of stuff for her doll and animals, but more than that, I'm curious how big brother will tolerate the unwrapping of these gifts. "TJ" is now 21 and frequently reacts to Sara's make-believe play with great concern.

"This can't be normal, Mom," he says. "She's talking to the bear again. She thinks the bear is real."

"You're hurting Teddy's feelings," Sara always says in return. "Teddy is real, Brother. You're a meanie."

Once, after a particularly long sibling debate, Sara confided in me afterward. "Even if Teddy isn't real, it's still smarter of me to believe he's real. Because Brother doesn't play with me and when I'm lonely, Teddy plays with me. So, he's real and Brother's all wrong. If I had a baby sister, she'd believe in Teddy too."

"You almost had a baby sister," I said.

"I know. We tried. But we couldn't keep her."

I doubt Sara remembers any of her time spent with Lily, but she does remember all the stories she's heard. Today, while we snuggled together beside the tree admiring her Christmas/Hanukkah gifts, I mentioned that today is Lily's birthday. "She's five today."

"How old was she when I knew her?"

"She was a baby then."

"And how old was I then?"

"You were two. I have pictures of you with her. You want to see some?"

Sara nodded. I showed her the ones I posted earlier today on Facebook. She pointed to one of the three children together: TJ, Sara, and Lily. "Look at my face in that one. I look a little jealous. Probably because Brother's hugging her and not hugging me."

The moment reminds me of how the entire trajectory of our lives was nearly quite different. I wondered for the rest of the day what our lives would look like if we'd made a different decision. I imagined how the pile of gifts might look, if Sara would rely as much on her stuffed animals for companionship. 

I let myself be lazy and spent time thinking about a little girl, now five, whose face I probably wouldn't recognize today. There's no cultural ritual for such strange loss, so I make my own way, quietly. 

I hope she enjoyed a fabulous birthday cake tonight.

I renew my promise to write this story someday, despite the challenge of confronting my own trauma history and how it intersected with Lily's story.

I fight the urge to delete all the blog posts written earlier, especially the ones filled with awful prose (and one hideous poem, composed under the influence of wine).

Happy 5th Birthday.

Below is the picture of the three children (the one in which Sara thought she looked jealous):