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Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Baby is Growing Up

My very first post on this blog, almost six years ago, announced the arrival of my third child - Lily Baker George.

Tomorrow, that baby goes to kindergarten.

Lily Baker came into this world looking, as my friend once told me, "like her daddy spit her out."

She was the most laid back baby, probably out of necessity since Ann Catherine was only 17-months-old when she was born.

She grew into a very funny child, a child who often uses humor to diffuse uncomfortable situations - or to try and get out of trouble. She constantly makes us laugh.

She is also incredibly independent for her age. She is full of confidence. I have often said about her, "I could drop Lily Baker into any situation and she would swim - not sink."

I have always loved that quality in her.

It may prove to be my undoing tomorrow.

She is just so ready for kindergarten. She walked into orientation Friday with her backpack on her back and her nap mat in her hand, and she refused to let me help. She walked into her room, said hello to her teacher, found her name and her seat and began unpacking her backpack like she had been doing this for years. She didn't need - or want - my help.

I thought I would cry right then and there.

It was hard enough when she graduated preschool in May. She just looked like such a big kid on that stage.

Now, we're heading off to big kid school.

To make matters worse, she proclaimed this week that she didn't need to sleep with Bunny anymore.

Those of you who know her well know what a big deal that is. For those of you who don't, let me clue you in.

Chris' parents gave Bunny to Lily Baker when she was a baby. Every night since, for 5 and a half years, she has slept with Bunny. Every. single. night. Bunny has gone everywhere with us - hockey games, church, preschool, even a Wiggles concert.

And that's not all. Bunny was LB's security. If LB got scared, she wanted Bunny. If LB got sleepy, she wanted Bunny. At first, Gammy and Gramps gave Lily Baker two Bunnies, so we always had a backup. We lost one a year ago and, since then, I've lived in panic that we might lose our only one. Bunny was Lily Baker's best friend.

In fact, I've always joked that Lily Baker would walk down the aisle at her wedding with Bunny stuffed underneath her bouquet.

So to tell me this week that she no longer needed Bunny?

Well, that was more than this mommy could take.

Here's the deal. We all want our children to progress and move to the next stage. That's the point, right?

But when it's the baby, it's just

It's the true ending of a chapter. It means you are moving from a phase of life and you can never go back.

I remember Ann Catherine's first day of kindergarten. I cried, but not for the same reasons that most moms cried. Yes, I was sad about my little girl growing up, but I was also filled with grief that Melissa wasn't there to start kindergarten with her. Each milestone of Ann Catherine's life is filled with a little bit of sadness for us because it's a reminder that Melissa isn't here.

I remember when I left school that day, I couldn't get to my parents' house quick enough to get Lily Baker. I scooped her up and hugged her as soon as I walked in the house. She was my saving grace that day. Ann Catherine had moved on to kindergarten, but I was okay because Lily Baker was still at home with me.

Tomorrow, I'll leave them both at school.
But, as He always does, God speaks truth into my life during these moments. At church this morning, we sang, "Mighty to Save" which is one of the songs that has always spoken to me since Melissa died. And I began to think of her as we sang.

And I realized what a gift it is to have a child starting kindergarten. I mean, she's growing up. And as hard as that is, do you know what a gift that is?

Do you know how many parents would give anything for that gift?

I do, because I'm one of them. I would give everything I own to walk two little girls into a second grade classroom tomorrow, instead of just one. I would give everything to be stressed that my twin girls are starting second grade tomorrow.

Growing up is a treasure.

That doesn't mean it isn't hard for mommies and daddies. It doesn't mean I won't cry tomorrow when I leave Lily Baker in her kindergarten classroom, because I will. And I will probably cry the whole way home.

At the same time, I will thank God for this precious gift of time. I will thank Him for allowing me to raise these beautiful girls on this earth. I will thank him for this milestone of watching them move to kindergarten and second grade. I will thank Him that they are growing up. There are so many moms who would give anything to have those gifts.

And I'll try and put it in perspective. It could be worse. Instead of starting kindergarten, my baby could be leaving for college tomorrow. 

Because when that happens, I really will need a therapist.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

She Really is Swimming FOR Melissa

(This is a picture Lily Baker drew of her, Ann Catherine and their two cousins Ally and Will while we were at the beach last week. Melissa is the angel above them. And there's a rainbow connecting them all together. Sums it all up, doesn't it?)

Last week, I took my girls to the beach for a very last minute trip. I looked at the calendar, realized school and Swim for Melissa were only weeks away and called and told my mom we were coming to see them.

Our first morning there, I was on the balcony overlooking the beach having breakfast with my parents as the girls and their cousins ate inside. As we finished, my dad said, "Amy, Ann Catherine told me this morning she had a dream about Melissa last night. She dreamed that she came to swim at Swim for Melissa."

My mom and I both agreed that wasn't out of the ordinary. After all, our summer revolves around preparations for Swim for Melissa. It's a constant source of conversation at our home and our girls are right in the middle of it. It really didn't seem strange to me that she would be thinking of Melissa.

I thought about it more as the morning went on. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed to talk to her about it. I felt I had missed an opportunity to explain something to her. I called her into my bedroom and as she entered she looked at me and said, "Am I in trouble?"

I love that children always assume that when you want to talk to them.

I laughed and said, "No, but sit down. I want to talk to you about something."

She stared at me with a look that said I still think I'm in trouble. I patted the bed and said, "Come sit down with me."

She did as she was told. Then I said, "Poppy told me you had a dream about Melissa last night."

I might as well have said, "Poppy told me you like chocolate." She looked at me as if to say, "Of course I did."

"Can you tell me about it?" I asked.

"Sure!" she said excitedly. "I dreamed that we were at Swim for Melissa and Melissa came down to swim with me. And Jesus was there, too."

I smiled at the thought. "Well, you know what?" I asked. "Part of that is true."

She looked at me as if she didn't understand.

"Melissa won't physically be there," I continued. "As much as we wish she could be, we know that isn't possible. But, she will be swimming that day because she's in your heart. Every lap you take, she will take with you. You won't see her and you won't be able to touch her, but she will be there. I promise you that."

She smiled and gave me a big hug. Then she said the words that hurt every single time.

"Mommy, I wish Melissa could live here with us."

I took a deep breath.

"So do I baby," I answered, fighting back tears. And then I went back to what I know. "But you know what? We will see Melissa again one day."

She perked back up. "That's right, mommy! We'll see her in Heaven!"

Then she thought for a moment and said, "You know what I think, mommy? I think Melissa will be doing Swim for Heaven in Heaven while I'm doing Swim for Melissa. Isn't that cool?!"

I agreed that it was and, with that, she hopped up and ran out of the room to play with her cousins.

I've thought about that conversation so many times this week. Oh, how we miss that little girl. Oh, how we ache and grieve that she can't grow up as part of our family on this earth.

But, I refuse to live in sadness. I know, without a doubt, that Melissa wouldn't want that. She fought way too hard to live for me to stop living here on earth.

So this Saturday, I will clap and cheer as children jump into the pool to swim laps for premature babies. I'll tear up as little ones who don't know what a NICU is tell me they are swimming to "help tiny babies." I'll feel my heart swell with gratitude at the parents who spent this Saturday teaching their kids about something bigger than them, when they could have been laying around at home.

I'll cry when my own children plunge into the pool. I'll feel so incredibly blessed that after so much sadness, God put these two amazing children in our lives. I'll grieve that Melissa isn't here, but I'll thank God that her short life was the catalyst for all of this. I'll feel sad that she isn't physically here to celebrate this day with us. I'll feel gratitude that God chose us to be her parents. I'll feel her presence and spirit surround everything we do.

And as I watch Ann Catherine swim with her team, I'll think of what she told me last week. I'll imagine Melissa swimming her own laps in Heaven. I'll imagine her doing something that she never would have been able to do here on earth.

I'll know in my heart that she'll be swimming every lap alongside her twin sister.

And I will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Ann Catherine is swimming for her. With every breath, and every kick, and every lap, she'll be swimming for Melissa.

Because that's what twins do - they stick together. And my girls are no exception.