Monkey is no fool. A statement I should perhaps have tattooed on the insides of my eyelids or record for continuous broadcast in our bedroom while I sleep. Because while I am generally not one to sell my child short when it comes to any of her endeavors, I apparently underestimate her time and time again in this grieving thing.
When the artwork started showing up, about ten days ago, in quantities not seen since the early days, I didn't, at first, catch on. The first was a card, with letters A on the front and Z on the back (I didn't see the Zs until later), a labeled self-portrait on the inside left and a picture of a bundled up baby on the other, labeled with "little brother." She came downstairs with it, presented it to me, and said she was sad. We cuddled for a bit, she showed her handywork to JD, we cuddled some more, and then she said she wanted to draw something else. Something else turned out to be a large format drawing of a heart with a bundled baby inside of it, signed across the top "Little brother in my heart." It would be too saccharine if it wasn't so heartbreakingly genuine.
A few days later she made a book in school, with the same bundled baby on the front. Inside, on the first page, above the picture of A's skeleton underground (I guessed that's what it was, but asked for clarification), in the Old Country language, it says "Chapter 1. Once my brother showed up. But he died." The rest of the pages is blank. She said she will finish the book at home, but she hasn't so far.
There have been at least three more cards, made at home. Decorated with the stuff of babies-- prams, rattles, stuffed teddy bears, stuffed bunnies. Things, she says, she wanted to give her brother. Inside one of the cards, in the Old Country language, it says "Dear parents. I am sad because of the little brother." In another card she signed the picture of the bundled baby with A's name instead of the usual little brother.
I found out gradually that she has told many if not all kids in school. This is why I met with the teachers before the school started-- I thought she would talk about it at some point, and I wanted her supported when that happened. On Friday we had Hannah and her family over again-- the girls cornered me after school one day and pretty much demanded I make that happen. While there, Hannah's mom (btw, I was either wrong about her being pregnant this summer, or it didn't end well) noticed the book on the counter and asked whether it was a drawing of Moses in the basket. No, I said, but you can look. Oh, she said, as she read Chapter 1. She asked me some questions. Hannah told her, but she didn't realize it was almost at term that A died. She assumed, I think, that it was an earlyish loss, and was wondering, I am guessing, why we had told Monkey because she asked me whether I was showing when it happened. Almost 35 weeks I said.
This weekend, too, Monkey told me a kid in her class, Aaron, told her A didn't count since he died. What did you say, I asked. I said he counted. Apparently they went in circles for a while, and I think it hurt her to hear him insist on it. Why do you think he counts, I asked. Because he was born, even though he died was her thought. I think she meant because he existed. But we came up with because we love him. That worked for her, I could tell. It's not helping my good will towards this kid any that he is the son of the people I know from college, the universe revolves around us people. I am trying to talk myself into giving him a break, but I am realizing it would be easier had it been any other kid in the class. Though it seems Monkey was greatly relieved that one of the girls in the class, Rachel, stuck up for her and told Aaron that A counted. This all must've happened at recess because the teachers didn't know about this, but have now promised me to follow up on it.
At some point I started to suspect that Monkey remembers the time of year, but I wasn't sure. Last winter was so snowless that it barely felt like winter at all. Sunday afternoon we were at Irene's house and I was telling her about all the artwork and her first guess was that Monkey is feeling the year come to a close. But the winter looks so different this year, I said. I don't know whether she heard me then, but on Monday morning, after the overnight snowstorm closed down the city and we were enjoying the view from inside our warm house, Monkey walked up to the porch door and said that she likes snow, and it's very pretty, and that last winter there was almost none of it. I don't think I can pretend any more. The upcoming anniversary isn't just mine, and it's not just mine and JD's. Monkey knows, and she hurts.
She loves to play with babies. At Irene's house, and then on Monday at ours, when they came to seek refuge from their own house which had lost all power and heat, she played with the youngest, the baby who was supposed to be A's best buddy, gently, lovingly, with care and wonder. She longs to care for a living sibling, and I worry about what the ultrasound will show not the least bit because I am afraid of having her dream pushed back, again.
I can perhaps be forgiven for wishing she didn't remember, for wishing this season would be gentler on her. And maybe, a little, for wishing that I could concentrate on sorting through my own complicated feelings in the here and now instead of needing to spend so much of this energy helping her. But the fact of the matter is that she does remember, and it is my job, perhaps my greatest responsibility, and my honor to help her navigate this strange universe she finds herself in, now and any other time she needs me. I knew way back when she would be the best big sister anyone could ever ask for. And she is. And if we don't screw it up, she will continue to be, for the brother she lost and any siblings she may yet have.
A's yahrzeit is this Sunday, meaning it starts, like all things Jewish, the night before, on Saturday. JD is only getting in Saturday afternoon. I may have to meet him at the synagogue, for the second to last time we say kaddish in this first year. Next to last will be Sunday morning, and last-- next Friday night, when kaddish is said for all whose yahrzeits had occurred in the previous week. I wasn't planning on bringing Monkey to any of these events, but I am considering it now. It might be good for her.