Monday, July 12, 2010

A Letter to My Very Favorite Daughter in the Whole World

My Dear Sweet Girl Alexis,

I don't even know where to begin to answer you. Perhaps this is a poor forum for my response. We have your passwords and could have deleted your entry, but felt that since you devoted a great deal of time and pain in posting it, it should be left alone. Daddy and I decided to use you password to respond to your post here rather than inthe "comments" section. Daddy's entry will appear as soon as he finishes a few crucial work-related tasks. He wanted you to know that he does not consider you less important than his work, but that some things must be completed on schedule. He is one of the relatively few parents who can claim in all honesty that he is curing cancer. He promises to reply at the very first chance he gets. Of course we must talk about this face-to-face as soon as possible, but in the meantime, we both wish to respond in writing.

As much as I appreciate your knowledge of history and of odd facts, and your desire to share them, with the particular post, I wish you would have gotten to the point sooner. Your reviewer for the day nearly missed reading through to the end. Had we not responded in some way, we would have let you down once more. I'm so relieved the essence of the post was not missed. You are entitled to a response, and you clearly expect one, although I can't help wondering if your choice to bury the heart of the matter under interesting facts and trivia, then to feel hurt and rejected all over when you received no reponse, wasn't part of your original plan. As the person from whom you likely inherited the quality, I know as much as anyone about being a martyr.

I do not agree with everything you wrote, but much of your post consisted of feelings. Feelings ar neither wrong nor right, but rather, unique to the owner

You remember, I'm certain, that Daddy and I lost twins before we were blessed with you and Matthew. They were at birth much tinier than even you were (1 lb. and 1 lb. 5 ounces), but to me, you so much more closely resembled my babies who didn't survive than you did your robust twin brother who was over six pounds. I was afraid to touch you, much less to hold you. Daddy saw you differently. He knew from your very first scream that you were much stronger than you looked. He spent more time in the NICU than I did. He could see the differences between you and the babies who were not going to make it, or those who would perhaps survive but with life-long problems. I was afraid of the NICU. It reminded me too much of your older brothers. I somehow thought I knew, wrongly, that once I allowed myself to form an attachment to you that you would join Nicholas and Christopher in heaven. I'm not sure if it was superstition on my part -- if I stayed away from you, you'd be fine -- or if it was pure cowardice, as in I was simply afraid to bond with you and then to lose you.

Once you made it out of the hospital at the weight of four pounds, your brother was nearly nine pounds. You seemed so tiny and fragile that I was still hesitant to pick you up and hold you, even though the logistics of diapering, feeding, and bathing forced me to do so. You cried almost incessantly for roughly eighteen hours of each day. The doctors couldn't decide if you were colicky or if there was a more serious condition causing our constant crying. I'm ashamed to admit that there were times when, because I could no longer bear to hear the sound of your crying, I simply put you in your crib, closed the door, and allowed you to scream in your bedroom for hours.

It was probably at this stage that what you consider favoritism toward your brother actuallly began. If you cried, I could check your diaper, try to feed you, burp you, rock you, or pace the floor while carrying you, but you would scream no matter what I did. Daddy had more success at calming you, but even he found you incredibly difficult to soothe. It reached the point that when I was home alone and both babies cried at the same time, I automatically went to Matthew because I knew I had a reasonable chance of taking care of his needs and making him happy. Only after I had thoroughly taken care of him would I make a half-hearted attempt at meeting your needs. Often I was unsuccessful, although I did persist in forcing formula down your throat, I otherwise left you to deal with your own misery. You possess the most incredible powers of recollection from such an early age that it would not surprise me to learn that you actually remember some of these things.

What probably saved both you and me was your early ability to talk. I was unable to produce enough milk for two babies. Since you were in the hospital in the beginning, which woud have necessitated expressing the breast milk, we made the much easier choice of giving Matthew breastmilk while feeding formula to you. In retrospect, this was a bad decision, but it cannot be changed now. One afternoon when you and Matthew were barely five months old, after I had breastfed Matthew and put him down for a nap, I was preparing your forumla. Until you were four months old, you were fed a special formula for premature infants. In retrospect, I don't think it agreed with you, as you cried less once you reached the four-month mark and were allowed to have standard formula. Much of the formula we gave to you came from free samples sales representatives would give to your father. Some of what we had on hand was SMA, which was just one of many brands of formula. While we were not poor, neither did we have the income we now have, and a free case of formula was nothing to be turned down. You were in an infant seat on the kitchen table. You looked over as I was scooping powdered formula into a sterilized bottle, then pouring in distilled water. I can recall as though it happened yesterday when I heard you say as plainly as a seven-year-old, "S M A no!" I recall dropping the plastic bottle on the tile counter top and spilling its contents, unsure of whether I had actually heard or just imagined your words. Then you said it again. I went to the pantry and took out a can of powdered Enfamil. I held it in front of your face. You looked at the rabbits on the cylindrical container, then commented, "Enfamil." I was so weak with shock that I could barely shake the powdered formula into the distilled water. You drank six ounces of the formula, which was at that point a record amount for you. You fell asleep in my arms, and I carried you to your crib. You slept for four consecutive hours, which was another record for you. I wonder now if SMA, too, was not part of your problem. What formula works for some babies doesn't for others. Your father and I were probably just too exhausted to think clearly and to make the connections.

When your father finally got home from work that night, he of course thought I was delusional. I got out the SMA and the Enfamil, and you were cooperative enough to correctly name both brands for him. He noticed a can of Similac in the pantry and got it out, holding it in front of you. "Similac," you announced. It was your father's turn to nearly faint.

We soon learned that your vocabulary extended far beyond the names of formula brands. You learned that if you could tell us what you needed, you wouldn't have to scream for hours.

There were still times when what you wanted couldn't be given to you, and the resulting screams would go on. Some foolish uncle on your father's side of the family once gave you a sip of Coke. You liked it and wanted more, so the relative gave it to you and told you what it was called. I always thought Mormons were supposed to have something against drinking Coke, but your father's relatives are smorgasbord Mormons, as in they choose which aspects of the religion to follow and ignore the rest. Getting back to your early exposure to Coke, you thought you should be able to get it simply by saying the word, then by screaming the word. Your father and I were not about to let an eight-month-old baby drink Coke even if it meant a near-sleepless night for us. (You're still cavity-free, which would probably not be the case if we had given in to your demands.) You screamed for five solid hours before exhausting yourself into sleep. Even then, you woke up in the night and screamed, "Coke," for another two hours. The lesson learned was that asking for something was far more likely to get it for you than just crying, but that some things you could not have no matter how many times you asked.

Your crying was by this time greatly reduced, but there was still the issue of Matthew and I having formed a close bond before you joined us at home. I recall the instance you wrote of the time you woke up before your brother while I was reading. I remember telling you that I was reading
when you spoke to get my attention, but then putting the book down and picking your brother up as soon as he walked within reach of me. In my life I have done many things I regret. I can say without a doubt that I regret that instance more than anything I have ever done in my life, with the possible exception of leaving you with your aunt and uncle a little more than amonth ago. I don't know what I could possibly have been thinking in ignoring one baby while picking up and holding the other one. There is no excuse I can give you. I'm crying as I'm typing this. I can only say that it I had it to do over again, I would have picked you up the first second I saw you standing there, looking at me with your sad eyes, as though you already knew you would be rejected in favor of your brother.

The sports situation is inexcusable as well. I'm not so bothered about having missed your tennis matches, as your tennis career didn't have a happy ending, anyway, and in the end, I'm not sure how much it mattered. About having missed all but a few views of your dives from the parking lot, I'm embarrassed for both myself and your father. I know what a morning person you are not, much as I am not. The very fact that you got yourself out of bed in time to be at the pool by 5:00 or 5:30 a.m. each day of practice is a clear indicator of just how important diving was to you. That your father and I could not be bothered to make it to even one of your competitions speaks volumes for how miserabky we have failed you. Where your hurdling is concerned, there is nothing that your father or I can say that will ever excuse the fact that we never once saw you hurdle. It's nice that we have friends who are parents of Matthew's baseball teammates, but that does not in any way negate neglecting our other child in her athletic endeavors. I am especially sorry that we were not there for you on the day of your injury. You endured extreme pain for much longer than you needed to because an incompetent hospital staff refused to act on the authority of a legal document when a not much more competent set of parents could not be located. You WILL hurdle again, and Mommmy and Daddy will be there to cheer you on when you do, regardless of what baseball game may be happening at the same time.

Daddy meant well when he told you that you were not to tell me that you had donated bone marrow to me, but his instincts, which are normally pretty good, were totally wrong in this instance. You needed to feel the depth of my gratitude, and you needed to know that I would have loved you just as much even if you were not remotely a close enough match for me. You needed very much to be comforted after the painful procedure, and you needed to be allowed to cry in front of me if it hurt. I thank you again for saving my life; I only wish I could have thanked you at the time. Regardless of whether it was jealousy or any other emotion that motivated you to announce at the time you did that you had been the marrow donor, you did the right thing in telling me. I'm sorry for making a bigger deal about the gift Matthew made for me than the one you made. I don't know what caused me to treat my own child in such an cruel manner. Daddy's treatment of you, also, was wrong, but I'll allow him to make his own apologies.

Alexis, I suspect we're always going to butt heads. Sometimes God creates two people who are very similar in practically every way. When that happens, conflict is inevitable. I know you have heard from my brothers and sisters that you ARE me at the same age. It took me a long time to see the similarities, but I now recognize it clearly. My newborn pictures are identical to yours at the age of six weeks. I, too, was a screaming baby, an extremely early talker, and a tantrum-throwing two-year-old when I didn't get what I wanted. I, too, was growth delayed, and was born with perfect pitch, just a you were. Our main differences were in parenting. My mom passed away when I was thirteen, and my father was too grief-stricken and too heavily into self-medication to deal with my difficult personality. Your father and I are still very much present to deal with you. I only hope that we haven't done you more harm than good.

I love you more than you'll ever know.


1 comment:

  1. Dear Mommy.
    I love you. I will see you soon.
    Love, Alexis

    P.S. I had to get a new cast when the other one got wet and moldy. I was totally gross, but the doctor cleaned my leg really throughly and gave me antibiotics to be safe. The doctor was one OKed by Dad, and Uncle Ralph paid for it because he felt responsible.

    PPS. The doctor did an ultrsound on my clavicle, and he says I should be ready for crutches on Tuesday, which is tecnhically today.
    Please don't let Dad put the crutches out in the garage where someone might notice them and steal them when the door is open. Aunt Victoria says we should be there by 3:00.
    I love you.