I make promises to my kids. Not just the regular kind of promises borne from constraints on time and/or budget ("We can't go to Chuck E Cheese today but I promise we'll go Friday") but big, important promises too. Like, "I promise that I will always love you no matter what" and "I promise I will always be proud of you."
My promising habit started with Eddie. It started even before he was born. I was tremendously overcome with the awesomeness of being the incubator to a brand new life and I started straight away promising him and myself all kinds of things. I wrote them down. I promised to remember that he was a privilege and a blessing. That he was here to teach me just as much as I was here to teach him. I promised to listen to him, to respect his spirit, to love him enough to allow him to follow his own path and not try to force my ideas of what it should look like onto him. I promised to remember that God made him just the way he was and not to try to change him.
Those promises ended up being harder to keep than I had anticipated in those giddy days of pregnancy. Because he was born sick and wanted him healed. It was hard to remember that God made him just the way that he was, that his body was flawed for a purpose. Instead I wanted to just to freak out, pray and fight to fix it. But I reflected on those promises I'd made and I changed my mind and waited for my heart to catch up. I respected him just as he was, I praised God for him just as he was, and I celebrated him. I told him I would fight with him as long as he wanted to fight but, if he ever wanted to let go, that this was going to be okay too. It wouldn't change anything, not how much I loved him, not how indescribably proud I was to be his mother, nothing. And I kept making promises.
I promised if he would fight through those first crazy weeks and months, those days of hardship, surgeries, chest tubes and IVs, poking, prodding, and heart-wrenching pain, that I would make it worth his while. I told him about the beautiful world God had made, outside of the NICU walls. I showed him videos of the sun and the sky, of grass and trees, animals and bicycles and I promised him we would see all of it. That if he would just stick it out, keep fighting even when it was all too much, when it hurt too badly, when he was just exhausted, that I would do everything in my power to make the rest of his life beautiful. I whispered this promise to him on the days I was able to hold him and even more fervently on the days that I was not, when he was forced to be motionless, hooked to what seemed a million machines, swollen and sick with infection. I would rub the tiny stress lines that appeared between his eyes, kiss his knees and toes, and tell him I would do it all for him if I could but that, since I couldn't, I would make up for it later, anyway that I could. I told him that he was Superman. And he was.
Eddie made it out of NICU and I did my best to make good on my promise to him. I showed him God's beautiful world and worked to make sure he saw me laugh much more than he ever saw me cry. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I did it. Not perfectly. There were bad moments and hard days. But he had fun. He saw grass, trees and bicycles. He went to the zoo and the circus. He smiled and laughed. We picked out fruit from the farmer's market together, played on the playground, danced in the kitchen, and celebrated silly everyday moments, everyday. He ate chicken nuggets, popsicles, and crayons. He lived his life and he saw that it was beautiful.
I was making plans for his second birthday celebration when he died. The assumption people make that I was in some way prepared for his death isn't entirely true. In the few days before the day of death itself, I felt it. Felt a finality in my spirit, an urging toward seeking God's peace. I don't know if that makes any sense to those reading this, but I can think of no other way to describe it. But on this day, five years ago, I did not know that my little superman had only a week left to live. That he was exhausted after the long, hard fight and ready to go home and rest. That I would be called upon to fulfill my promise, respect the path that God had laid out for him, and let him go.
I did it, somehow, impossibly, and by the grace of God. That chapter of my life drew to a close. Life didn't stop though. There were still promises to be made and kept, no less important. I didn't get to bury my son, crawl in a hole and stop living, literally or figuratively. Because there was another brilliant, beautiful Baby Boy on the way and, soon on his heels, a magical pixie-like Baby Girl. And they deserve no less than their big brother. I have promised to show them this beautiful world that God has made and I'm going to do it even when it feels like it is going to kill me. Sometimes, especially around this time of year, it would be so much easier to turn on the television and parent in cruise control, wallowing in loss and self-pity. I choose differently, because I promised them better; they deserve better.
So these days are filled with sprinklers and roly-polies, paint and petting zoos. Trips to the Asian market to buy fish served whole, silver and shiny, watching with wonder as the man slices off heads and opens bellies. With life: mushy, messy, smelly, sticky and wonderful. Because life is no less beautiful without Eddie in it; it is more beautiful for his having been here. And I am going to experience and enjoy every single moment of it. I promise.