Little Pushy People
My three year old sat on a bar stool, his little legs swinging freely as he ate a small piece of cake. A few feet away a friend and two acquaintances mixed drinks in the kitchen. The end of the school year was finally here and I had rounded up my little family to celebrate with some of my co-workers at my boss’s house.
“Where’d dat baby go?”
“Ms. Kalee’s baby? She is still outside with her mama.”
“That baby died?” I felt a silence sweep through the room as everyone wondered if my son had just said what they thought he said.
“No, she is just outside. She is not dead.” I took a slow breath and looked up to people I was still getting to know. Except for my boss, who was carefully cutting pieces of cake, few of my co-workers knew the whole story.
“Sorry, everyone.” I could feel the discomfort rising in me. “This dude is still trying to figure out the whole baby thing. In his limited experience, babies and death go together because we lost our youngest son.”
“Well, that’s okay. He’s just speaking to his experience,” my boss said. She had known since day one, something that came bubbling out of me on my first day touring my new school building. I waited uncomfortably for the others to slip silently away, a little paler than before.
But then something happened. One stood firm, looking at me directly.
“What was your baby’s name?” she asked, gripping her cup.
“Reece Michael,” I said softly.
“Oh, I love that name.”
“Thanks.” It seemed so… normal. I was not used to a normal reaction at the mentioning of our dead son.
It was much later after this brief exchange that I was struck with the power of her reaction. I had often experienced being witness to other’s discomfort while still trying to share my story. It seemed that on those days when my plan was to hold our story quietly, one of my sons would happily and unabashedly announce to all that “we had Reece but he died.” Sometimes I just want to get through the grocery store checkout line without any awkward conversations. It was often the presence of other babies that cued them to speak of our baby.
Part of my parenting journey now includes how to raise two sons in a society that blanches at the mentioning of dead babies. How do I teach them to share our story gently, but also speak openly of our little brother? The balance isn’t easy. I have come to one conclusion on this matter, however. It is often my discomfort with how people will react. Something as casual and simple as “How many children do you have?” becomes a field full of land mines. Over time, I have crafted creative responses such as “We have two at home” that usually leaves out “and one in Heaven.”
If I am alone, I will even tell inquisitive strangers that I have three. Because I do. It’s just more complicated than some family’s three kids.
I should take a lesson from my sons. They always speak openly of our precious Reece, regardless of how people feel. His death isn’t always a sad thing for them, just a fact. Often times, the people around us aren’t equipped to handle his death as part of our family story. They stutter, or offer a platitude or worse yet, become silent. In those moments, I do my best to respond and validate one or both of my sons and carry on. But sometimes. Sometimes I am surprised. I am always encouraged by the handful of people who handle our story with grace instead of shock. It is their reactions, along with the pushy insistence of my young sons, that keep me brave enough for sharing the impact of a tiny boy named Reece Michael.
Guest post by Arica Carlson