We're celebrating two birthdays here this week. The first birthday is for our newly minted five-year old, who joins in age his slightly tarnished five-year old brother. Two five-year olds, but not twins, so for the next six and a half months, I will get to answer the litany of questions again that usually goes something like this:
"Are these your boys?"
"How old are they?"
"They're both five."
"Are they twins?"
"How far apart are they?"
"Six and a half months."
[predictable pause as they do the math]
"How'd that happen?"
[another pause as they look the boys over]
"Wow, they look just like twins."
"So, are they both adopted or just one?"
And so on.
In another year or two, they will be able to answer for themselves. I can only imagine the twist they will put on their story when I let them offer their own explanation. I suspect they will leave people feeling even more befuddled than they were before they asked. My two not-twins boys will likely find enormous humor in that, given the fact that one of them is already a pretty accomplished wise guy and the other has a propensity for practical jokes.
The other birthday we are remembering this week is for our Karol Elizabeth, whom I gave birth to in miscarriage four years ago this week. To this day, I still believe she was my only daughter. I can't say I have any proof of that, but from the moment we learned of her existence in my belly, her father and I just felt certain of the gender. When we learned that I was pregnant with her, just a few months after my postpartum fertility had returned, we felt validated in our assumption that I had been healed of infertility. Finding out ten weeks later that she was already gone left us to struggle once again with all the feelings we'd tried to bury in the year before. When it comes to life and death, we learned all over again that it is best to never make assumptions.
And five years ago this week, I stood just outside the door of a hospital nursery, peering through the glass and craning my neck to see the little newborn baby who might become mine. I was not allowed inside, and had to ask permission to hold him. I could not claim him as mine, at least not yet, and was not allowed to be with him unsupervised. I was so close to being his mother, but yet, he was not really mine. Holding him, rocking him, snuggling him, I waited to see if someone was going to tell me I had to give him back. I sat in a plastic chair where the nurses could see me holding him, and for those first forty-eight hours, I tried not to make assumptions.
Two birthdays this week for two precious lives, one of which I eventually got to keep, and one of which, I had to give back. I used to try to understand why, but it really is of no use. There is no rationalization that satisfies the emptiness that comes from losing a child, and there is no justification for why I now have two five-year olds who make my heart overflow. It is nothing more than my particular journey, my story, and maybe, if I dare say what I hated hearing for so many years, part of God's plan. But then again, by saying that, I may be making assumptions.
For me, there has been very little consolation found in assumptions, rationalizations, and weak explanations with regards to why things so often turn out the way they do. The energy required in trying to understand is more than I care to offer. Instead, I will take that energy and buy some flowers for Karol's grave. I will make a cake and wrap gifts for a special birthday boy. I will use that energy to celebrate two birthdays for two of my children who just happen to live on opposite sides of heaven. Two birthdays that remind me that life is one great paradox, and that it is usually best to just let the mystery be.