The Night Before Second Grade

All across the county, moms & dads are setting alarm clocks, packing lunches and desperately trying to adhere to their carefully planned bed times and routines. Littles will head to bed tonight; some nervous, some excited, some dreading the first day of school tomorrow. We’re one of the last counties to go back…most of our friends’ kids have been back a week or more now. I’ve watched for days. Photo by photo. Gut punch by gut punch.

Not every kid will go back to school. And even now, this much time later, it still simply blows my mind that mine is one who won’t.

She isn’t “old hat” at her elementary school. She doesn’t know the ins and outs, being a big-time second grader in what should be her third year there. She won’t ever know the cubby with her name on it. She won’t ever know the classmates who were robbed of a really special friend. No excitement over school supplies, backpack selection or that special first day of school outfit. What does a second grade shopping list look like? Would I pack her lunch with carefully planned sandwiches cut into special shapes with encouraging notes (that now she would actually be able to read?) Teachers will never know her clever, beautiful spirit. Friends will never know this brave, tender-hearted girl who changed lives. Other parents will shuffle through car line and bus stops and never know there was a girl who was supposed to be in attendance.

Her name is Kate. And she belongs there, too.

Please don’t misunderstand. I don’t begrudge families their special days. I truly don’t. I don’t blame you for being sad over sweet littles marching off bravely to kindergarten or big littles stiff-upper-lipping it though move-in day at college. I get it. It’s not nothing.

I just wish Kate got these special days, too. I wish I knew what it felt like. I wish I could be sad too, for different reasons. I wish I could miss her for just a day.

I wish I knew my second grader today. Her name is Kate. And she belongs here.

Kate Colored Glasses

It hasn’t happened like this in a long time. I found myself lying awake, writing in my head. I pay a really wonderful lady a pile of money to listen to me week after week so it seems writing doesn’t come as easy these days simply just because what I used to write here day in and day out…now I say to her.

I was thinking about J35, the beautiful momma whale carrying her baby now into the second week since it passed and I thought…”we’re really not so different, you and me, momma whale. Only difference is that the world seems to understand you and feel your grief.” It got me thinking: is it because people can see her calf? Is it because people can imagine carrying the physical weight of a lost child? And now, on the eve of two years and seven months without her, I’m here to tell you. I still carry Kate, too.

She isn’t a newborn bundled in sweet blankets, just up from a nap. She isn’t a squirming toddler ready to explore but unsteady on her feet. She isn’t sleepy and smelling divine, fresh from a bath. No, she’s not in my arms. She’s not got her head on my shoulder, breathing sweet breath on my neck. She’s not giggling into my ear, sending goose bumps down my spine. She’s not so tall with such long legs that her feet bang against my knees as I creak up the stairs, weary under the weight of her. But I carry her.

I carry Kate into each and every thing that I do. Her life is my life’s rose-colored glasses and now, I see everything through her. Should I be lucky enough to see the sun rise or a morning-glory in bloom, I speak to her about it. I speak to the bunny in my back yard, munching on clover as if she’s with me and we’re watching it together. I don’t make a change to the sheets on our bed or buy a new set of pillows without thinking about how I’ll part with the old ones…because she knew the old ones. Her physical presence existed with the old and anything new just HURTS. I don’t visit a new place or think about my future without her being intimately involved.

I seem to have what I now refer to as “Kate Colored Glasses.” They are part of me and I cannot seem to see without them. Every choice. Every thought. Every new experience. Every memory. Every plan. I wear them with her in my full front view. I involve her in everything. I carry her. Oh, yes, I carry her with me. You may not be able to see her, but I can.

I am her mother. And just like J35, I will carry her long from now. Forever. I have been all along.