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Blow out the candle

A few days after Joel’s second birthday, I decided to wash the green and orange frosting-covered 2-shaped candle. I dropped it in the sink with a few other dishes and gently scrubbed away the dried-on remnants of sugar and cake. I rinsed Ivory bubbles down the drain and patted the candle’s curves dry with the kitchen towel. As I got out the big baggie of birthday candles I keep, I was gripped with wondering why I hadn’t just thrown it in the trash.

About a week ago, Joel brought his sippy cup to me. He wanted milk. I poured the last few ounces of the gallon jug and realized it was the end of the whole milk. On his ped’s recommendation, he drank whole milk from the age of 14 months when he weaned from the breast and was to stay on it until the age of two. From out of everywhere tears sprung into my eyes when it occured to me I probably poured my last cup of whole milk into the grimy and picture-faded sippy cup of a toddler.

The candle and the whole milk were just props in a very hard couple of weeks. Joel turning two has been a bittersweet time in our lives. The four older children each had a younger sibling by their second birthday. When I washed away the pink, blue, purple, or yellow frosting off the 2-shaped candle, it was with my next two-year-old in mind. I don’t have a next-two-year-old. When I poured my last cup of whole milk for the big kids I practically celebrated. It is more expensive than regular milk and if I can save a few pennies that’s a good thing.

But Joel is the baby. The candle in my kitchen drawer won’t flicker amongst piped roses or Cookie Monsters on anyone else’s second birthday. I look at the sippy cups and know they’ve seen better days, nearly forgotten at a restaurant or temporarily abandoned under the bench seats of the minivan. Now, if forgotten in the sandbox of a playground, we may not really miss it.

What makes this time doubly hard, beyond the wistful and bittersweet isn’t he growing up so fast? is that there was supposed to be another two year old. We waved goodbye. Another baby came. We waved goodbye, again. I washed that candle out of habit, out of assumptions, out of nostaglia. The reminders of loss are found in wax and plastic gallon jugs, in the boring and harmless. The hurt heart easily assigns meaning and significance to the mundane.

Pouring milk becomes a ritual, a send-off. I try to stuff the jug into the nearly full kitchen trashcan and note whole milk has a red cap. I think about throwing the candle away, too.

But I can’t.

14 comments to Blow out the candle

  • My heart is heavy for you.

  • Sigh…I’m sorry for you sadness Gretchen…For your losses. One thing that really strikes me about you, is that you seem to live every moment, even if it is doing what would be considered a mundane task to so many, mindfully and fully present. I admire that.

  • Tracy (tjly)

    Oh Gretchen…..Moments like those are so bittersweet anyway, I wish you were able to have a little more “sweet” in yours. {Hugs}

  • I’m so sorry for your losses. For the pain you are going through now….I’m crying for you

  • Shayne

    Oh Gretchen, I echo Vashti’s comment about your gift for living in the moment. I’m sorry for your pain and your losses. I would keep the candle, too.

  • goslyn

    My heart hurts for you. What makes it even just a bit harder is that I first found your site through the August 2005 expecting club on Ivillage. I was there for the first loss, and for the second. And I’m so sorry.

    Although I am only on my first child, I am already experiencing the mixture of pride and sadness as he passes each milestone. I wonder if fathers can appreciate what mothers go through as they watch their children grow up?

    Thank you for your honesty with your feelings. Your post is beautiful and painful at the same time.

    Keep the candle.

  • Goslyn –

    I can tell you I certainly appreciate what Mopsy goes through. I can’t say I feel the same tugs of the heart she does, but I have my moments.

    I think I witness her feelings with a sense of comprehension, but I don’t know I’ll ever come to a complete understanding. The bond between mother and child is a wonder gift which I’m happily blessed to just to witness.

    Of course, her blog gives me a lot of insight as well.

  • hamster

    Being a parent is in many ways bittersweet, and those parts of the experience are compounded by your losses. Your post brought tears to my eyes. I’m thinking of you and your candle in the drawer.

  • Mel

    I don’t know the whole story, but I shed tears for you anyway.

  • I’m so sorry for your losses. I’ve had two myself, one before and one after my 3-yr-old daughter. It’s been just recently that I’ve felt the nostalgia of missing my cuddly baby. She’s a little girl now, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to have another baby. Sometimes it seems like our little family is perfect just the way it is; other times there’s a space that no one but me can see.

    You write so beautifully. Thank you for expressing what so many moms of miscarried children must feel.

  • R

    I am new to your blog…was looking up another friend’s blog using the word Mopsy, and yours came up! Coincidence? I think not.

    Thank you for this amazing post. My little girl is only 9 months and some days I think of what her twin would be like today…it just makes the loss that much more poignant.

    Thanks for opening yourself up…


  • My heart breaks for you…

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