Yesterday was “Pregnancy And Infant Loss Awareness Day,” of which I was unaware until…well, yesterday. Usually I acknowledge it because of Emily, but this year my brain is a sieve.

We ended up at a birthday party yesterday. For a girl named Emily. Who was turning nine. Which is the same age Emily would have been. Instead due to one of those strange twists of reality that make you think, “Life is stranger than fiction,” Kiddo#2 accidentally got bumped up into the wrong school year, so she’s in the grade Emily would have been had Emily lived (and been born in this state. Cutoffs were two weeks before K2’s birthday in Angeltown and two weeks after in Angelborough. Have you gotten a headache yet?)

Well, there we were, at Emily’s ninth birthday party, where I should have had my own Emily, age nine, and when she blew out the candles, I felt that sudden sadness again. It doesn’t normally come around. Just sometimes.

Then the kids went wild, and I hung out with the mothers, who all told me I must be SuperMom for having four kids. I wanted to say, “I should have five,” but I know by now that saying something like that is the fastest way to clear a room, and I like these women. No reason to drop a bomb on them.

So we had a good time, and my kids came home with helium balloons.

A week after Emily died, Kidd0#1, then three years old, attended a birthday party and returned home with a helium balloon. He played with the balloon all afternoon. But by evening, it was settling lower, and by nighttime it had gone to the floor.

He asked why that was happening, and I should put it back up on the ceiling. My Patient Husband and I explained that this happens to balloons, that the special air comes out of them and they fall.

And I saw it, that moment — that MOMENT — when he connected the descending balloon to a dying baby. The instant he realized that balloons fail, and babies die, and nothing is forever. His face is usually unreadable, but there for a moment I saw horror. And he cried. He couldn’t take it.

For years afterward, he loved balloons, but when a balloon popped, he’d sob. In a store, his balloon popped and he had a meltdown tantrum, and other shoppers looked at me in disgust, this child screaming over a broken balloon, and one woman actually said I should just go get him another balloon. Because, I guess, I was a cruel mother.

I don’t remember if I said, “It’s not the balloon. He’s upset over his dead sister.” I may only have thought it.

This morning, I still have three balloons on the ceiling. The younger kids know balloons fall. They don’t know, not really know by experiencing it, that babies die. Not the way balloons die. It’s better that way.

Tomorrow’s post: another balloon


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