At last, we’ve passed the date. The day my third child, Scarlett, reached the age of 15 months and 1 day. Our second-born child Lucy died at 15 months and 1 day.
In some respects, we are reverting from third time to second-time parents. Most parents get to build their experience with each child. Their lives proceed neatly, chronologically, and their feeling of self-assurance grows as each child passes each successive first.
I felt that same self-assurance the third time around, but wondered if it would all fall apart when Scarlett turned 15 months and 1 day. As the minutes ticked by on the day, Halloween, when Scarlett would outlive Lucy, I waited to feel lost. I waited to stumble.
A few unsure moments occurred in the months preceding this bittersweet milestone. When the process of weaning Scarlett from bottle to cup began, I struggled to remember what we did with our firstborn Max. Lucy never weaned from a bottle.
When Scarlett began to walk and put everything in her mouth, I struggled with worry over her choking, eating something dangerous. No matter how well I cleaned, how closely we policed the big kid toys, she found everything. Lucy was never mobile.
Is it even possible for Scarlett to be older than Lucy? If you believe in God and Heaven, she is ageless, eternal. If you don’t, she is just gone, forever at 15 months and 1 day old.
Seeing a child through terminal illness and death provides wisdom of a very different sort than if Lucy’s life had proceeded smoothly. It guides our parenting. We worry excessively. We gratefully endure the fatigue of chasing a toddler. We joyously pry our climber off shelves, spot her on the couch, and shadow her on the stairs.
Given our wisdom through heartbreak, I wonder if my third child is really turning into my second? How can we be third-time parents, parents who have weathered milestones no parent ever should, and somehow be moving back to the second time around?
The answer is that we aren’t. Once you have kissed your child for the last time, you are no longer stumped by sippy cups. You know the time you have to snuggle them while they drink from their bottle is all too fleeting. They will make the change when the time is right.
Once you have looked at your child for the last time, you are no longer terrified of a stray Lego. You have seen so much worse than choking. You know that you can handle choking, that they most likely won’t choke at all.
You gladly approach the unknown, because you have learned a sad, but liberating secret. You can never be sure nothing bad will happen to your child unless they are already dead. The unknown is so much better.
A year ago, I gazed at newborn Scarlett sleeping in her swing and whispered to my husband, “I hope we get to keep her.”
So far, we have been granted that privilege. She is healthy, smart, and beautiful. I can’t wait to watch her grow. At 6:15 on Halloween night, I finally exhaled, as the weight of an imaginary curse left my shoulders. No spinning wheel materialized to prick her finger as we once again faced 15 months and 1 day. That day, Scarlett stepped into her future as she hopped over porch steps gathering candy. We stepped into the experience of parenting a daughter who is now older than 15 months and 1 day. We will celebrate second holidays with her, a second birthday. I will fold the last hand-me-down.
We will face and embrace 15 months and 2 days and, hopefully, so much more.