During the 14 months you were hospitalized one of my coping mechanisms was picking out clothes for you. I will never forget when you were first born how friends and family sent care packages of "preemie" clothes. I remember holding up a preemie sized outfit to your little 1 pound body, you could have fit in the arm hole with room to spare.
As you grew, I found comfort in buying clothes every month. It didn't matter that I was buying a newborn size for my 9 month old, I was just happy to be doing it.
The purchasing process was always a little interesting. Head into any baby department in a store and you are bound to find a menagerie of moms with kids in tow. Some of these moms were stressed to the max, trying to complete the task of picking out clothes while refereeing a fight between siblings or calming a tantrum. While other moms (usually new moms, I could tell) sublimely walked through the aisles with their babies clutched to their bosoms, still imparting that postpartum glow.
It would not be honest of me to say that I wasn't jealous of these moms. They had something I didn't. But as time went on the feelings of envy subsided and I just became indifferent to them. I had grown to accept my new brand of motherhood and once again I was just appreciative that I was still in fact, a mother.
There was one section of the store that did stir up emotions more than any other. No it wasn't the baby food aisle (which is still obsolete for me), but the circular, aluminum rack of seasonal jackets. We're not talking any jacket here. It's the puffy kind that makes children look like stuffed marshmallows and are intended to withstand blistery cold days, that became the epitome of what it means to have a child in the hospital for 14 months.
A jacket symbolized something that wasn't available to my child. It wasn't a fashion statement, it wasn't just a collection of fibers that would keep my child warm, it was freedom. Kids who had jackets weren't confined to hospital rooms. Their moms would take them wherever they pleased, whenever they wanted.
I know I am not the only mom to feel this way. Across from your room in the hospital, a little boy lived in the same confines for 22 months. I used to naively think that 14 months and 22 months were relatively the same amount of time. And then I had you home for the 8 months in between and I saw how much life you had lived in those 8 months, and I knew that there are no comparisons...22 months spent in a hospital is eons apart from 14.
About a month after this little boy went home, his mother brought him back to visit. The first thing I noticed when I ran out of the room and embraced his mother was his toddler-sized camouflaged, winter jacket. While there was a language barrier between us, a thousand words were spoken in that moment. I pointed at the jacket with enthusiasm and his mom smiled widely at me and with a reassuring head nod, told me not to worry, that one day we'd know the freedom of jacket too.
This past fall as the leaves began to change, although you had already been home for several months, I knew there was something I had to do to vindicate your freedom. So one early morning I headed out to Wal-Mart and went directly to the part of the store that had been off limits to me for far too long.
The jacket I found was just as I had envisioned. Pink and puffy, a stuffed marshmallow surely you'd be.
In an ideal world this story would end with a picture of you aglow in your winter coat.
The great irony is that you hate your jacket. The multiple times I have tried to put it on you, you have thrown temper tantrums of all tantrums, kicking, screaming (or what appears to be screaming) and turning blue in the process. Not like it matters, the only place you go in the winter is to the doctors office, so a winter jacket is pretty obsolete anyway.
So, the jacket sits in your closet, tags still attached, providing us with a different sort of warmth. And that's perfectly OK with me. After all, this isn't really about a jacket, it's about restoration, opportunity, freedom and above all it is a symbol of hope; of what was, and what is to come.
Love You Always,
Mommy & Daddy too