July 9, 2017 by 8junebugs
Dear Littlest Harper —
This is a tough one, little buddy.
This month began with you finally meeting your Nana.
A week later, we returned to the same hospital room to say goodbye to her.
Over the last year, she’s been in the hospital a lot and had a broken hip replaced right before you were born and she caught some bugs that kiboshed other visits. It broke our hearts, but she did get to meet you and give you a kiss before we lost her.
She loved you so, so much, Alex, as much as she could in the time she had. She saw you and she held you. She knew how much you looked like Daddy; she said you looked Italian. She knew you have your Papa’s name as your middle name. She knew we made her a plate with your footprints, just like we did for Grayson.
What she couldn’t know was how little time she had left to know you, or that it would be up to us to make sure you know her.
Your Nana was strong, Alex, sometimes impossibly strong. Her very small physical self withstood poverty in her youth, abuse and catastrophic damage as a young adult, and more disease-related pain as she aged than I can fathom. And yet, we were somehow so certain she would outlive us all because she’d escaped poverty and abuse and healed from a full-body cast and beaten breast cancer.
Your Nana was brave. She moved to a whole new country. (Take it from your small-town mama — this is a really big deal.) She came here with a husband who was mean to her and found the strength to say, “No. You don’t get to hurt me.” And then she made her own way, which led her to Papa, which led to Daddy, which led to you and Grayson.
Your Nana was generous. When Grandpa and my mommy couldn’t be in California for the start of the school year and I couldn’t imagine going back to my old school in Vermont, your Nana took me in and made sure the first two months of my junior year went off without a hitch. (That’s also when Daddy and I first got to know each other.) I wasn’t the first kid to live in her den for a while — she hosted Daddy’s fellow Blue Devils over the years and her house was always open to his friends. She fed Uncle Fugly beer pancakes and fed Uncle Ed her spaghetti with the hint of cinnamon in the sauce. She never missed birthdays and loved spending months thinking about just the right Christmas gifts.
I will miss the guilty pleasure of flipping through her catalog stash.
Your Nana was smarter and more driven than she would ever recognize. She didn’t finish high school, but she did push herself to get her GED (I tend to think this is harder than following the usual path.) She studied for and passed the test that made her a United States citizen, a test many of our fellow Americans would have difficulty passing. She was a force behind changing the school assignment policy, which is why your daddy got to go to a school in his town instead of one town over. (I don’t know the details of this. You should ask Daddy about it.) She wasn’t brought up to be a smartypants, but she fought to learn and do what was most important, and that’s a lesson I wish she could’ve been here to teach you.
You’re starting this life without the two grandmothers who wanted to meet you the most and for the longest, my little man. Daddy’s mommy and my mommy really did talk to each other about the beautiful grandbabies we would give them, and it breaks my heart that they aren’t here to watch you grow up. I see my mother in your brother’s stubborn concentration and open smile and I see your Nana in your dark hair and the sparkle in your eyes.
That’s where your first grandmothers live now, Alex — in our hearts and our pictures and in the small traits they passed through us to you. They weren’t perfect. No one is. By the time you read this, I’m sure you’ll understand what an overwhelming thing it is to lose your mom, no matter how old you are, and you’ll know why this letter is more about that than about your first tooth coming through, or your rolling over, or the sleep training that is ever so much harder with you than it was with Gray. This is the month someone other than a parent cared for you for a couple of hours. This is the month Grandpa came to visit and you went to the beach for the first time. (Not really a fan.)
You are half a year old, Alexander, and it’s all going by so, so fast.