Preschool, already? It can’t be. It’s come on so quickly…my girls who entered this world weighing barely over a pound are starting preschool tomorrow. A mainstream preschool with children their same age. An incredible feat for babies whose lives start out with only a 10% chance of surviving at all and with a 50% or greater chance of having lifelong medical conditions or disabilities. But my girls are starting preschool just like any other three year old who was born at full term. It takes my breath away when I truly realize the enormity of this accomplishment for them.
I knew this would be an emotional time for me, it is for any parent sending their child off to school for the first time. It is the first major milestone that they do independently. All other milestones involve the parent in some way, like first words or first steps, things like that happen with close attention and often assistance from the parents. But school…that’s a different story. We’ll pack their backpacks with what they’ll need, put our carpool number in the right spot on our windshield, we’ll take them by the hand, lead them to their classroom, and kiss them goodbye. My stomach is fluttering with anxiety and anticipation. I’ve been with my girls almost every single day. Rarely has there been a time we’ve been apart since they came home from the NICU. I’m not quite sure who has more separation anxiety at this moment, me or my girls! They look so grown up, and it’s not going to stop.
But my anxiety and emotion run deeper than this because Zoe should be starting preschool too. I watch Avery and Lily together, exploring their new classroom and I think, where is my third little dark haired baby? Why couldn’t she be here too? Which activity station would she gravitate towards? Would she cling to my leg the way Lily does or would she walk tentatively over to the bean table and begin cautiously playing with another little girl like Avery? How I wish I could see all three of my girls huddled over a basket full of blocks, building towers and streets together. Or digging through the basket of painted wood letters finding the letter that their names begin with. Or pointing out that only the girls in class have nametags written on pink paper. My heart aches and my arms ache all over again. More so these days than they have in a long time. My throat has stayed tight and my eyes warm with tears. A mixture of happiness and sadness thrown together, dancing around in my heart.
Lily told me she was scared of school. “Why Lily? What scares you about it darling?” I asked as she lay her head in my lap and I tenderly scratched her back. “None of my favorite people will be there” she replied. “But Avery will be there with you all day, the whole time” I reminded her. “But you won’t be there, Daddy won’t be there, Zoe won’t be there” my heart skipped a beat and my body tingled warm all over…she misses her sister too. She knows this is a big event and her sister isn’t there to share it with her. How do I comfort her when I myself need comfort? How do I reassure her that Zoe is there with her because she lives on Lily’s heart and thoughts?
We decided to make a special photo book that she can keep in her backpack. Photos of all her favorite people, including her grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, even a friend from Georgia who she’s only played with three times. We’ll pick the photos and create the album together and if she gets sad or misses someone who loves her she can simply ask her teacher for her album. I hope that helps.
The school year starts off with a tea party, an easy transition to meet the teacher and the other students and to become acquainted with their classroom. This was a tad distressing to Lily as well. The night before she said she didn’t want to go. I asked why and she responded in a similar fashion to the reason she was scared of school except this time she named only one person who wouldn’t be at the tea party…Zoe. So we brought a photo of Zoe with us, Lily proudly showed it to her teacher and said “this is my sister Zoe in Heaven”. Her teacher warmly looked at it, looked up at me and simply said “Wow, I just can’t imagine.” No one can really, unless you’ve been down this path of losing a child.
And I can’t imagine what it’s like for Lily and Avery. They were so young when Zoe died and while they talk about her, look at pictures and watch videos of the three of them together, they don’t have real memories to say “remember when we played on the slide together? Or remember when Zoe stole my paci because I sat in her lap to play with her toy?” Their memories are created for them in a sense, but their loss is quite real. They know someone important is missing in all of this.
I have been down my knees, praying and begging God to carry me through this. To help me with my own grief so that I can support Lily and Avery the way they need to be supported. I cried out to Him today, praying loudly, head turned up, arms open wide with tears streaming down my face, and said “Lord, please help me. Please take this sadness away. Take the anger and frustration that builds as a result of my grief. I don’t want it. I don’t want the anger. I don’t want the frustration. I want my daughter. My arms and my heart are aching, they feel empty and full at the same time. I can not get through this week alone God, please carry me because I’m not sure I can walk. Avery and Lily need me to be at my best. I need the wisdom and understanding to be aware of their needs this week, not focused on mine. Give me moments to be sad but please, please help me have these moments in peace so they don’t see me cry. Lord, I have not made it this far since their birth and since Zoe’s death without you, your Spirit lives inside me and I need to feel that now down every toe and finger, through my heart to the top of my head. Let me be full of your calm nature, fill me with your unending love, create in me an unwavering peace that goes far beyond my understanding. Lord I have needed you for a long time and I need you now. Please hear my prayer, hear my cries, feel my pain and take it from me.”
Then I hear that still quiet voice inside, the voice that calms better than any other and He says “I’m here Keira. I’m here. Lean on me.” And I look at my girls, all three of them, and I look at my adoring husband and my prayer turns to a prayer of thanks for all the incredible blessings He has bestowed on our family. The gift of having triplets, the gift of helping our girls survive and thrive, the gift of helping others in Zoe’s honor, the gift of a family that loves me completely. Thank you God! Thank you!