Saturday, July 16, 2005

What Might Have Been

I met M when I started working at the Family Owned Business. I was young and naive, though I didn't think so at the time, just out of college with my first full-time job. She was a single mother in her mid twenties who had put herself through college while supporting her daughter. She was outgoing and funny and I loved her instantly.

M and I both stayed at the FOB for record time considering its high turnover rate. When she passed her third birthday there, she decided that she couldn't stay at a miserable job anymore. She would have a new one before her next birthday came. True to her word, she started her new job three weeks before her next birthday.

Unlike some coworker relationships, we stayed in touch after she left. We met for lunch every month or so and talked through email. At lunch one day, she told me she was pregnant. It was a surprise, but she was really happy.

A few weeks later, we met for lunch again and I told her - surprise - I was pregnant too.

We went through the stages together. It was so nice to have someone to talk to, who knew exactly what I was feeling. It was my first pregnancy, and since her daughter was 9 years old, it was almost like a first pregnancy for her too. She was 6 weeks ahead of me, so she would tell me about things to look for before I experienced them.

We both found out we were having boys, and we talked about them playing together down the road. We could take them to the park together while sitting on a bench chatting about the strange new world of mothering a boy.

She had a planned c-section with her daughter and had never been in labor. In this way, we were equally ignorant about what to expect, how to know it was the "real" thing. She was planning a VBAC this time, and told me about the classes she had taken. As her due date approached, we chatted about her increasing contractions and her fear of the delivery.

She had her son after a long labor; healthy mom, healthy son. She called me a couple of days later telling me how much easier the recovery was than after her c-section. She felt great and was already out and about. She planned to bring her newborn with her to my baby shower in a couple of weeks.

Within a few days, I had developed high blood pressure, was put on bedrest, and. Well. The rest is history.

M & I have stayed in touch these 3 and a half years. Sometimes, a few months will go by where everything is crazy hectic for both of us, but then we'll email and meet for lunch and catch up on things.

Recently, she emailed me a picture of her son. He was sitting at a picnic table under his new jungle-gym swingset. He had his arms over his head and a big grin on his face. He had coloring books laid out on the table.

He looked so old. I guess he is. He's almostfour.

It was hard for me to look at his picture. I'm not sure why. I've gotten her Christmas card photos, and I've watched him grow that way. But this wasn't a posed formal picture. He was outside. Playing. Coloring. Arms over his head in the joy of being a kid.

Just like Ethan should be.

Since Ethan started his new medication, he's been drowsy and a little fussier. The other night he was getting upset, so we changed his position a few times. We got him set up on the couch on his back. I put the ocean sounds CD on that he likes. He played with his chewy tube. I watched him for the longest time. Watched his eyelashes flutter as he listened to the music. Watched him smile as Jete tickled him. He was happy for the moment.

I kept thinking, "He's almostfour." But I couldn't get myself to believe it. Physically, he's almostfour, but developmentally, he's still a baby. Six to nine months. His toys are baby toys. His food is baby food. He mouths things to explore them, can't sit on his own, doesn't crawl or roll over. Most likely, he never will.

Over time, M's son will keep progressing. Soon he will be five, then six. In Kindergarten. Junior high. High school. He will develop and mature. But Ethan will still be six to nine months, in an adolescents body.

M has invited me to dinner a few times. The boys could play together on the new swingset. CG would probably love it. He loves to run and climb and I'm sure the boys would wear themselves out while we chatted.

Still, it would be strange to watch CG play with a boy who is almostfour. I always wonder... What would Ethan have been like? What would his relationship with CG have been like? If things were different.

In some strange way, M's son is like a living ghost... The "Ethan" that might have been.

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