Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Tale of Two Children

“Mommy made the moon for us,” squealed Maya, looking at the Harvest Moon shimmering in the sky. “Look, Daddy. Miguel said so.”

“Yes, that’s right,” I said, happy that Miguel was initiating conversations about Verna.

Not that I have the energy or desire to wade into the nature versus nurture debate, but both our kids, like everyone else’s, are proof positive that they do come to us with at least a broad set of biological potentialities. In other words, we are not completely blank slates when we are born. To what degree we are influenced by culture is for graduate school. All I know is that Miguel and Maya have distinct personalities, and that reality has informed how they’ve reacted so far to Verna’s death.

Miguel is more like Verna: quiet, stoic. But unlike Verna, who fretted about so much and internalized her anxiety and then pondered it for days, he doesn’t process what he is going through in any measurable way. He has actually said to me, “Dad, I don’t want to deal with what’s going on,” just not in those exact words.

Miguel copes by being preoccupied with sports, friends, music, watching movies, or chilling on the Internet, which often includes finding funny videos on YouTube or episodes of Zack and Cody on NetFlix.

Maya, like her father, articulates all her feelings right away. Three days after Verna died, as I was pushing her in her stroller to school, Maya said, “I dreamed about Mommy last night.”

“Oh,” I said. “What was your dream about?”

“I dreamed that Mommy came back. I know Mommy isn’t coming back, but I made myself have the dream, just pretend. Do you have dreams like that?”

“Not yet,” I said. “But I hope I do soon.”

All I could think was: how did I ever help make this highly evolved four-and-a-half year old who shares my last name? And I immediately knew the answer: all credit to Verna.

On the day of Verna’s funeral, as Maya and I were walking our dog in the early morning, Maya glanced up at a cluster of clouds and said, “I see Mommy in the clouds. She speaks to me in my heart.”

She said that again tonight and Miguel actually said he was blown away. He added, “Where does she come up with that?”

“I think Maya is a living angel who came down here to help us,” I answered, and I more or less believed what I said. Really.

Miguel will grieve in his way, even if he chooses to avoid, deflect, and preoccupy. I will not force him to talk or open up. I will always be there for him, as I was when he had a mini-meltdown just before Verna’s funeral.

Maya opts to voice her feelings directly and through games in our garage, bedroom, and with her play therapist at the hospice office. Tonight as I carried her home from the park, she also said, “I see Mommy in the house. She comes to sleep in our bed because she loves me and you and Miguel.”

As autumn dusk settled on the chilly evening, I was slightly spooked by our daughter, a soul whose wisdom is both comforting and scary. She may be as gregarious as her father, but thank goodness she possesses her mother’s insight and empathy.

But what really topped off the evening’s magic for me was Miguel. As he and I tossed a baseball, I said, “Check out the full moon. Maybe Mommy sent it to us.”

“That’s what I told Maya,” he said.

Miguel may not be processing Verna’s death very much, but he is processing and progressing. And being a sweet big brother.

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