Mother’s Day

Photo credit: Africa via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m late on my post, but it’s something I wanted to share. Yesterday was a bad day for me, what with the baby in the hospital and all. I longed to be spending my time with my family-at the park and having dinner like we did last Mother’s Day.

I wanted to write this as a dedication to some very special women in my life.  Later is better than never, I guess.

I want to start with my maternal grandmother. She was born in 1926, but don’t tell anyone I told you. Her parents came to the good ol’ USA from Italy in the early 1900’s (or late 1800’s, I’m fuzzy on the details). My great-grandmother passed away when I was a toddler, but I vaguely remember that she spoke broken English and had a bird. She was a determined, strong woman who raised four kids and divorced her abusive husband-a very big deal to an Italian Catholic at that time. But she did what she had to, and they never had much, but they had what was important-lots of family. And pasta. I’m assuming the last part, but I know when I was growing up we always had a lot of that at my grandma’s.

I don’t know a whole lot about her youth, and I can’t begin to imagine what life was like for my grandma, the eldest of her siblings, helping raise the others. I figure things got pretty harsh at times, especially during the Depression. But they made it through, by the grace of God and by doing what was neccesary.

In her twenties, my grandma met and married my grandpa. They had three kids, one of which is my mother. The other two are my uncles. In his infancy, my grandmother’s middle son suffered an illness that left him disabled. I don’t even think my grandparents were given a clear answer at the time, but all I know is that my uncle suffered a high fever that damaged his young brain.

My grandmother spent days, weeks, months, years in and out of the hospital with my uncle-the very same hospital I am at now with Doodles. My uncle required many surgeries that spanned into his late teens or early twenties. She was told he wouldn’t walk or speak, but he does both-albeit with difficulty-and although age is taking the inevitable toll, he is able to participate in daily activities. He’s nearing sixty, and my grandmother-nearing eighty-six-is still caring for him.

I’ve learned that my grandmother has been inconsolable since she learned of Doodles’s illness, and I understand why. She is a mother, and she has been where I am, struggling, hoping, praying, begging for her son’s life. I am nearly her carbon copy, experiencing the same heartache, uncertainties, and longing that she did so many years ago. She is the only person near to me now that understands what it is to be me now, understands how it is to be the mother of a child with a life threatening and debilitating condition. She is one of an innumerable amount of reasons that I refuse to walk with my head down during this difficult time.

My grandmother’s youngest child is none other than my own mom. I don’t know how to begin to describe this woman. She is vibrant, exuberant, hard-working, no-holds-barred, badass, outspoken, lively, extroverted, loving, level-headed, funny, optimistic, and just a little quirky. She is the reason I love reading and writing. She is the reason I am everything I am today. I am proud to be her daughter. She is the reason I am proud to be a woman.

In this chapter of my life, my mother is my best-friend. Not always the case. There were those teenage years when I was becoming my own independent person, and we butted heads-a lot. But as an adult, and especially as a mother, I know she was kicking my ass down the right path. Figuratively, of course.

She is the woman who first introduced me to Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe and Hitchcock and old time movie monsters and scary movies and all the frightfully delightful things I adore. She is the woman who nurtured my imagination and creativity. She’s the woman with whom I sat on so many Saturday mornings or evenings watching pitifully horrible B movies and laughing our asses off (still do). She is the woman I would be if I were a better woman.

Lastly, I want to write about my late paternal grandmother. Like my maternal grandmother, I know little of her childhood, but I do know she was born and raised in rural Louisiana on a farm. At some point, they moved to the city, then the suburbs. She married my grandfather and they had three sons, one of which is, of course, my father.

I understand that in her youth she suffered an ailment in her legs that required the wearing of braces, and she continued to have some problems into adulthood. She worked hard to raise her kids while my grandfather worked shift work at a local refinery.

After the floods of Hurricane Katrina claimed their home, my grandparents moved back to the country to live out their twilight years. My grandmother became ill and didn’t recover, passing away just over a month before Doodles was born. She was so excited to have a great-grandchild, and if there is an afterlife, maybe she’s there watching us now and sending positive energy our way.

I love these women. They have shaped who I am. They deserve recognition everyday. And I thank them.

Findings

I’ve written in many of my past posts that my son who is two years old has been sick for quite a while, suffering from seeming bronchitis related illnesses and even pneumonia. In January he became unable to walk properly and it led to the assumption by his pediatrician that he was experiencing inflammation in the inner ear due to an ear infection. Although she was concerned the cause was much more serious, she treated the ear and we all hoped for the best.

His condition declined over January and February, which found us not even a week ago in Children’s Hospital explaining to a myriad of doctors how he’d been ill since late last year and so forth. I’ve repeated the spiel so many times I’ve got it memorized. I don’t even have to think about it.

The pediatricians caring for my child at the hospital, like his regular pediatrician, were concerned about his dizziness and instability. They were concerned enough to conduct a series of simple neurological tests that raised their concerns further leading them to order a CT scan of his brain.

I knew the news was bad when two doctors came into the room, pulled up chairs, and said they were there to talk about the results of the CT scan. They advised us it had revealed a large mass in my son’s brain. I was frozen in this moment, trying to conceptualize the reality of this information. As I held my two year old son on my lap with tears teeming, he turned around, knelt on my thighs, put his hands on my face, and said, “Don’t sad, Mommy.” Trying not to upset him, I assured him Mommy wasn’t sad. Then he reached out to tickle my face in an attempt to make me smile. And though I was still crying, it worked.

An MRI was ordered for the next day, and it showed the doctors the actual size and location of the mass. From the MRI they also learned it had travelled down into his brain stem and his spine.

Oncologists informed us in their matter of fact way that the tumor is malignant. They also told us due to its delicate location, the surgeon will not be able to remove the entire tumor and my son will require follow up treatments of chemo and radiation.

I suppose it’s needless to say that since then we’ve been bombarded with information. I’ve spoken to twenty plus doctors working in nearly every field, it seems, from neurosurgery, orthopedics, oncology, endocrinology, speech therapy, and dietary needs.

They come in pairs, sometimes more. I spoke to three ENTs, two orthopedic doctors, and four neurosurgeons. And that’s not all.

Surgery is scheduled for next week. Suffice to say I am petrified. The procedure will be extensive, it will be dangerous, and it is critical that the tumor be removed as soon as possible. The neurosurgeons are only waiting until next week because my son’s lungs are still swimming in secretions from the pneumonia.

I’m proud of myself for remaining so positive up to this point. Optimism is a trait with which I’ve rarely been associated. But I am optimistic because I won’t be any other way. Because my child is still looking at me for reassurance. He doesn’t know everything, but he knows he is sick and he knows he’s in the hospital. And although his speech is now impaired, along with his ability to swallow, eat, drink, and breath, he is still looking at me and wanting me not to be sad.

Ladybug Ladybug

Having a baby in one’s home is a life changing experience. Our son Ansel’s birth altered ours. Every day brought new experiences.

Ansel was born on the first of November. My grandmother, Anita, reminded me often that day was celebrated in her native country as the Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead. November the first is actually Dia de los Angelito, a day reserved for the reverence of deceased infants and children. The souls of deceased adults are honored on November the second.

My grandmother believed that having been born on that day allowed Ansel certain supernatural experiences of which most of us are unaware. On his first birthday, she bought him an elaborate crucifix to hang over his crib. She often brought novena candles to light and she set them on the shelves in his room. I didn’t feel the practice necessary, but as long as she was safe about the open flame, I didn’t feel it was harmful. And it pleased my grandmother.

Some months before Ansel’s second birthday, my grandmother passed away. It was sudden. She was up in age, but her health was good, and no one was aware of the aneurysm waiting in her brain like a forgotten land mine.

My grandmother’s passing also brought the passing of lit novena candles and religious ceremonies meant to keep away the creepies. We forgot about her superstitions, involved in our day-to-day activities, and went on with life. No more rosaries. No more holy water sprinkled in Ansel’s crib. No more praying to the Lord our souls to keep.

When Ansel was about nineteen months his babysitter, Grace, became pregnant. As her belly grew, she and her husband taught Ansel there was a baby inside it. Ansel’s new favorite word was baby, cute at first. He rubbed her belly and said, “Baby! Baby!” He would even recognize other pregnant women and point to them saying, “Baby! Baby!” Sometimes they weren’t pregnant, and we pretended he was talking about something else.

Ansel was starting to talk well around the same time as my grandmother’s passing. His random words became phrases, and eventually he was using whole sentences. In the mornings as I got ready for work, I would listen to him in his bed talking over the baby monitor. He would say “Hi!” to his toys, or he would talk to the cat, or he would call for “Mama” when he was ready to come out.

As the weeks passed, he would wake up and go into what for him was conversation. I would go into his room and ask him with whom he was speaking. Ansel would answer, “Baby!” When I asked him where baby was, he would point to his bedroom door. The behavior was eerie, but I reminded myself he was a toddler.

Ansel began to talk and run around the house more and more. He would run up and down the hallway laughing and playing. He would say “Hi!” and “Bye!” to invisible persons, and when asked, he would always answer that he was talking to Baby. If we asked where Baby was, he would point to the end of the hallway or toward the front door. My husband and I would look at one another, and then dismiss the thoughts we were sharing. I convinced myself that Baby was Ansel’s shadow, as I’d seen him running down the hallway with his shadow following on the wall. It seemed logical. The shadow looked like a baby. And it was almost always present.

One morning Ansel woke in his bed as usual and started talking. He was babbling, and mixed in the gibberish was a “Baby!” here and there. I went to take him from his bed and get him ready for Grace. When I opened the door, a flash of light darted across the room and toward the open door. I stopped. The hair on my arms raised like I’d touched one of those lightening balls at the Sharper Image.

“Ansel,” I said. “Who are you talking to?”

“Baby!” Ansel answered.

“Where is Baby?” I asked.

And like always, Ansel pointed to his bedroom door. I took a deep breath and rationalized that I’d imagined the flash of light and that Ansel was still referring to his shadow when he said he was talking to Baby.

Not long after the incident, Ansel would wake during the night screaming. His pediatrician advised it was common for toddlers to be prone to night terrors. When he would scream, I would always wait a moment, because sometimes he wasn’t actually awake, and he would stop and continue his sleep. Other times when he screamed for more than a few seconds, I would go into his room.

We kept two small night-lights in Ansel’s room, the kind that plug into the outlet and shed dim blue light. Sometimes when I would open Ansel’s door, it appeared a shadow would recede across the floor and ceiling. My eyes adjusting to the absence of light in the room, I thought.

During one of these nightly screaming fits, as I was listening to Ansel waiting to see if he would stop and go back to sleep, I heard something other than Ansel over the baby monitor. I sat straight up in bed and grabbed my husband, shaking him . He turned over and mumbled. I told him what I’d heard, but by then Ansel’s was the only voice. My husband rolled his eyes at me and told me to go back to sleep. After a few more seconds, Ansel calmed down and I lay back down, but I wasn’t able to sleep. I knew what I’d heard was not my son.

Another night when Ansel did wake from his sleep, I sat with him in the rocking chair in our living room. The room was fairly dark, and I didn’t have the television. It was about two o’clock in the morning, and my husband was asleep. As I rocked Ansel, he sat straight up in my lap and looked to the side lifting his arms as he might to someone he wanted to pick him up. I asked him who was there, and he said, “Man.” I asked him who the man was, and he said, “Papa.” The response concerned me because Ansel didn’t refer to anyone in our family as Papa.

“Whose Papa is it, Ansel?” I asked.

“Baby,” he said.

By then I was becoming genuinely freaked out. I told my husband everything that was going on, but he dismissed it as superstition. I started saying prayers with Ansel as I put him to bed. Over his crib, under the crucifix my grandmother had bought, I put a picture of an angel, a little girl. It was one of those ones that resemble a bookmark with a prayer on the back. It was a prayer for the protection of children.

The night terrors continued, and I started to cross myself when I entered Ansel’s room at night. I would cross him as well. Sometimes I would say a prayer out loud for God to protect my son from all things, living and dead. Natural and supernatural. One night when I said the prayer, a loud bang came from somewhere in the room. I never did find the cause of it.

As more unusual occurrences took place, I started to notice odd things happening even when Ansel wasn’t home. If I brought him to my mother’s for the night, and I was a home alone, doors I’d sworn were left open would be closed. Or lights I’d turned on would be turned off. I would hear strange noises all over the house.

Worse than that, I started to see things. If I were in my computer room with the door open, I would see figures moving down the hallway toward Ansel’s room. If I were in my bathroom, I would see images in the mirror, behind me, moving around in my darkened bedroom.

Hardly anything occurred when my husband was home, but once or twice, a toy moved or turned-on on its own. He always dismissed it and didn’t seem concerned. I couldn’t convince him there were unexplainable things going on. I’m sure he started to think I’d finally lost my mind.

He didn’t think so the day I shot a photo of Ansel playing in the hallway and something – or I should say someone – else appeared in the photo. I used my phone to take the photograph, as I always did, so that pictures of Ansel could be forwarded to my mother and other relatives. My son was sitting on the floor with his plastic toy dinosaurs playing with them just as he would any other time. He was talking and babbling and making dinosaur sounds. I stood at the entrance to the hallway and told him to look at the camera. He turned and smiled, such a ham.

The phone automatically went back to camera mode after the picture was snapped, and I navigated to the photo book to see the photo. I screamed and nearly threw the phone. My husband rushed to my side, and my son looked up at me, frightened by my scream. I couldn’t speak, but I thrust the phone toward my husband. His mouth hung open as he looked at the photo of my son playing with his toys and another unknown boy. The boy was glaring at the camera; his luminescent blue eyes stared at the camera.

I snatched Ansel up off of the floor. I held him close to me with a deluge of tears streaming down my cheeks.

“Get out!” I shouted. “Get out! Leave him alone!”

Ansel squirmed in my arms and whined to get away. I let him down and he went back into the hallway, sitting down by his dinosaurs again. My husband took me in his arms.

“Take another picture,” I urged my husband.

“Daniella, darling, I don’t think we should . . .”

“Do it, Erik!” I shouted.

He held the phone up with reluctance to take another photo. The flash brightened the dim hallway for a second, and Ansel made a noise at the unwanted flare of light. Erik navigated through the phone to the photo book and looked at the second picture. He was tense, holding his breath. When he looked at the picture, he relaxed and smiled an uneasy smile. He handed the phone to me. The boy was gone.

“Ansel, where’s Baby?” I asked.

He pointed to his room. My husband and I looked at each other. I urged Erik to take a photo of Ansel’s room. He did, but nothing abnormal appeared. I felt relief, and I thought our days of Baby were over. I deleted the photo from my phone. Weeks passed without incident. Normality returned, and my husband and I tried to forget about Baby.

Keeping Ansel became too difficult for Grace when her own daughter developed numerous medical problems, so we enrolled him in nursery school. He was anxious in the beginning, but he grew to like it. If I heard him sing a new nursery rhyme or a song I knew he didn’t learn from us, I assumed he learned it in school.

While playing in the yard one Saturday, my son started to sing a nursery rhyme I’d never heard. I was disturbed by it, and I decided to ask the nursery school teacher about it on Monday. It went, “Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire. Your children will burn.”

“Ansel,” I called to him from my seat on the patio.

Ansel came running to me with a smile.

“Where did you learn that song?” I asked.

“Papa,” he said.

“Who is Papa?” I asked.

Ansel pointed toward the empty yard.

“I don’t see anyone,” I said.

Ansel turned back to me, raised his hands and shrugged.

Where is Papa?” I asked.

Ansel turned and pointed to the yard again.

“Honey, whose Papa is it?” I asked with trepidation. I didn’t want the answer.

“Baby,” he said.

“Where is Baby?” I asked.

Ansel pointed toward the yard again.

“Okay, sweetie,” I said. “Go play.”

He ran back into the yard running and playing as if nothing out of the ordinary occured. When my husband came home from work that evening, I told him Baby was back. He shrugged it off as usual and said maybe Ansel was just playing. I explained about Papa and the nursery rhyme.

“Ask the school about it,” my husband said.

That night I had disturbed sleep. I dreamt of Baby. In my dream, the boy from the photograph was standing beside a man in my bedroom. They were both dressed in old-fashioned turn of the century clothing. I woke, tossing and sweating. I looked toward where they stood in my dream. Nothing was there. I lay back down and closed my eyes, but every time I dozed off, I saw Baby and the man.

I woke once to the smell of smoke. I leapt from bed and shouted for my husband to wake up. He opened his eyes and asked why I’d gotten out of bed.

“I smell smoke!” I shouted.

“There is no smoke. If there were smoke, the smoke detectors would be going off,” he said before closing his eyes again.

The next day I sat in my living room looking out of the windows. I saw what looked like steam rolling off the roof. It wafted down and dissipated. Then the thought occurred to me there could be a fire in the attic, and I was seeing smoke. I ran to find my husband  who was working in the yard while Ansel played on his swing set.

“I don’t see anything,” my husband said looking toward the house.

“There’s smoke or something,” I insisted.

“Maybe it was coming from somewhere else. You know people burn a lot out here,” he said.

It was true. We’d moved to the rural area just a year before Ansel was born, and all of our neighbors burned their grass, tree stumps, branches, leaves, or just plain trash. There was no explanation as to why I saw it coming down from the roof and nowhere else.

Ansel got down from his swing and skipped around in a circle singing, “Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire. Your children will burn.”

“Stop singing that!” I shouted frightening him.

“Hey, calm down,” said my husband. “Why don’t you go lie down?”

“Okay,” I said. “I didn’t really sleep well last night. I’m sorry, sweetie. I love you.” I gave my son a big hug and went into the house hoping to rest.

I lay in bed for a while watching television, unable to relax. Finally, my weariness overcame my anxiety, and I started to doze. Just as I was falling into a good sleep, I felt a hand push me on my back. I opened my eyes and turned over, expecting to see my son standing there. No one was there. I thought maybe I’d dreamt it. Again I closed my eyes and started to doze when I heard a voice shout, “Hey!”

I bolted upright in the bed. It sounded like my husband’s voice. I got out of bed and went to the kitchen and looked out into the yard. Erik and Ansel were still outside. I decided I’d dreamt it as well, and I went back to bed. I sat down on the bed and tried to change the channel on the television. The screen went to black. Great, I thought, now the satellite’s out.

With the remote in hand, I walked toward the television stand trying to press buttons to reset the satellite receiver. Nothing seemed to happen, but when I reached the television, the screen made a popping sound as if something were trying to come through. I aimed the remote at the receiver and pressed the reset button. The television screen made another popping sound, and then I heard a voice coming through the speakers.

“Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire. Your children will burn,” sang the child’s voice.

I tossed the remote and ran from the room as if it were burning. I raced down the hallway and nearly ran into my husband. He put his arms out to grab me before we collided. I rambled on about the voice and the television and the song. He looked at me as though I needed psychological help.

“Honey, you need to relax,” he said.

“I’m not crazy,” I said, sounding crazy as ever.

“You’re ranting,” he said. “Why don’t you take something to help you sleep?”

“No. No,” I said. “I don’t need it.”

“Come on,” he said in a soothing voice. “Let’s get you a couple of sleeping pills and you can rest.”

“I’m not crazy,” I repeated.

I took the sleeping pills. Erik brought me into our bedroom and tucked me into bed. He even sat with me until I fell asleep.

My dreams were afflicted by Baby, Papa, and that terrible nursery rhyme. I smelled smoke, in my sleep imagined choking on it, losing oxygen. In my dream, I fled from the burning house. Standing on the front lawn, I looked back. Through the window I saw a child standing there, engulfed in flames.

I woke with a start when my cell phone chimed. Rubbing my eyes, I picked up the phone to see who was texting me. It wasn’t a number I recognized. On the screen were just a series of random numbers. I clicked the text message icon to read the message.

“Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire. Your children will burn.”

“Who is doing this to me!” I screamed and threw the phone.

It landed hard against the wall and hit the floor, screen side up. It chimed again. And again. And again. From where I sat, I could see the text message box on the screen.

Baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby

baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby.”

“Leave me alone!” I screamed.

My husband came rushing into the room. I started to cry, pointing to my cell phone on the floor. My husband picked it up.

“What’s the matter?” he asked. “I don’t see anything.”

I leapt from the bed and snatched the phone from his hand.

“Where is it?” I cried. “Where is it?”

“Where is what?” He asked.

“They were right here,” I said thrusting the phone toward him. “The text messages!”

“He’s angry because you told him to leave me alone,” Ansel said coming into the room.

My phone chimed again, and on the screen was the photo of Ansel with the ghost boy, a photo I’d previously deleted from my phone.

“What does he want?” I wept kneeling before my son. “What does Baby want?”

“To play,” Ansel said with a shrug then he left the room.

I wanted to move away. I wanted to take everything and leave, but my husband refused. He decided it was better to learn the origins of Baby, and of Papa. I agreed because my husband is a levelheaded man. He is a lot more reasonable than I.

I searched the Internet and found a local historian. We called him and made an appointment to meet. He was excited to speak with us as he considered himself somewhat of an amateur paranormal investigator.

The historian came to our residence, and he informed us through his research he’d learned that although our home was newly built, early in the previous century there was another house on the property. It belonged to a young family that had inherited the home from relatives.

The members of this family were a man, Jacob Peterson, his wife, Annette, and their three young sons, Henry, Samuel, and Sebastian. Sebastian was the youngest. He was just three when there was a tragic fire in the home. Annette was sleeping in her bedroom with her two sons Henry and Samuel, and Jacob was sleeping with his son Sebastian because the boy was suffering with scarlet fever.

The fire started in Sebastian’s room when Jacob failed to extinguish an oil lamp that was knocked to the floor by Sebastian when he got up from his bed during the night. According to reports, Sebastian was engulfed in flames when the oil lamp shattered on the floor and the burning oil doused his small body. Jacob died trying to save his son while Annette and her other sons fled from the house. The entire house was razed to the ground.

Annette died in a sanitarium. Her remaining sons, Henry and Samuel, were raised by their grandparents. The historian produced many letters written by Annette and later preserved by her family members. Some of the letters were written to her mother and father, but most of the letters were written to Sebastian. She began each letter, “To my dear baby . . .” And she ended each letter, “May you find a playmate in Heaven, and may God unite us once again.”

The historian showed us an old photograph of the original house; it was faded and worn. He pointed out the room Sebastian’s room. It was in the same place as Ansel’s. I couldn’t contain my tears knowing the poor child, sick with scarlet fever, suffered such a horrific death. I imagined his father, exhausted from caring for his sick child, falling asleep without putting out the lamp. I imagined Sebastian getting out of bed, hoping not to wake his father, and knocking over the lamp by accident. I wept imagining the child’s screams as he burned, his father trying to extinguish the flames in vain.

I went into Ansel’s room and knelt on the floor.

“Sebastian, you and your Papa need to go to your Mama,” I whispered. “She’s waiting for you. She said so in her letters.”

I looked up and Ansel was beside me waving to an invisible person or persons.

“Bye Baby,” he said.