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What a difference a birthday makes.

I went back to work two weeks ago on the same day that Bug started Kindergarten, and here's a little glimpse into how we have been since then:

Pumpkin will not take a bottle while I am at work.  All day long, she gets no nourishment.

We tell jokes about how our big baby girl has so much in reserve that she can afford to be choosy about how and when she eats.   And we marvel at how she stays relatively calm while she waits for me to come home and nurse her. 

But I hate it.  Even when I join in the joking and the marveling, I hate it.  It is hard enough to walk away from my three-month-old for the day without adding the insult of her inability to eat to the injury of our separation.  I just effing hate it.

* * *

Then there's my Bug, our first-born, our authority-pleaser, our rule-follower, who has been struggling to like Kindergarten. 

A few days ago, he launched a familiar anti-Kindergarten campaign just about the time we needed to leave.  He refused to put on his sneakers.

"If you don't put on your shoes, I will just put them in your backpack and carry you and the backpack down to the car," I warned.

"You can't carry me.  I'm too big!" he shouted.

"I can carry you.  And I will.  I need the exercise anyway," I explained.

"No!" he shouted.

He ran and hid under a bed.  I threatened to take away movie night (a weekly tradition and respite that makes all of our lives worth living some weeks - a terrible thing to threaten to take away, and we both knew it).

He came out from under the bed but refused to stand up.

So I carried him in a cross-arm carry and explained, "I used to be a lifeguard.  That's why I can carry you like this!"  Because the whole thing needed more explanation, obviously.

We eventually made it to his school. 

But when his teacher called out, "Alright, Kindergartners, time to go inside!" Bug refused.

I kissed him on the head and said, "Go on now.  I love you, and you are going to have a great day."

"No I won't," he muttered.

"I know it doesn't feel like it right now, but I promise you are going to have a great day," I tried.

He went into the line of Kindergartners heading into the building but turned back one last time.  I saw his little worried face trying to find me as he scanned the crowd of parents, and I waved and smiled.

I caught what looked like a hint of relief in his eyes, and then he scrunched up his face and stuck his tongue out at me.

* * *

Meanwhile, after months of answering Bug's and Squish's somewhat straightforward and simple questions about death, my husband and I were there to witness the moment it all coalesced for Squish.  And it was awful.  Gut-wrenching awful.

During bedtime, while I was lying between Bug and Squish, Squish said, "When everybody dies, who will drive the cars?"

"Everyone doesn't die at once, [Squish]," I replied and thought to myself what a silly question from my Squish.

Alarmed, Squish asked, "So I am going to die alone?!?"

I rolled over to snuggle Squish and said, "Oh, no, love.  No, you are not going to die alone.  Don't worry like that!  Everything is okay."

But a wave of fear had already washed over him.  I hadn't seen it coming, and it was far too late to stop it.

"I won't be able to see you when I die," he said and started to cry.  Not a quiet crying but a loud, sad, devastated crying.  He just kept repeating, "I won't be able to see you."

I started to cry, too.  And I whispered in his ear that he would still see me.  I whispered it over and over again until he started to calm down.  But he continued to explain that he would not be able to move his arms or talk when he died.

"I'm going to die soon," he said and cried some more.

"No.  No you are not," I told him.  Over and over again in a hundred different ways.

* * *

That has been our brutal reality for the past two weeks.  My baby, Pumpkin, won't eat; my big kid, Bug, frequently  hates school; and my three-year-old, Squish, is afraid of dying alone.

Nevertheless, today is Bug's birthday, and we have all grabbed onto the joy of this special occasion with some fervor.

Today, Bug ran from the car toward Kindergarten.  Squish seems more interested in Legos than his mortality.  And, God willing, Pumpkin will take more than half an ounce from a bottle.

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