Before Gav, there was only Noah. We had two years together before Gavin came along, 15 years with both of them, and with any of God’s grace, I will have the rest of my life with Gavin. But in the beginning, it was just mommy and Noah.
Noah didn’t care that I wasn’t ready to be a mom. He was ready to be my son, on June 4, 1998. We labored for 18 hours together. Those hours in the hospital I was so scared. Was I ready? Would I be a good mom? Would he be safe? Would we be able to provide for him? But at 4:13 p.m., there he was, 7 pounds, 14 ounces and perfectly amazing, whether I was ready or not.
The week we brought him home, I was living with my dad in the mountains–the same house where I said goodbye to him the day of accident and the house I said goodbye to my mother the day she passed away. My new husband was between duty stations and on leave with us. We stayed there for the first month of his life, giving him a bath in the kitchen sink, tucking him in for naps in the nursery we’d made out of my old room, and sitting with him, sipping coffee on the front deck overlooking the mountains. I was definitely a brand new mom. I remember that I was too scared to change his diaper for an entire week because I couldn’t bare to hear him cry. Tears would immediately well in my own eyes and my milk would let down. I wanted to fix or save him somehow and felt so ill equipped to be responsible for someone else’s needs.
It was in those early weeks, when I was too scared to be a parent, that we discovered my husband was actually the baby whisperer. He still is. The sound of his voice and gentle rocking in his giant, badass Marine Corps arms would lull Noah to sleep or calm him almost instantly. From the beginning, I was the worrier and the hubby was the calming influence. For 17 years, he encouraged me–he still does–giving me the confidence I needed to become the mom Noah needed me to be.
It took a while for me to get into the swing of things. When Noah was about a month old, we moved to southern California and the hubby went back to work while I stayed home. It didn’t take long for me to find my own ways to lull Noah to sleep or calm his sadness.
I remember the first time he cooed at me in his little bouncy chair. It was the most amazing sound coming from this little person I was growing to love more every day. In that tiny apartment outside the back gate of Camp Pendleton, he had his first swim in a pool, discovered his hands and feet, spit out his first bite of rice cereal, learned to SQUEAL with delight, and celebrated his first Halloween.
During the day it was just the two of us. We became quite the pair, he and I. We joined a playgroup but I felt like I never really fit in. I was much younger and far less educated than the other moms. But they were kind, none the less. At the time I said I was never going to hang out with military wives or go on the base, so I didn’t. During the day, it truly was just Noah and me. Lots of walks, lots of naps, LOTS of at-home workout videos while he watched me from the bouncy chair.
When we moved onto base later that year. We joined an Armed Forces YMCA “mommy and me” group. I think I learned as much as he did. I went to work part time at night at a kitchen store in the mall and we made friends with our neighbor two doors down. They had a boy the same age as Noah. In those early months in that house, we taught him to share, to give loves, and to eat with utensils, sort of. He got his first goose egg above his eye trying to lean forward for the kitchen table. He missed. He broke his ankle when I was bouncing with him in a bounce house in the neighbor’s back yard. He had his first and WORST bout with the stomach flu and I learned that I was capable of enduring and entirely new level of grossness.
In that house, he met his North Andover “Uncles” for the first time, the hubby’s best friends from high school. It’s funny to think that 17 years later, he schooled Uncle Brian and Uncle Jay on the basketball court during their last visit to California this past year. How time flies but some people remain a most precious constant in our lives.
In that house, we took him trick or treating for the first time. He was a pirate. I remember using my eyeliner to draw him a goatee and an eye patch. We thought it would be easier than trying to get an 18 month old, especially Noah, to wear one. Actually, that Halloween as the first time he ever had more than one piece of candy at a time. The rest is history.
Noah also learned he would be a big brother in that house. He used to lay his head on my big belly and gasp his little fake gasp when Gavin would kick him in the head. As we moved into a bigger house in the same neighborhood, Noah’s personality became more and more apparent. He was so curious as a toddler, such an observer. I would put on my makeup. He would steal the brush from the counter and powder his nose, which really meant his mouth. One night while playing quietly, too quitely, in his room, he discovered that diaper rash ointment made excellent face paint…and carpet paint…and bedding paint…
He helped me clean with his popper machine, (God, how I hated that thing), he would “work out” with me, and he would rarely make it through a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without first falling asleep in it. All the while, he was teaching me what it meant to love with my whole heart. Noah and I grew up together. He was teaching me what it meant to be a mom. He was teaching me what it meant to put someone else’s needs above my own. He was teaching me that I was a role model. But most importantly, he was teaching me that my heart had an overwhelming capacity to love him like only a mother can love a son.
I remember one day, asking my mother-in-law how I could ever possibly love another child as much as I loved him. She told me, “your heart just grows.” At the time, I couldn’t conceptualize what that meant. How could there be more than this? Of course I understood the minute I held Gav in my arms, but what sealed the deal was the day we brought Gavin home from the hospital and introduced him to his big brother. I still remember how Noah studied Gavin in his car seat, barely old enough to form words. Even then, he knew that Gavin was something special and that they were bonded together, forever. It was at that moment, standing in the living room watching the two of them meet for the first time that I knew my time alone with Noah had ended at the exact moment my heart had grown to infinity.
Today has been a tough day. I think about Noah as a small child and me as a new mom and I think of everything I’d do differently if I had only known. I would have been more patient, more kind, move loving, and I’d let him be more of his own person. But as I was talking to Noah today, apologizing to him as I often do, talking through ways I could have been a better mom to him, I reminded him that it is *because* of him that I will be a better mother to Gavin.
I can’t bring Noah back or change anything about the way that I raised him, the fights we had, or the things we never got to do. But I can learn from him and do things differently with Gav. I will be there for him every second of every day. I will support him in every way humanly possible. I will potect him and love him with my whole heart and do everything I can to keep him safe. Please, God, just keep him safe. That is how I can be a good mom to Noah, even in death.
Thank you, Noah, for all that you taught me and continue to teach me. Thank you for spending two, amazing years with me before we welcomed Gav into the fold. Thank you for loving with your whole heart and teaching me that it’s okay to do the same. I will continue to miss you and to learn from you all the days of my life.