After a typical morning of saying goodbye to Daddy, breakfasting on Cheerios and apple juice, feeding the goldfish and starting laundry, six-year old Joseph and I had finally made it to the park. Holding his chubby hand tightly, I relished the warmth of the sun on my back and the familiar sounds of birds chirping, swing sets squawking, children laughing as we made our way towards the play area.
"Tell me about the day I was born, Mommy."
Not today! My heart pounding, I stopped in front of the pink rosebush next to the path, cupped a blossom in my hand and inhaled deeply before offering it to Joseph.
"Mm!" he declared with a gap-toothed grin.
"Pink roses are my favorite. Especially when they smell as good as this one."
"I know. Daddy always brings you pink roses. He gave you some at the hospital when you had me. I saw 'em in the picture."
So much for trying to change the subject. It wasn't like I hadn't told Joseph his birth story a thousand times - how much he was wanted, how happy I was when I discovered I was pregnant, how I sang to him and told him stories even before he was born. How afraid his dad and I had been when we thought we might lose him due to complications and how ecstatic we were when he was born three weeks premature but healthy and sound.
It was a story we both knew well, but I wasn't up for telling it again just then. Because Emlin had been born four years ago that very day. And her birth story had been very different.
"Why are you crying, Mommy?" Joseph asked, his black eyes clouded with worry.
"I'm sorry, Joseph; it's just a hard day for me."
"Why, Mommy? I thought you liked coming to the park."
I wrapped him in a hug. "I am so happy to be here at the park with you. But I'm sad because today would have been your sister's fourth birthday. I miss her."
"I don't remember her," he said, his face screwed with concern.
"Of course you don't. You were only two when she was born. And she wasn't with us very long. But I have a picture of you sitting next to her. She was wearing a Mickey Mouse sleeper that you picked out for her. You were grinning like a monkey. You were so proud of her."
"Will you show me that picture when we get home?"
"I'm not sure where it is," I lied.
Of course, I knew exactly where it was. But I wasn't ready for Joseph to see the picture of his gaunt, misshapen sister. I was certain that, in his mind's eye, Emlin was pink and plump like all the other beautiful babies he had seen. I wanted to keep it that way until I was sure he would be able to understand.
"I will help you look for it. Please don't be sad," he pleaded.
I took a deep breath and forced myself to smile. "Okay, sweetheart, I'll stop crying." I kissed the top of his head and tousled his curly hair. "How about a big push on the swings?"
He took off running.