The baby aisles in the stores are changing. New products drift onto the market, old ones are phased out. It’s only been a year since we stocked the nursery, and it’s already going stale. Items have been placed on clearance, discounted and disposed of for newer models. The flavors of pedialyte are even changing, or at least the ones they stock are. The world moves on imperceptibly, and James remains precisely the same, unchanged in a plot I pick the rocks off when it rains. It is to be expected of course, if James were alive, he’d age and acquire new toys. The changing seasons would translate naturally into changing outfits and accessories. Football season is around the corner, if he were here I’d buy him a ball, a new Baylor bears outfit that fit to replace his old one, now much too small. In a few years, he’d have probably realized, wisely, that the Bears were awful. I wonder what team he would have chosen to replace them.
He’d have started talking soon, building the syllables of “ah” “ma” “ba” and “da” into something approximating language. The closest he ever came to forming words came shortly before his big surgery. It was 5:30 in the morning and we’d been up all night with him. He cried and cried because he couldn’t eat and we wouldn’t feed him. Along with a chaplain, we sang to him, and the tunes (all poorly rendered) distracted him enough to stop him from crying. A few minutes before we finally left for the OR, he started talking to us. Bahs and ahs, mahs and dahs. He strung together “ma-ma” and “da-da” though that very well may have been my wishful thinking. After the long night the grim morning awaiting us, I felt relieved, grateful. Even if it was only in my head, I’m glad we got to hear it. I wonder about what else he had to say.
He was always ahead on his developmental “milestones.” Before he got sick, I just assumed he inherited my impatience. It was also the source of an odd, unearned pride, something along the lines of “He’s so quick! And he rolled over a month early! Clearly he will both win the Heiseman and become a Rhodes Scholar.” Now I often think James just knew he didn’t have the time to wait long enough to hit everything on schedule. I wonder what boxes we’d be checking now, what dates we’d mark to belatedly record in his baby book a month or two later. There are no new dates however, only old ones that we’re becoming farther and farther removed from.
Many changes should be occurring, but it is not so. He remains where he is, frozen in time. No new pictures, no new words, no new anything. Just memories that I play over and over again in my mind, afraid they’ll fall into some crack and never return.
There’s a lot of things I miss, but in an odd way change is one of them. I miss knowing that things were going to change, that James would change. It seems odd for him to have become a memorial, fixed and unchanging. He was always more dynamic than that. Perhaps that’s why, as the absence of seeing him change so quickly simply brings home the fact that he never will change again, because he is not here to change.
It’s not that his life isn’t being celebrated, that we’re not joyful for the time we had with him. I think everyone who knew him feels that way. There is much to be thankful for, and in the balance, James’ life contained more joy than anything else. He certainly left us with more. All of that is true. It’s just that James is a joyful angel, but he’ll never be a toddler.
On the other hand, James never needed to change. In my completely unbiased, objective opinion, James was the most perfect little boy who ever was. You cannot improve upon perfection. Now he’ll simply be perfect for eternity.