I had the best of plans.
We’d spent the whole summer preparing for the baby. Watching birth videos, reading books, seeing my belly grow… waiting in expectation for so long just makes the gift so much more special. We’d gone over the changing of diapers, and feeding schedules, and even how to work the baby swing. The plans were made for how the new little guy would work in to our homeschooling life. I’d even prepared the girls for what would happen during the labor and delivery, because, in true homeschooling style, their baby brother was going to be born at home. And they were right there, in the midst of it all, as our long-awaited little man came into the world, in a surprise breech birth, on July 31, 2012. Dominic James Capuano: 7 lbs. 0 oz., with a huge head of dark spiky hair, and the most beautiful, perfect lips and his Daddy’s button nose. The only male in a family full of girls. The one to pass on the family name. It was all crying and smiling and praising and enjoying the miracle of new life.
And then, concern.
“What’s wrong with his legs and arms?” “His breathing doesn’t sound so good”.
“It must just be a result of his fast breech birth”.
A trip to the Emergency Room turned into a stay in the private room in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit, and a retrospective education in the fact that you don’t ever want to be given the private room in the NICU. Not long after came the devastating, fatal diagnosis, the words that changed our lives forever: Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or SMA. Exuberant joy turned to excruciating sorrow with a single declaration. We didn’t know how long we had, but we knew it wouldn’t be long.
This wasn’t in the plan. This wasn’t how our homeschool was supposed to go.
“How long” turned out to be almost 4 days. 4 precious, heart-wrenching, beautiful, all-too-brief days of learning and loving, of saying hello and bidding goodbye. We held him and kissed him and sang to him. We joked about his Daddy’s “superior Italian genes” coming through again because he looked a lot like his sisters, and we marveled at where he got all of that hair. We took tons of photos and comforted him and told him how much we loved him. The girls each got time with him, holding him, talking to him, and just getting to know their little brother. And we wept. It was wonderful and terrible, both, as we welcomed our new baby boy and said goodbye to him all at the same time. As we got to know him and prepared for not ever seeing him again simultaneously. As we both thanked God for him and got ready to send him back to God.
When medicine had done all it could do, we prepared for bringing him home. First home with us, and then, very shortly, home to his Heavenly Father. We enjoyed 5 sweet hours at home with him on August 3, during which time he was never out of someone’s arms. When his last moments came, we surrounded him as a family as his Daddy held him, and we sang to him: the lullaby my husband had made up and sung to all of our children, Jesus Loves Me, He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands, Amazing Grace, and It Is Well With My Soul. We prayed over him and told him that it was ok for him to go home to Jesus. And, in the last moment, it was his sister, the youngest, who gave him his final farewell. She told him goodnight, and kissed him on his head. And he took his last breath. With that last breath he fulfilled the meaning of his name, Dominic: “belonging to God”.
I had the best of plans. Had our homeschool under control. Had life pretty much under control. Or so I thought.
In an instant, I became the student; a student in the course of grief. A pupil in the school of mortality and eternity and heaven. An apprentice in a subject I’d never wanted to delve into deeply or, for sure, personally. Yep, this is one learning experience best enjoyed from the outside of the classroom. Like, via long-distance learning. But now that we’re in it, we’ve begun to see the benefits of this excruciatingly difficult curriculum. What used to be “Mom and Dad the teachers” and “children the students” has become a shared educational experience as we learn day by day how to navigate through the new information, emotions, and realities of living as a family that has lost a baby. It’s not an education that I would have ever chosen for us to obtain. But we are learning together in this new homeschool. And, like most education, we are being changed for the better because of it.
This new enlightenment has helped us to clarify what really matters, and it has re-prioritized things of faith over things of this life. The stress over completing a Math book, or making sure each sentence gets correctly punctuated has been replaced by an emphasis on snuggling together a little longer in bed, and really appreciating the red and orange colors she used in that picture. Hustling back and forth to sports practice and music lessons has taken a backseat to watching the leaves change color as we walk together down the street, and making homemade zucchini bread to take to the neighbors. Admonitions of “Pay attention!” and “Stay on task!” have been nudged to the side by patient answers to questions like “Why did Dominic have to die?” and “Why can’t we fly on a plane to heaven to go see him?” Love has become deeper, sadness more profound, joy more meaningful. It has put into perspective the petty annoyances or frustrations of everyday homeschooling life, and has given us a new depth of appreciation for the time homeschooling affords us with our children. And it has brought us to love each other, and to love our God, more than we ever knew we could before. We didn’t have the time we would have liked with our little man. But the Lord has given us time, right now, with our other children. We want to drink in every moment of that time, and be the best possible stewards of it, because we now truly, fully understand just how precious every moment is.
Ironically, there is a bizarrely wonderful freedom that accompanies the discovery that I am not in control of everything. It’s like a disease – the need to manage and be in charge of “my” homeschool and “my” educational plans and even “my” children – a disease that sucks the marrow out of life and leaves stressed, impatient, overscheduled parents gasping for air in their attempts to just make it to the next step. Suddenly, in this new homeschool, my grasp was released. And when it did, my illusion of control became replaced by the reality that the big picture is much greater than I. When we release our stranglehold on life, and give up the illusion that it is ours to control, we can find freedom and joy that only comes from awareness that we are simply stewards, for a time, of the lives entrusted to us as a gift. In this new homeschool, we’re a lot more focused on enjoying the gift.
I had the best laid plans. But sometimes the best education doesn’t come from our own plans. Sometimes the best homeschooling – the learning from home that really matters – comes from the times that life takes plans out of our hands and into the hands of God, to bring us to a place our own efforts at education could never reach. It is never easy to learn something new. But the reward, when it is mastered, can be beyond anything we could have imagined. Especially in this new homeschool. I really, really look forward to graduation.