We were all sitting around in my brother's house in Dallas. His oldest daughter's birthday party had brought both sets of grandparents together. I hadn't seen my sister in laws parents in years. All my kids were playing with their Dallas cousins. My father and I sat with my sister in law's father, Bob, at the table. Harrison was on my lap.
Bob looked around the room and began to count, "One, two, three, four, five. So you have five children?"
Just after Camille died the matter of how to answer this everyday question weighed heavily on my heart. It tore me up inside thinking about it. Initially I determined that I would ALWAYS include Camille. She counts. I bore her, nursed her, changed all those diapers. She is my child. She counts.
I reasoned, "My grandmother had two daughters pass away before she did. My two aunts were both grandmothers before they died. I would never think to say my grandmother only had 4 children. She had 6 and 2 had since passed away. My child shouldn't count any less just because her life was shorter. I would count her."
And that is what I did. Occasionally, however people would see me with my kids and assume how many children I had, like Bob was now. Sometimes I corrected them. Sometimes not. I found it is not fun to deliver the heart wrenching news of your child's death to a stranger in passing conversation.
So as time passed I stopped correcting every person. Still every time the subject arrises about how many kids I have, there is a pause in which all of this goes through my mind and I decide how to answer.
And so in my brother's kitchen I begin to nod my head in a sort of affirmation and resignation. Then, in the spilt second pause it takes me to process this all and decide how to answer, my dad interrupts. "No. She has 6 children. She had a little girl who passed away."
Even now ... writing this ... a lump forms in my throat. She counts. He counts her. My dad is not letting her be forgotten. He counts her ... even when he has to correct someone.
That night in my bed, tears rolled down my cheeks. They were tears of love and gratitude to my dad. I don't know if he can ever fully know how much it meant and means to me that he doesn't let her go uncounted. It is one thing for me to remember her and count her. But to have others, outside our little family, continue to count her mean so very much to me.
On our plane ride home our steward took an interest in our family all lined up in our row of the airplane. He looked across the row and said, "So you have five kids huh?" With confidence I said, "No, actually. I have six."