There You Are!
Barbara Hampton

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I sat quietly. The afghan had been draped over my head and hung around my shoulders. My year-old granddaughter, Kaylin, grabbed the fringe and pulled until I was uncovered. "There you are!" I shouted. She squealed with delight and, when she had stopped laughing, began to cover her head so she could hide.

We have been playing this game forever. In the beginning, Kaylinís role was just squealing and laughing. As she grew, she began to include my hiding with her hiding. Now that she is two years old, the game has expanded to include hiding in boxes or behind doors or pretending to be asleep. As often as we play, Iím always tickled when she pulls the cover aside and we laugh together.

My times with Kaylin have created a myriad of experiences. We share baby dolls and books. We watch videos as long as they are about Pooh. We draw. We sing. There have been moments of laughter, moments of tears and moments that have demanded no less than the movement of my pen across the page. I realized only recently that of all the games we play "There You Are!" tells the most about what happens when we are together because while Kaylin has done many things in my life, what she has done best of all is uncover me.

I was fifteen when I married. My daughter, Kathryn Michele, died at birth. It happened so quickly. One moment I was asleep, the next moment I was hemorrhaging and then it was over. The silence that followed fell across the shadow of her death and created a smothering wool blanket over my grief, guilt, and pain.

My son, Shawn, arrived the next year. I stayed wrapped inside the Blanket as I raised him. Too young, I say now, to know any different; too young to understand. My world was not structured for allowing me to process Kathrynís loss. Over the years I did gain the skills, but by then it had been so long it felt odd, unnecessary. Thatís what I told myself every year when I stood over her grave. In time I was no longer even aware of the Blanket around me. I didnít even sense there was a layer between me and the rest of the world.

When I found out Kaylin was on the way, there was a stirring inside me. Old memories, old feelings, waves of confusion. In my heart, I knew the time had come to look into the empty space inside me. As I sat alone the night I found out I was going to be a grandmother, I recognized the Blanket I had put on when Kathryn died. The same layer that had protected me from ever feeling the pain had also been covering my joy.

That realization began to push against the Blanket. There began in that moment the simmering that comes with transformation. I could feel it inside me. I was afraid. What would the pain be like after so long? Where would it fit into my world today?

I had walked in recovery paths before. For me they go one direction. Once I am aware, I choose to go forward. I choose to experience. As I looked back and saw all I had missed, I knew this would be a rough road, so I reached out for the trusted hand of the therapist who had walked with me many times. "Itís time," I told her on the phone. "I know youíve asked me to deal with this in the past and I know I have refused, but now it is time." I could almost hear her smile. She simply said, "Thursday at six as usual."

Together we began to take off the Blanket I had worn for so long. I told the story. She explained the parts I had not understood the first time. As we turned the pages I discovered the truth. The simmering boiled and when it stopped, twenty-six years after Kathrynís death, I finally began to heal.

Kaylin Renee Hampton arrived on July 20, 1996. I held her for the first time in Champaign, Illinois at 12:30 a.m. I trembled inside when I picked her up. I was afraid of what I would feel, of how it would be, of what would happen. I wanted so much to have the courage to be here for her, with her. I wanted a relationship with this grandchild that belonged to she and I now. I did not want to use her to reach for the past.

In the way that has become truly Kaylinís, without opening her eyes, without moving her hands, her essence reached into my heart. She pulled the Blanket from my soul. "There you are," she whispered inside me. "Yes," said my heart. "I am here with you."

I wish I could tell you life without the protective blanket is easy, but this not a fairy tale and there is no "and she lived happily ever after." I have to consciously choose to be present. I am often nearly overwhelmed with how much I love this child. When that happens, there is a part of me that withdraws from Kaylin. Maybe thatís the same part of me that gladly joins her when we crawl into the cardboard boxes and closets. Yet time and again, Kaylin pulls open the door, pushes the cardboard box until she can see me and shouts "There You Are." Time with her is a celebration of discovery. I continually find I accept the challenges of confronting my regrets of the past because it means no matter how bad it feels, I will be freed to be here with her now.

That is what I am thinking about today. It is a wonderful sunny summer afternoon. Kaylin has turned two. She sits in the middle of the living room wearing a new pair of fluorescent green, horn-rimmed sunglasses. I have put on the designated hat, which only a few moments before was merely a bucket full of tiny cars. With great ceremony, we gather the toy friends around the tiny table. She hands me a tiny tray of plastic birthday cake. "You sing it, Grandma," she says, and I dutifully sing one more round of Happy Birthday to Tigger and Pooh and Piglet.

In her playful presence, and the presence of the never-ending cycle of life, I send up grateful prayers for the healing laughter we share.

Barb Hampton is a lady who wears many hats. In fact, she has so many hats that she carries a hat rack with her at all times. She describes herself as: Wife and Companion, Assistant Trust Officer, Empress, Grandmother, Mother, Friend, Minister, and Writer, although not necessarily in that order. "My goal is to be more than a figment of my imagination."

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