Today is my boy’s birthday. He is 13, an age I remember both fondly and with humility. Am I having trouble with the idea of being a mother to a teenager? Yes, but not for the reasons you might think. Sure, it ages me a little but, more importantly, it ages him. And I’m not a fan of that. At all. If I may quote every single mother/human before me … WHERE DID THE TIME GO?
It seems like only yesterday that Dave and I, after a lengthy battle with infertility, found ourselves expecting a baby. Then, there was the bed rest, ten weeks of it to be exact, until the doctors were sure I was ready to get back on my feet for my second and third trimesters. And I’ll never forget spending a quiet evening at home on Friday, October 15. We knew the baby was coming soon but I figured we had at least another week. So, I whipped up two of the worst grilled cheese sandwiches ever made and we settled in to eat them over an episode of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. (Well, I promised always to tell the truth around here, didn’t I?)
That’s when it happened. Somewhere between the charred cheese and the talking black cat puppet, I felt my first contraction. But I decided it wasn’t the real thing, and that I wanted a shower. Dave wasn’t so sure so he called the doctor. I heard him ask a lot of questions and then walk over to the other side of the shower curtain with a stopwatch to determine how much time was passing between each of my sudden yelps of pain. I held fast to my belief that it was nothing until he opened the curtain and said it was time to go to the hospital. “Fine,” I remember saying. “But I need to dry my hair first.” Which I did. Stopping often to grab my stomach in blinding pain at increasingly closer intervals during the inexplicably important hair drying process.
We jumped into the car with my already-packed suitcase and started off for the hospital. Every bump we hit (and there were plenty thanks to my home city of New Orleans) felt like someone had pegged me with a bowling ball. My pain was significantly intensified by the time we arrived. But Dave and I were very prepared. We had taken the Lamaze classes we’ve all seen portrayed on TV sitcoms since the 70s. I tried, I really did, but the pain was coming faster and more fiercely by the minute. So, when they asked me whether I wanted the epidural and started in with all the standardized questions, I spat out something to the nurse that Dave still quotes to this day.
“I don’t care if you have to give it to me IN MY EYE! Just give me the epidural! NOW!”
I like to think every woman is as feisty before her medication. And I was a total lamb afterwards. Aside from my needing an oxygen mask and something to help with the shakes I was experiencing, I was a model patient. A patient, unfortunately, whose wonderful female doctor was out of town at a medical conference. So, it was with my feet in the stirrups that I met my handsome, young, male stand-in doctor. I literally shook his hand between my knees. I think whole chapters of “That Awkward Moment When” books could be written about that moment in my life.
But stand-in doctor did great. With the assistance of a surgical tool or two, my baby was out in no time. “It’s a boy!” I heard someone say. I have no idea who. There were so many people in the room, including Dave and my mom, and I was a mess. I remember someone bringing him and placing him on my chest almost immediately. I’ve never cried so instantly in my life. And the moment I saw his tiny face I knew that I was looking at “Dean” … not any of the other choices we’d considered like Duncan or Abraham, two names that now seem as weird to me as naming him Blanket or Pilot Inspektor.
This whole experience of becoming a mom has been more powerful than I could ever have imagined. There is not a day that my boy doesn’t make me smile, make me proud and make me realize how lucky I am and have been for thirteen years. It’s impossible to try to sum up a baker’s dozen of Dean years so I decided to share an old poem I wrote as a new mom when he was one week away from celebrating his first birthday. Up ’til now, only about five people have ever read it. I still remember that day. I was putting him down for a nap and the world stopped spinning for a few minutes while I totally lost myself in my boy. And I felt compelled to write about it as soon as I left the room. Today, I’m giving you that twelve-year-old poem (uncut … ugh) in all of its weepy, sleep-deprived, dripping-with-sentiment glory.
(written October 9, 2000)
The steady sound of the rocker
Back and forth
Is enough to lull me into the deepest of sleeps
But I look at my small son and he is awake
He clutches his gums and coming teeth
And cries in pain, looking to me for comfort
And I realize we’re not going to sleep
We find the medicine to soothe his sore mouth
And he excitedly sucks it down, as he is learning its meaning
We again turn out the light and on the soft music
And begin to rock
But he continues to cry and squirm
And I realize we’re not going to sleep
Still wriggling and grasping his gums
My son is now grunting and holding his breath
I know what’s happening, but I must find out for sure
The hard way, of course
And as I remove my finger from the quick inspection
I know, oh yes, he’s been very busy
And on again go the lights for a quick change before naptime
The lights go out and the music resumes
We return to the rocker for the third time
The pain is still present but sleep is overtaking him
I sit in the dark watching his eyes
Close and open, close and open
Almost crossing in his complete exhaustion
The final close comes suddenly
And I realize we are finally going to sleep
But the arm and the tightly clenched fist are still high in the air
Fighting the inevitable sleep, even in his subconscious
Then, all his muscles begin to relax and the arm comes down
A soft, small noise of defeat comes from his mouth, now agape in his deepening sleep
The right arm flails one more time, in a last act of resistance
But it is too late, his baby dreams are coming
And as I stare at his tiny sleeping face in the dark
I wonder … How can I ever be so frustrated or angry
At one so innocent and small?
I stand to carry him to his bed and he does not wake
So much has happened in this first year
He has made me a mother
And I feel my eyes glistening as I look up and thank God
For the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen
– Happy Birthday, Dean –
I love you more than I could have ever thought possible.