Since I've started blogging at least semi-regularly, I've begun to get requests. I'm one of only a few bloggers among my offline acquaintances, and so it was kind of slow going at first. Blogging. Um, sure. But in the months I've been active, blogging's picked up in popularity among even the uninitiated, and I like to think I've also hit a stride of sorts. So it's my thing now, and I get requests. They take three forms, with some overlap -- the topical ("You have to write on such-and-such issue!"); the experiential ("Come on! When are you gonna write about when you: forgot your pants/hiked the Grand Canyon/got mugged for your trash?"); or the writerly ("I loved reading your essay. You should so post it!").
I find the last one particularly flattering, being a writer and all. But I always feel kind of like it's, I don't know, cheating. I'm supposed to write new stuff, right?
I'm cheating today anyway. But this one's different.
David's seventh birthday is tomorrow. I can't freaking believe it. Seven. And between the preparations for his birthday and assorted drama in my own life, I haven't written much about it yet. I will. But I'm feeling too darn nostalgic right now. So here, a repeat for some of you and with less polish than I'd like but pretty much the way I wrote it years ago, is his birth.
It didn’t occur to me until I saw the blood.
This is not how motherhood is supposed to begin.
Blood soaked the sheets, forming a pool, the slick surface undulating. Mine. It never happened like this in the movies. It happened in those “emergency childbirth” shows - blurry, strobe flashes and a melodramatic drumbeat, the narrator grave.
My most coherent thought was that the shows underplayed the drama.
It had begun routinely. The doctors asked the requisite questions and calculated the number of humiliating positions I could assume. After posing me on hands and folded legs, like a terrified jackrabbit, the anesthesiologist prepared the epidural and reassured me. I produced a crackly squeak, which I hoped he would interpret as a polite laugh.
As I steeled myself for the jab, the electronic beeps monitoring my son’s - David’s - heart rate slowed conspicuously, like a neglected wind-up toy. The doctors’ eyes narrowed.
I was flipped on my right side. “…definitely a placenta abruptia.”
On my back. “…gonna need a C-section.”
On my left side. “… don’t want her to bleed out.”
As I wondered if they would employ a mother-to-be rotisserie, the bone-white sheet turned reddish-black.
“Whoa, that’s too much blood. We gotta deliver now.”
I signed to have the operation. I would have signed for a C-section, lobotomy or castration. My hands shook. My arms, legs, torso followed, as if a maniacal puppeteer were throwing a tantrum with my limbs. And why was it so cold?
My sister stood aside as my mom frantically tugged on one-size-sort-of-fits-all sky-blue scrubs.
“She’s in shock, isn’t she?” she hissed to my mom in a stage whisper. She fingered circlets of hair, pulled the sleeves of her sweatshirt up and down - she would not be in the operating room. And there was no father. Only my mom came with me.
Fluorescent lights raced overhead as I sped feet-first down the hall. I gazed at the floor. The beige and taupe tiles became tracer bullets in my path. My limbs crashed against the cot, with a thump-clang-rattle-thump as they hit sheets, frame, sheets again.
It’s all wrong. I’m not ready. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.
A Caesarean section, I’m told, takes about forty-five minutes. Mine took nine. I managed to turn my head and watch David’s birth. He was blue. Not bluish. Blueberry Popsicle blue. Ice blue. I held my breath with him. The doctors - there were a dozen now - rubbed him, rolled him, and fed him air. Finally: a small, uncertain, “Wah.” His cyanotic tint faded into a coralline red-pink.
Six years later, I’m still not ready. But you’ll know who I am.
A plastic tarantula, empty juice pouches and the books Slinky, Scaly Snakes and Bugs, Bugs, Bugs! litter my car. A Vivaldi CD I played impulsively on the way to the lake one evening has remained in the player for three months, by decree of my son. The only acceptable replacement, I’ve been told, might be the Shrek soundtrack.
My philosophy discussions, once rooted in Kierkegaard and Hume, now begin with “If it’s time to make baby birds, why do the girl birds run away from the boy ones?”
My bedroom-playroom-home office is a hodgepodge of academia and an advertisement for Toys “R” Us. A plastic Superman bust looks over cosmology texts. A scientific paper titled “Candidates of red shift 5.5-7 galaxies” bookmarks Diego Saves the Whale.
I spend days playing, reading, running, teaching, kissing and making it better. I spend nights, and a few afternoons, working. I seldom sleep. I smell like chicken sticks, bubble mix and Play-Doh.
My prayers have turned from generic petitions to the weirdly specific: “God, please let my son pee in the toilet this time. I’m out of dry underwear and paper towels.” Or, “God, please let me say the right thing when the dog dies. I can’t stand to break his heart.”
Every issue is weighty - eating (you can’t have Pop Tarts nine times a day), religion (sure, God might sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus on Christmas), animal care (cats and dogs cannot “play robots”). He wants to be an animal rescuer, and volunteer at the zoo. It’s an hour’s drive. I can’t wait to take him.
Asked to name my favorite actor, I couldn’t decide between Squidward Tentacles and Scooby-Doo. My physics and calculus are rusty, but I can recite every Dr. Seuss book and know how many times SpongeBob has taken his driving test (thirty-nine).
David’s wide, tooth-packed smile is an explosion that takes over his face. His laugh trickles like the lyrical, playful flow of a mountain stream. To feel his rose-petal lips on my cheek, or his silky, gold-brown hair in my fingers, is to experience love.
It came to me, at the arboretum, as it often does: just watching him. He danced and swirled near a bush, disturbing a flurry of black and iridescent-blue butterflies, which spun briefly about him before alighting elsewhere. This is exactly how motherhood is supposed to be.
For many a young to middle-aged woman, a pivotal moment of anxious resignation is when she finds herself filing coupons alphabetically, scolding drink-from-the-carton culprits or uttering the phrase “You’ll poke your eye out,” and realizes she has become her mother.
Not me. I have become my son.
I giggled the other day when the cashier farted while ringing up our purchase. I have developed an unusually high affinity for Pop Tarts and string cheese. I was always horrible at delivering punch lines, but I don’t even know the jokes anymore. My son’s favorite joke goes:
“Me! Ah ha ha! Knock knock.”
(Repeat for ten minutes.)
Other than that, I don’t really know any jokes. But my days are still filled with humor. I do know, for example, that the nature-show narrative “The boobies come in great numbers, as far as the eye can see,” is good for an afternoon of laughter. I know the simple joy that comes from pulling up to the stop sign beside the neighborhood horse stables at the exact moment two mares engage in synchronized defecation, or the snickers borne from lifting one snail from the dirt only to discover a second one attached to it, the hermaphroditic parts “lined up.” I’ve relearned the joke that “your epidermis is showing.” I know that spelling out the word “up” on the talking computer at the science center makes it say “You pee.” I know that I don’t get invited to any parties. I choose to believe everyone in attendance wishes to avoid being overshadowed by my newly acquired comedic repertoire.
I was warned motherhood would mow me down like a trimmer over wild, unruly grass. Make me into a tame, monotonous turf. Get ready for boredom, I was warned. Be prepared for repetition.
Instead, we have tended the wild weeds in each other. There is repetition, sure, and I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand how the same cartoon episode remains enthralling upon viewing forty five times. But rarely is there monotony. We seem to have an unspoken pact, a refusal to abandon wonder. If this is an anomaly of nature, either his as a child or mine in my simple-minded refusal to be bored, I welcome it.
And lastly, if you're wondering where he got the baby-jowls, I give you me, circa 1980: