In an old college notebook there is a narrative of that night and day. It tells how far apart the contractions were, what your father ate for dinner and how I felt so sure you were coming soon that I ate nothing. It tells how we went to the hospital because this had been going on for hours, and it was midnight, and it seemed like the thing to do. I thought I must be very good at having a baby, because I was bearing up so well, and it didn’t hurt *that* much.
Then they examined me, and chuckled, and sent us into the night and home to that apartment in the university’s family housing, where on that early March night they were doing maintenance on the furnace, not expecting the chilly night. It’s hard to breathe the way they teach you in Lamaze when your teeth are chattering.
It was 2 or 3 in the morning when I realized that it was going to hurt more, more and differently than I could have imagined. I kept breathing. Your father told me he was going into the other room, but didn’t tell me he was taking a nap. About 4 he got up again and slipped quietly into the kitchen to hard boil some eggs, again hoping I wouldn’t notice.
I remembered the Enchanted Broccoli Forest, the dinner I never ate, and tried to pretend I didn’t hear the water boiling.
Finally, at 6, we went back to the hospital, and the Resident congratulated me on “a good night’s work.”
There were many hours still to go. It was a teaching hospital, and there were many people in and out of the room: the attending physician, residents, interns, medical students, nurses, nursing students, lab technicians. It strips you of false modesty to labor nakedly and strenuously, to be so strong and yet so vulnerable in front of so many people.
Remember that when you are acting.
Finally you left the wings and came onstage, only to be whisked stage right for a long moment. But soon, you were in my arms, wrapped in a little blanket, your long dark hair curled and plastered to your forehead. You looked into my eyes, your big baby eyes so dark and deep they held all time and all places. I have looked into these eyes before, I thought.
You came into the world eager to play your part, much as you leapt up from backstage naps to play Tom of Warwick or Peter Cratchit. You strove to stand, to walk, to speak, to read. You mastered the art of the “set up,” an arrangement of Little People or Playmobils or Ninja Turtles, arrayed to perform the drama of your creating.
People are harder to arrange. We think we know where they should stand, how they should move, how they ought to feel about the world or music or God or ourselves. They tend to have their own opinions, tastes, neuroses and desires. All we can do is try to know ours, to seek to be as much to be really ourselves as we can possibly be, and to be prepared, even eager, for that self to evolve over time, stretching and deepening and becoming, like our old friend The Velveteen Rabbit, real.
I am trying to be a real mother for someone who is twenty years old. I don’t know how to do that any more than I knew how to be a mother to someone who was twenty minutes old. I only know how to love you. I suspect that is enough for now. The rest will come, as it did before, with time.
Happy Birthday, dear #1 Son. Happy Birthday to you.