People had waited for this one. The baby would be a boy in a family of two adults and one perfect little girl, who was so excited about her brother’s arrival she’d named him “Abby’s Boy”. She also was taking on a new role in the games she played: Big Sister. If you were lucky enough, she’d gift you with this role, and be Mommy herself. “Big Sisser, it time for bed,” the little Mommy would say, and off you’d go, to five seconds of sleep on the carpet.
As for the baby, he was enjoying his time with the real Mommy. My sister had to induce: and here’s an odd thing about life, that someone else can choose your birthday for you. Obviously, someone can also choose your date of departure, but that’s much less legal, not to mention little cause for celebration.
Very early on the morning of the summer solstice, I joined my sister, brother-in-law, and mother-in-law on the trip to the hospital. On the sunlit trip through the sleeping town of Matthews, we passed under a sign strung across the street: the community theater production of “The King And I” was about to open.
It was the best morning of the year. We were all so excited. I remember looking at that sign, thinking: Shall we dance?
Honestly, I could have.
Inside my sister’s delivery room, a nurse wrote “Happy Birthday Abby’s Boy” on the whiteboard. She told us that the baby would be born by noon. The baby had other plans.
Inside my sister (we could now hear him on a monitor), the boy shifted and snoozed. Then he got the hiccups. I hadn’t known this part: we can have hiccups before we are, in medical terms, alive. That blew me away: as did the fact that the boy had a little nightmare on his last day in utero, and we could hear it.
Poor Boo Boo, I remember thinking.
Early in the pregnancy, my sister had taken a business trip to the West Coast, and I spent an evening with her. As I greeted her, I was aware — same as when she was pregnant with Abby — that there was someone else there. A different energy, this time, no less bright but more … active?
“Hi Boo Boo,” I said to him, that night. This one had a Boy vibe going on.
Now it was months later. Inside the delivery room, Boo Boo seemed in no hurry to meet any of the rest of us. He was exactly where he wanted to be.
One of the nurses, in the middle of that long day, paused in my sister’s room and said, “I’m feeling a Jonathan in here right now.” I listened as my sister told the nurse the story of the day Abby said that her brother should be named Jonathan Michael. I’d been lobbying intensely, if quietly, for that name since the year started. But I’d have gotten nowhere if it hadn’t occurred to Abby too.
Settled: Jonathan Michael went up on the whiteboard. “Jack” would really be the boy’s name, though. His parents knew: this kid was too quick a spirit to be anything but a Jack.
For those keeping score, here’s another thing other people get to choose for us in advance: not just our birthdays, our names. Beware: the terms the world will use in dealing with us for all time may be decided by a three-year-old, a hospital employee, a blogger with a thing for Jon Hamm, and two people who think the height of comedy is “That’s what she said.”
As my sister watched (and then tired of) 90210, as my geeky brother-in-law synced the remote to the TV and then waited some more, as Abby’s Grandma and I made a pastry run, the boy’s arrival approached. It was late in the afternoon when the nurses told my sister it was time to push. I would be one of the support people for this activity: the one on the left. (Such a good spot!) As we took our positions, the nurses decided to make Boo Boo’s birth a teaching moment.
A young woman in uniform would walk in. “She’s new,” one of the vets would say. “Can she watch?”
Smiling, my incredibly calm sister would greet the newcomer by name. “First week? That’s great.”
Understand: we are not talking about the drugs here. My sister is just very good at this birth business. Unusual thing to be good at, but there you go.
There ended up being about ten of us there to witness The Birth of Baby Jack. It didn’t take much, maybe three big pushes, and there he was.
I was the first to see the boy’s little face. (He looked surprised, and very interested.) I was also amazed to see, for the first time, the hemispheres of the brain. It hit me that the whole construction of the human body works in a certain way to facilitate our arrival.
My sister and I both cried. I called my parents and told them they had a new grandson. Auntie JuuJuu, at home with the new big sister, got the word and started to get her little best friend ready for the trip to the hospital.
The truth is that I only remember these things because someone else told me they happened. There is a charge in the moment of arrival that just lights up a space, and everyone in it, for hours. (No wonder the room filled with trainees.) You’re just having the best day. That kind of radiation is more contagious than the worst airborne virus.
I do remember Abby’s face when she walked in and saw her brother for the first time. This was her Big Present, probably the biggest ever. She knew this in the moment she saw him, but she’d had no idea before. How big this gift would be, how cool. And the person she’d been before she got her present, well — that was nice, but this was AWESOME.
My sister and her husband had brought a gift to the hospital for Abby. (We can get to thinking the older child will feel “left out”. What adults we don’t know of The World Of Kid is vast.) Abby liked her gift, but after the appropriate few minutes of enjoying the new doll, she was right back to needing to touch her baby brother.
The boy didn’t mind the attention. (He still doesn’t.)
Late that day — very late — I joined The Away Team (my brother-in-law, JuuJuu) on the walk back out of the hospital. We passed by Emergency this time: trailing balloons, flowers, other things. I remember the giant orb of our joy touching the subdued space of the ER waiting room; being aware of that, and sorry.
We were lucky. It was stark, almost brutal, how lucky we were. I knew as we moved through the automatic doors to the wall of summer night outside, that this was a singular feeling. Remember this, I thought.
A year later, I would.