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September 24, 2009

As predicted, we’ve had 3 nights of frosts here at 6512 feet. At first light—the hour of pitter-pattering children seeking warm bodies and dinosaur vitamins—the red arrow of our outdoor thermometer points to 24 degrees. Of course we’ve covered the garden, with tarps and sheets and even sleeping bags and wool blankets, but the cold air sneaks under and through the swaddling clothes, blackening squash leaves and making paste of the cucumbers.

thrice bitten

thrice bitten

When the temperature warms to forty degrees, the kids and I slip outside to peel sheets off the garden, which feels a bit like stripping bandages off injured patients. After that first frost, the jalapenos and green beans didn’t even know what hit them, knocked down under cover of night they hung like limp, shriveled caricatures of themselves. The tomatoes and squash looked like they had survived a night in the wilderness with only a power bar and a cheap Dora the Explorer sleeping bag. Alive yes, but haggard, shivery and frightened.

after a night in the wilderness

As soon as the first fingers of light nudges the carrots, chard, kale, lettuce, cabbage and broccoli awake, these hardy warriors stand up, brush themselves off and say what frost? I am in love with chard, that stalwart soldier who specializes in power-packed nutrition and a no frills lifestyle, that plant that quietly unfurls a new leaf each night and doesn’t seem to notice whether it’s chokingly hot July or freezy September.

my hero from April through October

my hero from April through October

As I was resuscitating tomatoes, plunking reddish romas into a bucket and clipping the frostbitten leaves, I kept thinking if we could just stabilize the garden through this cold snap, the tomatoes and squash could make it through mid-October. I would be their nurse, bandaging and suturing and removing all the dead, blackened skin, so we could return to frolicking in the hale garden, popping cherry tomatoes like that frost was all a bad dream.

romas in a bucket

romas in a bucket

Then, two stories began to swirl together like a twist cone; there were the tomatoes battling frost and suddenly there was my son fighting for his life in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), where he spent his first one hundred and one days after being born at 25 weeks. Much of his stay was frightening but textbook preemie life: IV’s in his fishing line sized-veins, his mouth and nose stuffed with tubes. But when the weather suddenly changed, blowing infection into his incubator, all we could do—like the past three nights of killing frosts—was enlist the appropriate tools and apply hope and love like a salve.

Not that I’m comparing my first born to a tomato plant, but if I were, those first heavy clouds scuttled in when he was just two weeks old. Col hadn’t quite regained his birth weight of 1 pound, 12 ounces, when he developed an infection of unknown origin. He required a ventilator, a device that breathes for you when you are physically unable to perform this most basic function yourself, breathing.

For eight days this tiny person—our baby—lay in his incubator, ventilator inflating his papery lungs, which were no bigger than a wild strawberry and just as fragile. Everything that had become normal in our first two weeks in preemieland changed in an instant. We weren’t allowed to hold Col anymore, he was taken off my breastmilk, (which he received through a tube: 1 teaspoon every 2 hours), and the ventilator created a sad, mucusy rattle in his lungs. We sat by Col’s bedside everyday, our giant fingers stroking his softball-sized head, our voices drifting into his knowing ears. And one day the storm blew out and we exhaled.

Col at 2 months

Col at 2 months, almost double his birth weight

The truth of the twist cone is that when the cold winds blow in–pummeling tender life–nothing is ever the same again. The tomatoes are hobbled like an old man, and Col? He has dodged a trillion bullets but his lungs are scarred and weakened. So we continue to do exactly what any parent would, enlist the appropriate tools and apply hope and love like a salve.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Tiffany permalink
    September 25, 2009 12:36 am

    Wonderful post Rachel. I love the analogy of the wind blowing in

    – Tiffany

  2. September 25, 2009 11:35 am

    Oh those sad little tomatoes with their Dora sleeping bag bracing against the cold – awesome visual. And as always, stories of Col’s dramatic birth move me to tears. I can almost feel those cold early fall Colorado nights. Great post Rach!

  3. Chris permalink
    September 25, 2009 5:00 pm

    There is nothing that brings tears to my eyes or that lump to my throat like stories of our babes born way too soon. Seeing that pic of Col brings me back to 2005–and then it reminds me of how far he (and my own Carolyn!) has come. Great post Rachel! If only I had your green thumb……

  4. September 25, 2009 11:52 pm

    Hi Rachel,
    Great post!….everything so well said! And I’m so glad that your sweet strong Col is doing well!
    Take care,

  5. Johnette permalink
    September 27, 2009 4:54 pm

    Great Blog! Col has come so far and I can’t wait to see how much further our little ones come!

  6. Ryan permalink
    September 28, 2009 1:42 pm

    Our poor garden. >sniff sniff< It's too early to be so cold, and what's this; a chance of snow on Friday? Not ready.

    What I do love to see is Col running around at top speed with the confidence of someone quite sure he'll never run out of energy. Those little wild strawberries may be scared, but they are making their way.

  7. Kara permalink
    October 1, 2009 6:49 am

    Lovely, Rachel. All hail the chard in us all! And let us not lose sight of the tender tomatoes we carry, too. Children, of course, are so wonderfully both. I love these little glimpses into 6512 living.

  8. Baba permalink
    October 3, 2009 10:38 pm

    Naturally, reading your wonderfully evocative story about Col’s birth and early weeks brought tears to my eyes. It brought back powerful memories of his miraculous birth. We witnessed the actions of angels on earth, manifesting as doctors and nurses in green, hovering over the newborn Col, giving him a start to this joyously normal life he is now living.

  9. Melissa Neta permalink
    September 16, 2010 1:23 pm

    I just linked to this post from the current one and read it while eating lunch at my desk . . .which happens to be across the street from the hospital and yes, I got teary and hope I can handle working in the NICU (I am going to start 2 saturdays a month soon) . . .Col’s story is miraculous. I love your dad’s comment. Big love.

  10. October 2, 2010 1:00 pm

    I’m reading through your gorgeous blog, starting at the beginning and I gotta say–this made me choke up. You are such a great writer. Oy! To wrap something so terrifying in such beautiful language. Big. fat. sigh.

    I sure am glad to see that Col is climbing slides and such these days. :)


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