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Birthdays: sweet cake and salty tears

January 3, 2010

If my life were a movie, I’d be standing in a field of snow, late afternoon sun slanting daggers of light across the crisp, glittery surface. I hold a stack of calendars to my perky chest. A wind rips through, blowing calendar pages into the ponderosa pines, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009… I reach for a drifting page, catch a rumpled sheet and clutch it in my slippery, numbed hands. What’s this? January 2005? I reread the tiny scrawl in the grid of squares and recognize it as my own. January 9th: our baby is born. January 10th: ventilator out. January 15th: we hold Col for 1st time. January 21st: infection, antibiotics, steroids, blood transfusion.

Cut to real life: Col, age 4, has received 6 rubbery lizards from “Aunt” Maggie for Christmas. He lines them up and ceremoniously names them with a tap on their squishy heads (“iguana-don,” “lizardly lizard,” “geckofriend,” “stripey guy.”) Next, they get tossed into the doll stroller, wriggling in a reptilian orgy, while Col zooms them through our house. Enter 2 ½ year old sister who promptly crashes into the stroller like a sparkling comet (Rose received from Maggie a whole Walmart shelf-full of beaded, lacey, satiny hair accessories and they swing from her ears, arms, neck and uncombed hair). Rose strikes like lightning; the yellow speckled lizard is snatched. Clothes-tugging and screeching follows.

Eventually the kids are coaxed to use their words and share. Like a peacekeeping translator for two tussling nations, I sit with them as Rose asks to “please hold a lizard (pronounced “liz-ud”) for two minutes Coley.” “Set the timer Mama,” she instructs me. And Col reluctantly releases one—not yellow speckled, but green with brown streaks (stripey guy?)—to his sister’s hands. Col hawk-eyes her, bristling when she pulls its stretchy tail, the way my friends with newborns do when Col comes at their swaddled bundles with a hundred eager, dirt-dipped fingers.

And this is my everyday: peacekeeping translator, carseat buckler, crumb sweeper, lullaby crooner, toilet scrubber, pen cap finder, explainer of things.

But once a year I am that Mama in a field, anticipating a birthday – the completion of a year and start of a new one, wondering how 365 days have blown into the wind since I last stood here. And the taste of each birthday, swirled with the flavor of where we’ve been and where we are now, has been sweet cake and salty tears.

When Col was a newborn, born 3 ½ months premature at 1 pound, 12 ounces, our every movement urged “grow baby, grow.” Holding him skin to skin was shown to promote growth and while he snoozed, his floppy body splayed on our chests, we told him stories of Durango, because preemies who hear their parents’ voices grew quicker. I pumped breast milk—special preemie milk, higher in protein, minerals, and containing more antibodies and fat than full term milk—8-10 times a day, stacking gallons of milk in the NICU freezer, while Col received just a dribble each day. Col was weighed every night and each gram packed onto his foot-long frame was a small victory.

One night I sorted baby clothes (sent mostly by my generous, fashionista Uncle Sol) on the carpeted floor of our room in the Denver Ronald McDonald House. I had just washed and dried them in the 3rd floor laundry room as if I had a baby to snap into the ridiculously cute, blue onesies. While we wiped our hospital baby’s bottom with a cotton ball, wondering what his face might look like without the tubes that trailed him like a stalker, someone believed that this boy would someday fill the seams of a 0-3 month romper.

On his due date—still in the hospital and tethered to an oxygen tank—Col reached 6 ½ pounds. I remember the oddity of crooking him in one arm while the other was free to position my nursing pillow. It no longer took two people to get him safely nestled on my chest. I no longer had paralyzing nighttime anxieties that his fragile body would slip from a nurses hands and shatter on the hospital floor. He suddenly wore real clothes (instead of the tiny open-down-the-front shirts sewn by volunteers) and his cheeks pillowed with baby pudge. A strange thought flittered in my brain for an instant: “this is going too fast.”

Then, home for a half year, Col still a moon-faced, sling-riding baby, I ran into a friend and her ten-year old son. Her sky-scraping son moped and skulked, asking for a ride to his buddy’s house, for some money for a soda; my friend was visibly annoyed. At that moment I couldn’t imagine ever feeling anything but an almost choking love for my son.

And now Col is on the cusp of five. (And I’ve since been annoyed with him and also seething with fury; and yet when he’s not with me, his shadow rattles around my heart and mind).


And there’s something about five that looms like a distant peak, more there than here.

Perhaps it’s that five marks the entrance into school and maybe it’s selfish to say, but I can’t imagine being away from my son for the whole length of the day’s light. I also can’t imagine home schooling, entire days unfurling while the two of regard each other again, again and again. And so, there is a decision to be made, and as of yet, no answer.

Perhaps it’s the calendar pages lodged in the trees; if a child’s first five years can go this quickly, surely the next will unravel like a sweater in the beaks of crows.

Today Col and Rose were discussing whether it was “really snowy” outside or just “a little bit snowy.” I told them that the year Col was born was one of the snowiest winters here at 6512 feet. “But we were in Denver that whole winter, because Col was in the hospital there.”

Rose: “Was Col sick?”

Me: “Sort of. He was born early and needed help. Most babies stay in their Mama’s bellies for nine months, but Col came out after 5 ½ months.”

Rose: “Dat’s not a good idea Coley.”

Col: (to me) “Did you forget?”

Me: “Forget what?”

Col: “That I was supposed to stay in your belly for nine months.”

Me: “No honey, you just came.”

Rose: “Did the doctors fix him?”

Me: “They did. And Col fixed himself; he was very strong.”

Col: “Did I pee on the nurse?”

Me: “You did.”

Rose: “Some bugs are alive, and some are not alive.”

And for now, I’m back to my everyday: peacekeeping translator, carseat buckler, crumb sweeper, lullaby crooner, toilet scrubber, pen cap finder, explainer of things.

(But check in January 9th, I may be standing in a field of snow, late afternoon sun slanting daggers of light across the crisp, glittery surface, calendars pressed to my un-perky chest).

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. babywrangler permalink
    January 3, 2010 9:29 am

    Hola from neighboring New Mexico! I love your blog! I especially enjoyed this post and your post about hunting then and now–I am preparing to head out for a winter bow hunt with my husband and our baby girl. I just started a blog too, called Baby Wranglin’: You may enjoy it–seems we have some common interests. Take care! ~Mattie Allen

  2. January 3, 2010 3:27 pm

    Beautiful…. and that beautiful picture of the two of you melts my heart.

    Happy soon to be birthday to your strong boy and happy soon to be birthing day to you.

  3. January 3, 2010 8:26 pm

    It’s beautiful and sad and true.

  4. January 3, 2010 8:52 pm

    What a beautiful story. What a strong mama you are..and what a strong strong little man you have there! Here’s to many many more “peacekeeping translator, carseat buckler, crumb sweeper, lullaby crooner, toilet scrubber, pen cap finder, explainer of things” kind of days. Because that conversation at the end is SO worth it all!


  5. January 4, 2010 12:31 am

    You write so beautifully. I was just talking about this with my mom today. We were talking about how quickly the kids would graduate and go to college. Why does it go so fast? The picture of the two of you together, makes me miss the newborn days.

  6. January 4, 2010 7:03 pm

    You are such a talented writer friend. This made me cry. I took a look through your archives quite a while back and read the story of his birth, the week I read it I was 51/2 months along. I put my hand on my belly and thought of you. I can’t imagine how this shaped your heart as a mother. We have our own story with Mae and the hospital when she was just 2 months old a surgery on her skull. You never know what is coming.
    Bless your family and Col.. amazing!

    P.S I finally figured out how to subscribe to your feed so I won’t miss a post! Yay!

  7. January 5, 2010 1:20 am

    This was a very teary read. Thank you so much for sharing. I have no idea what your experience must have felt like and can’t imagine how much hope and faith you might have had to summon every moment. So glad Col is thriving and made it through his unexpected entry!
    Hugs, pixie

  8. January 5, 2010 6:49 pm

    i went from nearly bawling my eyes out at the beginning to splitting my sides at the end. thank you for sharing your powerful story and reminding me how each day with my children is a gift, even when they are annoying the heck out of me!

  9. January 5, 2010 9:41 pm

    Beautiful post! My youngest just hit the four month mark, and I am already feeling far away from those tiny newborn days…can’t imagine going through all that hospital time with a child- strong mama, strong baby! I donated all my maternity clothes today, so I’m dealing with the reality of my decision to be officially done with that part of motherhood…bittersweet, as it all seems to be!


  10. January 6, 2010 3:30 pm

    I have been really enjoying reading your blog. You capture the simplest things in life and write about them with beauty and grace. It’s always a sweet little gift to come across another Mama that inspires me so.

  11. January 7, 2010 2:53 pm

    I loved reading your blog about Col. It brought tears to my eyes and the photo of the two of you when he was first born and he was laying on your chest is priceless.
    I just happened upon your blog and this medical situation you went through made me think of my own situation 4+years ago when my oldest son was in utero and my appendix ruptured while I was 7 mo pregnant. It was a nightmare trauma that took months and months to recover from.
    You made me think of the strength us mothers need to have not knowing what each day will bring us and to be thankful for each and every healthy day.
    Happy Birthday to you both-

  12. January 9, 2010 12:23 pm

    He is beautiful! I just had a baby almost 6 mths ago that was born at just 26 weeks. I love seeing pictures of children who defied the odds!!! Thank you for sharing!

  13. Nemo permalink
    January 14, 2010 9:11 am

    I really liked the little dialogue :)

  14. June 18, 2010 1:17 am

    This was really touching. I can very much relate. My daughter is five and is scheduled to begin kindergarten in August. I can hardly imagine this separation.

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