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Five times around the sun

January 9, 2010
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Dear Col. You are FIVE today. Before you even had a name, when all my achingly empty motherly arms could do was insert a hand through the portholes in your incubator and place it on your handful of a head, I loved you. I will love you until I take my last breath on this earth.


You are born at 25 weeks gestation. 1 pound 12 ounces. A crumb of a human; “feisty and curious,” the nurses report. We scrap our rag-tag list of names and give you the name “Col” (rhymes with soul); it means mountain pass, you will need this unshakable name. The hospital days are whole weather systems of hope and fear, your doll-sized body a tangle of tubes and wires. Your blue eyes search for us; we are permitted to hold you only twice a day, an hour each time. After 101 days, we drive you home to Durango, hooked to oxygen, over Kenosha Pass, past the Collegiate Mountains, across the San Juan River. It is spring, the run-off rushes our valley. We take you everywhere: to shovel goat manure for the garden, to Sheephead Basin to hear elk calves mew, to Mitchell Lakes to smell the corn tortilla-scent of lupine. Emergency room visit: you are suddenly wheezing, struggling to breathe. The doctor—looking at your lung x-ray—says: this baby isn’t getting off oxygen anytime soon. You wheeze daily; you wheeze inside, outside, after meals and before. You wheeze when I give up wheat, dairy, coffee, chocolate, corn, mustard, sugar and rhubarb as recommended by the doctor Dan thinks is a quack. You crawl, fast, everywhere; you wear holes in the knees of your pants. You are feisty and curious. We give you nebulizer treatments 2x/day; you wear oxygen continually, a pulse-oximeter at night; you are compliant. You don’t care much for food. Your growth slows. We offer you bananas with flax seed oil, sweet potatoes with ghee, pureed elk with coconut milk, you’re too busy for food. At eleven months we take you to New Jersey and you eat like you’ve been starved for a decade; you gain one pound in one week. You do not need oxygen at sea level. Sea level is magic.


You turn one; we fill the solarium with friends, elk stew and local beer. You cough every night for three months. I startle awake to your dry hacking – my jaw seized, shoulders clenched to my ears. You are only twelve pounds; this cough ransacks your body. You wake up forgiving, cheerful, eager. We see the naturopath, osteopath, pediatricians, we write checks, ply you with supplements. The respiratory specialist in Grand Junction prescribes antibiotics and oral steroids; the cough stops. You are so small; I worry. In California, visiting, you again are ravenous, gaining a pound in a week; we peel the sticky tabs—that hold the cannula in your nose—off your skin and admire your beautiful, naked, sea level face. Back at 6512 feet you walk, run, slide, the oxygen cord follows you; it is getting complicated. You are bright, coordinated, engaged; you defy the nightmare statistics, brain bleeds, feeding tubes, blindness. You are resilience. We move to sea level, driving out of Colorado as our valley is a mural of autumn color, fruit trees stacked with fruit, our garden loaded. We find Blue Lake, Humboldt County, California (pop. 800, altitude 82 feet), rumored to have a fabulous toddler community.


You turn two; we are lonely, displaced, drenched in fog. We make friends, gaze at the ocean, build sandcastles, gawk at redwoods, study shorebirds. You thrive. You gain one pound and ½ inch each month, like clockwork. I am ecstatic. You are known and loved in our tiny town. “The mayor of Blue Lake” we call you, as we make our rounds: library, post office, the town’s one restaurant, at which you devour an entire bagel; watching this is a religious experience. I acclimate to the rain, backyard frogs, flowering trees in January. Dan gathers Yew wood for bow making, sets up an archery target in the yard, does his best to brush the Colorado San Juan Mountains from his eyes. You love trucks, muddy puddles, following the garbage truck. You make toddler friends; you forget Colorado. Dan makes you a bow; we set arrows on the string, you pull, insisting, always, on aiming into the blackberry thickets in our yard. My belly swells with a baby; I experience a third trimester for the first time. I give birth to a baby girl on her due date; I have won the lottery of parenthood. We return to Colorado when you can breathe at 6512 feet without oxygen, we’ve been gone ten months; it is a bittersweet homecoming.


You turn three, surrounded by friends. You are still small; eating is as boring as sitting still. We offer you nutella swirled in peanut butter, sips of cream, greek yogurt. We weigh you every month, disappointed. You spot deer from our windows, rarely stop moving, your questions trip on the heels of each other. You wheeze occasionally, and frequently require antibiotics to kick illnesses. You charm strangers, take nothing personally, are scared of little. In the summer we go to the mountains, you exhibit symptoms of altitude sickness: irritability, lethargy, nausea. We keep you below 8000 feet, foregoing the fireworks of mid-summer wildflowers, the white-crowned sparrow flitting through the alpine willows. You help butcher an elk, and then a deer. You zip arrows smack into the target’s center with your Yew bow. You fall hard for steam trains. We go to sea level again. This time Ashland, Oregon, where Dan has work; four winter months, no big deal. “Just for a boost,” we tell our friends, “because we can.”


Ashland is locavores paradise, liberal and snow-free, but the sea level magic doesn’t work this time. We drive home into Southwestern spring. You get pneumonia twice; your chest sinks with each rapid breath. “Tugging,” it’s called, a marker of respiratory distress. ER visits; we wheel oxygen tanks around our house for the first time in 3 years. We are relaxed, you heal. You learn to ride a bike, work 60-piece puzzles by yourself. We stop weighing you. We offer nutritious foods, rather than fattening foods. Your best friends are almost two heads taller than you; I barely see it anymore; you keep up. Summertime, we camp at 9000 feet; you run with your bow, shooting stumps and searching for mushrooms. You identify flickers, king fishers, robins, sometimes accurately. You tell me “Mama, I love you soooo much, I want to kiss you forever.” I feel the same way. You teach me to let go, to embrace living, to be thankful. You are a miracle. You are a miracle. You are a miracle.

Happy Birthday Beautiful Boy.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2010 8:16 am

    Look how many stories you have already, Col. And so many more to come. Happy Birthday!

  2. Johnette permalink
    January 9, 2010 8:49 am

    Happy Birthday to you sweet boy!!!

  3. Chris permalink
    January 9, 2010 9:01 am

    Happy, happy birthday Col. You are a miracle and a precious gift to your Mom and Dad. Congrats Rachel and Dan.
    With love,
    Chris & fellow former preemie and recently turned 5, Carolyn

  4. abozza permalink
    January 9, 2010 9:05 am

    Precious memories! Happy birthday, sweet boy!

  5. January 9, 2010 10:04 am

    Very happy birthday wishes!

  6. Steph permalink
    January 9, 2010 12:20 pm

    I never tire of reading about Col’s precious story. I love the photos, esp the first one, of Dan carrying him in the bjorn. In the 2nd photo, he looks downright plump! So excited to celebrate with you guys today! xoxo

  7. janie permalink
    January 9, 2010 2:12 pm

    Happy Birthday sweet Col! I’m crying still, tears of joy, what a miracle you are!
    We love you! J6

  8. Judy Hinds permalink
    January 9, 2010 4:15 pm

    love pouring out of every word, Rachel! Yes, Col is a miracle, and so are you!

    New Jersey love to Col,
    Nana Judy & G’pa Starks

  9. January 9, 2010 6:27 pm

    beautiful beautiful beautiful

  10. January 9, 2010 10:10 pm

    Happy Birthday beautiful strong soul, Col! You are such an inspiration.


  11. Claire Yurdin permalink
    January 10, 2010 2:13 am

    Happy Birthday, Col! You are a miracle child. Beautiful writing, Rachel.

  12. Ike permalink
    January 10, 2010 1:42 pm

    Ellen warned me that it would make me cry reading about Col’s early days. She was right. Beautiful writing Rachel. Whenever I spend time with Col I am so grateful for his presence and when he says” please chase me Baba” and starts gliding across the grass or wherever what else can I do but follow.

  13. January 10, 2010 4:37 pm

    what a beautiful tribute to your son!

  14. Ellen permalink
    January 10, 2010 7:50 pm

    What a wonderful bio! And how fitting that this boy who was born as his great-grandfather turned 90 is now a healthy bright 5 year old as his 95-year old great-grandfather is dying. Joy and sorrow mixed together…that’s life .

  15. babywrangler permalink
    January 11, 2010 11:12 am

    Gorgeous post. I love it. What an epic journey!

  16. Marianne & Jim Lewis permalink
    January 11, 2010 11:24 pm

    Happy Birthday Col! What a beautiful way to bring the celebrations up to #5! Marianne & Jim

  17. January 12, 2010 8:58 am

    What a gorgeous birthday post! Happy Birthday!

  18. January 12, 2010 11:03 am

    How sweet! Happy Birthday!

  19. January 12, 2010 6:51 pm

    Now that is a well-loved life. Happy Birthday, sweet boy.

  20. Molly Wieser permalink
    January 15, 2010 1:05 pm

    My girl shares your boy’s birthday, and a town (Durango). She was two, this year. Happy late birthday, Col!


  21. January 18, 2010 12:37 am

    well. I really need to be sleeping. But then I landed here and read this and it is just so beautiful. All of it. Life is really something.

    “Mama, I love you soooo much, I want to kiss you forever.”

    The important stuff get crystal clear with that sentence right there.

    Thanks for sharing this inspiring story. Happy birthday, Col and Happy Birth Day, mama.

  22. January 18, 2010 2:04 am

    Happy birthday Col, and Happy birthing day Rachel!

  23. January 10, 2011 3:15 pm

    Happy Birthday Col, you are indeed proof of God’s mercy and miracles.. Soon you will be older and stronger because of all the love you are being fed…Happy Birthday again! Ginny


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