Sweet Baby James

Solot summer 2014-9927

You are only one, but there is so much to say about you.

We contemplated whether or not to have a third baby. Did we have room for one more? Did we have the patience, the stamina, and the mental reserve to have three kids under five-years-old? We didn’t know if we did, but when I looked at family photographs, a part of me knew that someone was missing.

You were missing.

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In April 2013, my dad died and one month later I discovered I was pregnant with you. It was a hard pregnancy. There was my grief. Then your dad tore his achilles tendon and could not drive or walk for two months. That fall, your dad lost his cousin and a childhood friend.  The doctor told me that each subsequent pregnancy feels harder on a woman’s body. My body hurt. Pregnant with two preschoolers and an injured husband, I was exhausted.

People often said, “Don’t worry third babies just go with the flow.” Pregnant with my third, I clung to this adage wholeheartedly.

In my head, I thought you would just roll with the punches. Your dad hoped you would be a garden gnome baby who would sit and sleep in your baby carrier and be toted to all of your sisters’ activities. We did not think to contemplate the alternative, which was the ultimate jinx.

Colic.

You screamed. You cried like a screeching car alarm, hardly breathing. You turned purple screaming. The color vanished from your lips.

The definition of colic is constant and inconsolable crying for at least three hours a day, for at least three days a week, for at least three months. The definition sounds nice compared to your screaming. You screamed all day every day for months. I dreamed of only three hours of crying.

You screamed at home. You screamed in the car. You screamed in the stroller when I walked your sisters into preschool. You screamed at the supermarket.

“Is he tired?”

”Is he hungry?”

“Does he need to be changed?”

“Is he cold?”

A chorus of suggestions from well meaning strangers followed me wherever I went.

When my four-year-old daughter’s teachers asked about her baby brother, she responded, “He cries a lot,” which may have been the understatement of the year.

Initially, I marveled at the patience of your two big sisters since your scream became the soundtrack of our lives.  We couldn’t hear ourselves think. I marveled at my husband’s patience. He would never have maintained his cool so well with our first baby.

We were all so patient, but then …

Your two-year-old sister lost her cool. As you screamed in your car seat, she put her hands over her ears and started crying and yelling at the top of her lungs, “BABY, STOP SCREAMING,” repeatedly on every drive.

The sheer noise level of our drives was mind altering.  This may have been the point where the rest of us lost our minds.  My hearing permanently diminished.

Was it reflux? We tried gripe water, Zantac, Prevacid, and Chamomile tea. I eliminated everything from my diet.

You cried. You screamed. You didn’t sleep. You were up every hour for months on end.

I worried that you would never smile. I prayed there was nothing wrong with you. Were you in physical pain? Was there something wrong with your brain or your nervous system?  Your screams pierced our psyches.

My spirit wilted. Were we going to be okay? Denial, I kept smiling.

At this point, there were a handful of people that were my saviors, your grandmothers, who were the only people I trusted to watch you as you screamed inconsolably, a couple of friends who listened empathetically, but most of all there was my twin sister.  She maintained my sanity.  I have never been so grateful for our relationship. She had a newborn as well, a daughter two months older than you. Every day I dropped my big girl at preschool and endured the stares as you shrieked in the stroller. I drove around in my minivan, talking to my sister on Bluetooth, as you endlessly shrieked in the back seat. She spent countless morning hours on the phone with me as I drove my screaming baby. She never told me she couldn’t hear me. She never complained. She never told me to call her back. She talked to me about life as you screeched inconsolably in our ears. This is love.

One conversation stands out.

“Having a third baby is not so bad.” I commented as I pulled out of my alley. “You should definitely have a third baby.”

“Justine, are you crazy?” she said. “I talk to you every day.  You may be the reason I never have a third child.  You can’t tell me what your doing is easy. I can’t stand it when my baby screams like that for five minutes. What you’re experiencing is so hard!” She acknowledged what I couldn’t say out loud.  Silly, but her words meant everything.

At two months, you smiled and the family breathed a collective sigh of relief. You laughed. Milestones came and time passed. The colic vanished with the size 2 baby diapers.  Colic became a distant memory.

****

Your beginning makes me think of an Edward Abbey quotation, “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”

You are the most amazing view.

You are joy, love, and enthusiasm. You stretch your arms and reach for everyone in the family – an equal opportunity spreader of love.

When I cradle you, you wrap your arms around my neck, pulling my face close to your soft cheek.

You give giant open mouth kisses to everyone in the family, sucking on our noses, cheeks, and mouths.

“This is hilarious,” your big sister giggles as you dive mouth first for her nose. (These kisses may have something to do with this being the worst cold season we have ever experienced).

Adored. We swoon in your presence.

You love your big sisters, but they may love you more. This Thanksgiving, the curmudgeony three-year-old proudly told her teachers that she was thankful for her baby brother.

We are all thankful for you.

You have zero personal space. Your two big sisters smother you with hugs whether you want them or not. They grab you, and you either laugh or you scream.

You don’t talk yet, but your desires are known. You watch me fix a snack for your sisters and you shriek loudly until the same snack is placed on your tray. I fill a glass of water and you scream because you are thirsty too.

You scream until your needs are met.

Meals are loud.

Life is loud.

You already know you must fight for what you want. Your three-year-old sister steals your toy and a guttural howl escapes your mouth. Your arm stretches to grab it back. This may be her favorite game, anything you like she takes instantly.

At six-months-old, you saw soccer balls in the grass and kicked your feet wildly with excitement. You chase balls around the house, pushing and throwing them and then crawling after them at rocket speed.

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Much to your dad’s joy, you sit in front of the basketball hoop outside and reach up with your arms to try to place the ball in the hoop.

You and Deets (our dog) are equally obsessed with tennis balls.

You started crawling at 7.5 months.

You are a lover of all things dangerous – stairs, toilets, sockets, and electrical chords.

You don’t know how to walk but you climb step stools and stand on your tippy toes to grab anything elicit from the counter.

You stand on your tiptoes and pull colored pencils off the girls’ art table.

You bump your head on the coffee table at least a thousand times a day. You don’t go around tables or chairs instead you go through them and are constantly stuck in chair legs, rungs, and sandwiched in between end tables and couches.

You see an open baby gate and throw your crawl into high gear in hopes that you make it to the stairs before me. We have started constructing giant barriers of beanbag chairs and toy baskets to block you off from dangerous areas of the house. You summit our manmade obstacles and we make them higher. Cru, our old Basset Hound, barks constantly at the barricades . Again, we are so loud.

The girls screamed angrily in their highchairs when the dogs ate crumbs from their laps. You giggle with delight when the dogs lick your feet.

“Hi,” you wave, so pleased with your ability to communicate. Your wave is an exaggerated opening and closing of the fingers. I say hi, and your fingers immediately respond. I tell you to say goodnight to your dad and sisters, and your fingers open and close dramatically.

You laugh hysterically at my jokes and funny sounds.

You have the hazel eyes of your namesake.

You have a one-year-old mullet of thin old man hair that makes us smile.

You are beautiful.

We survived your first year.  My last baby, every moment is nostalgic. Every milestone is as wonderful as those accomplished by your two big sisters. As I felt with them, you truly are the smartest, most coordinated, most loving, and most beautiful baby in the world.

How did we get so lucky three times?

You put giant smiles on all of our faces. Our hearts soar for you.

“My love for you has no strings attached. I love you for free.” (Tom Robbins)

Now She’s Four … What a Ride It’s Been

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Four years ago my entire existence transformed, four years ago my former self became a mother.  You are not supposed to say that, or at the very least not supposed to admit it out loud. But parenthood was a game changer, a life changer, an electric shock to my perspective.  Four years ago, I watched in fear as my heart leapt from my chest and became entwined with an infant child.  Four years ago, you became my primal concern, my heart, my breath, my anxiety, my fears, my hopes, my dreams … my infant girl.

You were an infant that had to be held constantly.  You were fussy.  You didn’t nap anywhere, but in my arms.  As a first time mom, I was told that I must breastfeed fifteen minutes from each breast at each feeding.  As I studiously approach life, I diligently approached nursing, I had a pen at each feeding and I documented each feeding, minutes, time, etc.  I cried when you only ate for six minutes on my left breast and then fell fast asleep.  I worried whether you would be okay when you only ate for two minutes on my right.  I did everything that I was told, I undressed you, I tickled your feet, I squeezed your palms, and I brushed a cool washcloth on your forehead.  I worried why breastfeeding, parenting, work, life was not occurring exactly as it was described in the books.

You would not sleep in a crib, a swing, or a bassinet.  You chose only to sleep in my arms. Night after night months on end, I held you resting on the boppy as your dad brought me my dinner, crumbs falling on your bald head.  You were the definition of a baby that needed to be held, so I held you.  You didn’t just fall asleep in my arms.  Dad and I took turns spending endless hours on the large inflated bouncy ball with you swaddled in our arms.  We bounced and bounced.  We bounced until our backs hurt.  We bounced until our arms were numb.  We bounced and we tried to put you in your crib.  We would lie you down and creep away.  The moment we’d get to the couch your scream jolted us up.  So we held you.

No one tells you how hard it is to add an infant to a marriage, but it’s hard.  We learned patience in the midst of exhaustion.  We learned to divide our attention.  We tried to put a little focus on our marriage.  We struggled, we reminisced, and we accepted our new reality.  We grew with you.  Your dad laughed at ever giving parenting advice to his patients pre-children, he became a better doctor.

When you were almost five months old you took your first trip to Mexico.  You spent most of your time in a baby bjorn, where you would sleep on and off throughout the day.  You still had not learned to fall asleep on your own.  You dozed off for 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there, but never enough to allow you to feel rested.  We have an amazing photo of you falling asleep for 5 minutes sitting up on your Dad’s lap.  He was so proud.  Pre-kids he had dreamed about napping with his baby drifting off on his chest and for five minutes in Mexico that was his reality.

Before you were two-years-old you became a big sister.  It broke my heart to think you would have to share your attention with another little person.  It broke my heart to think that I would not be available to give you 100% all of the time.  I worried whether adding a child so soon was the right thing to do.  I worried how you would feel.  I worried about  how I’d manage two babies alone all day.  I still remember the first day I was alone with my two babies, pure panic, but I made it through, we all made it through, and expanding the love in our family was the greatest gift.

You are my hyena girl.  At two, you loved Lion King.  You had a strange obsession with the darker characters of Lion King, especially the hyenas.  I was a little worried.  You carried plastic hyena figures with you everywhere.  You took them to your two-hour preschool class, and by the end of the year, the other children were searching for Simba and the hyenas in the schoolyard.

When you were two and a half your vocabulary was huge.  I remember people teasing you that you sounded like a little English professor.  You inserted exclamations such as “clearly” and “of course” throughout your speech.  It almost sounded as if you had a British accent. My sister would imitate you to no end.  Your attention span is and was tremendous.  You sat for hours and listened to books, combing through the pictures, and asking numerous questions.    You never really played on your own. You needed to be entertained.  You jumped from playing with your parents to playing with your sister.

You loved to sing, you still love to sing. You awoke from every nap singing at the top of your lungs in your bed, “I Just Can’t Wait to be King”, “Hakuna Matata”, and any number of childhood songs.  You have a great singing voice and I love hearing the unabashed melodies echoing from behind your closed door.

At three, we started reading chapter books with you and again your amazing attention span continues to surprise me.  We’ve read Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at least five times each.  Sometimes I wonder what you absorb in the books we read aloud, and then weeks later you will say something to me that will sound so familiar.  Suddenly, I realize that you directly quoted a line from a book that I read several weeks before.  It doesn’t even have to be a book that we have read thousands of times. Your memory is a sponge. I read to you and you often correct me.  It is not words that are glaringly obvious that you catch, such as wrong names, but sometimes you correct me when I insert the wrong preposition into a story.

You are an observer.  You love to play with friends and be part of the action, but you often sit back and take it all in.  You are cautious, but as you approached your fourth birthday you have become much more physical with your behavior and are less afraid to fall down and pull yourself back up.

At times you are heartbreakingly quiet.  If you are not comfortable in a situation, your voice is not heard. I struggle with respecting your quietness and trying to pull you from your shell.  YOU have so much to share with the world.  People have asked, “Does she speak? … Has she been in school? … Why is she so shy?”   I am a Mama Bear, I want to protect you from the world’s judgment and criticism.  All I want is for others to see your wit, creativity, sensitivity, and strength.  I never want you to be overlooked or lost in the crowd.

At four you are a little girl.  You are engaging, dramatic, bright, and fun.  You love playing with your close friends and cousins.  You are painfully aware of all the preschool social dynamics. You are learning to make new friends.

Your sister is your best friend.  You orchestrate long play sessions with her and your animals, stories with dramatic plot twists.  I see the two of you together and I am so grateful to have two girls so close in age with such a magical friendship.  Your interactions shine a light on the magical gift I had growing up with a twin.  No words or need for explanations are needed between you and your sister.  You truly are each other’s yin and yang, peanut butter and jelly, and everything else that is different but just supposed to be together.  This last couple of weeks you’ve started sharing a room.  A couple of nights ago, I found your little sister had crawled out of her bed and fell asleep snuggled next to you in your twin bed.  You are each other’s warmth and security.

This summer turning four has come with big changes.  Fear of the dark has wreaked havoc on our nights.  Every night you drag your animals down the hall and fall asleep on the floor by my bed.  As a baby you were not a good sleeper, and you continue to be my problem sleeper.  You shower me and your dad with love, “You are the best mom in the whole world,” as you wrap your arms around my waist.  This is often followed by, “You’re the meanest mom ever.”  Your emotions run hot and cold, arms crossed, eye rolls, and stomping of feet have scarily become common gestures. A few nights ago you moaned, “my mom is sooooo irritating,” when I insisted that you stay in your room at bedtime.

The dogs have transformed from objects that you torture to furry friends that you love and help me care for.  You help feed them, walk them, and will curl up on the dog bed to snuggle Cru every morning (currently around 5am) when you wake up.

You hate to disappoint people.  The moment you are unable to complete a task, reprimanded for hurting your sister, or you spill something, crocodile tears appear in your eyes.  You have an uncanny ability to trigger tears on command, and I swear they are the biggest tears I’ve ever seen.  In fact, most babies don’t cry real tears for the first few months of their lives, but you have shed real tears from day one.

You took ballet over the summer.  You twirl and spin, jolted movements that  at times appear far from graceful, but I am so proud of you, bravely dancing with the other girls.  You make me laugh.  You have your Dad’s flexibility (an inability to touch your toes), gymnastics and ballet may not be your strong suits, but you love it all the same.

You have no fear of animals, reptiles, or bugs.  You love searching for bugs, especially rolly pollies, digging through the dirt.  Bug hunts are a favorite activity.  You love snakes.  We have pictures of you holding huge snakes with them wrapped around your shoulders.

You still love hyenas, but foxes are your four-year old passion.  When you watched Peter Pan, you didn’t fall in love with Tinker Bell, Wendy, or Pan, you fell in love with the Lost Boys and because you did so did your sister.  You continue to love the obscure characters in books and movies (i.e. the parentless children dressed as animals that live in a hollow tree with Peter Pan).  You dress up like the fox Lost Boy (Slightly Foxy) and your sister like the bear (Cubby) and you create endless adventures. Sometimes you ask me why you are the only one that loves these animals so much, and why no one else loves the Lost Boys like you do. I try to teach you that it is your differences that make you special.  I wish I could build a protective wall around your idiosyncrasies, so that you will always remain confident enough to be my lost boy or hyena girl.  I wish the world was more appreciative of everyone’s differences.  Our differences are what makes the world a beautiful place.  As the People book states, “what if we all looked and acted the same, what a boring place it would be.”

You are so special, so different, so unique, and not like anyone else.  You are brave, timid, loud, quiet, dramatic, logical, heart melting, and infuriating.  You are the most amazing, magical, interesting, and dynamic four-year old that I know.  I love you mountains and mountains and mountains.  Your dad and I have learned the world from you.  You teach us to be better parents and people.   You teach us to rethink everything we ever assumed of what or how parenthood should be.

We thank you for all we’ve learned and continue to learn, pushing our limits and stretching our perspectives.  We wouldn’t change you for the world.  You are magically unique.

We love you.

I’m Going to Love You, Forever and Ever, Forever and Ever Amen

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“Digging up bones, I’m digging up bones, exhuming things that’s better left alone.  I’m resurrecting memories of a love that’s dead and gone.  Tonight I’m sitting alone digging up bones.”

The familiar and warm crooning of Randy Travis filled my ears.  My sister and I buckled into the backseat of my father’s dark blue Peugeot station wagon speeding through the streets of New York City.  My father quickly switched lanes and I slid into my sister.  Our voices young and pure, “Digging up bones,” singing the chorus in unison, songs etched in our little minds.

My father met my gaze in the back seat.  Michael had the habit of telling a story while driving, taking his eyes off the road and actually looking at you.  It was terrifying and surprising that he never got in accidents.  None of his kids dared tell him to focus on the road or remind him that he was driving and there were other cars on the road, instead we all suffered a terrified excitement as we drove with him.  “A city driver,” he always said, one aspect of his larger than life persona.

It was our Wednesday to have dinner with him.  He drove us across town, crossing from the Upper West Side to his studio bachelor pad on the Upper East Side. It had become our Wednesday ritual, Matthew would be waiting at Michael’s apartment and we would walk the two blocks to Mumbles, a restaurant with a green awning nearby.  Each Wednesday we passed the same homeless man on the corner who would ask us for change, “No Man, I don’t have anything,” my father would say, his words and vernacular shifting to a street talk I only heard him use with friends or other men on the street.  Then sometimes, to my surprise, he would drop a Five Dollar bill into the man’s hat and tell him to grab a burger.  We’d fantasize that the homeless man on the street actually had a penthouse on Park Avenue, “you never know,” my father would say.

As we’d get to the restaurant our booth would be waiting for us.  My dad’s diet coke sitting in its position, my sister’s ginger ale, my sprite, and my brother’s coke, each drink and meal laid out in its appropriate spot.  They knew where we sat and what we ate and drank each Wednesday.  This was our family’s new normal, our version of the traditional family dinner.  His best friend John would often meet us at the restaurant.  He had an expletive tattoo on the inside of his lip that my sister, brother, and I found hilarious.  He appeared normal, strikingly normal for a friend of my father’s, but when he pulled his lip down and we saw the F—- Y—, I learned that looks could be deceiving.  He would laugh and tease us, Uncle Mo, we called him.

My dad had colorful friends.  His friends didn’t look like my friends from schools parents.  Michael’s friends were people that as I got older I may have been scared of if they had approached me in a dark alley, but as a child I recognized their gentle souls and had no fear.  One had tattoos that covered every inch of his body up to his face.  My sister and I analyzed each image until we found our favorites.  We sat outside our loft on the hot and dirty pavement, trying to determine which one was the best.  He’d smile and laugh listening to our serious commentary.  These friends of my fathers had stories that memorized us.  Later I learned that these were friends found in a new found sobriety, a family of support in their recovery, vibrant lives stitched across all socio-economic and racial backgrounds.  Colorful characters with lives that were even more dramatic than I knew.

We walked back to his apartment passing the same man, begging for change, who this time wished us a goodnight.  My brother would accompany my Dad to an AA meeting, listening to men and women tell their stories of mistakes made and recoveries found in the basement of the church a couple of blocks away.  I was jealous that only he got to hear the stories.  He would then spend the night in my dad’s studio on a mattress on the floor.  He ran up the steps to Michael’s apartment to do homework as Elizabeth and I piled into the back of the dark station wagon, the old leather seats cracking and sticking to my legs.  Michael lit a cigarette and pressed play on the cassette player and Randy Travis’s voice blared from the backseat speakers.

The three of us, barreling through the city, belting out, “I’m going to love you forever and ever, forever and ever amen,” as buildings and city life sped by in a blur outside of our windows.

“Oh, I’m going to love you forever and ever, forever and ever, amen.”

*****

Excuse the lack of editing, the girls are awake.  I’m preparing for my Dad’s funeral next week and digging up the good memories.  Today I am happily putting on my rose colored glasses and remembering good times.  Thanks for reading and again please excuse the quick edit.