Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Birthday, Ma

Yes, it's really my birthday, today.

When I was a little girl, I would be tucked in every night by both of my parents.  There was a ritual:  Dad came in first.  He arranged the zoo of stuffed animals around me, the ones I loved most beside me.  A few endearments and kisses.   Mom came in after.  She'd shake her head at the scene:  her little girl surrounded by fluffy animals.  She'd sit on the side of my bed.  We said our prayers together.  When we were finished, she'd start running her fingers through my hair.  She would hum.  Sometimes a familiar lullaby, sometimes one of her favorite songs.  If I was really lucky, she'd sing to me in Spanish.  And if I was really, really lucky, I'd hear "The Story."

Simply told, "The Story" was the story of how I came to be.  I have told The Story to my own children, but it's not the same.  They need to hear it not only as Ma told it, but in her sweet, whispery voice as well.  My voice is too harsh, loud and deep. 

"Once upon a time... " She  would begin.  I'd snuggle into my blankets and lovies.  Ma would continue running her nails along my head,  knowing that soon I would be fast asleep, but not until the story finished.  If I may interject, here:  There was nothing, nor will there ever be again, be the comforting feeling of my mother 'scratching my head.'  Nothing.  I miss it terribly

She would usually end up spending a good 45 minutes telling it.  She needed no semantics; her voice was all that was necessary.

I won't try to recreate her words.  Those are for me, alone.  I can share why I celebrate her on my birthday instead of myself.  To put it simply;  I'm special.  I don't shout it from rooftops.  She and dad did that.

For six years, my folks tried for a child.  My mother was not the healthiest of women.  Back in the late fifties - early sixites,  being in your late thirties was not really a good time to get pregnant.  After five years of trying unsuccessfully, my parents decided to adopt.  My mother's voice would quaver when she would tell me how she decorated the nursery in shades of blue.  Then they were told that, while the baby boy had been born, the agency would not be able to let my mother have him.  She failed her physical.  It was discovered that she had severe hypertension.  Devastated, they both decided that children were not something they would think about, anymore.  And they did just that.  They dove into work.  Into art.

Having just turned 40, my mother began slowing down.  She was tired.  Her body was beginning to show the dreaded signs of "The Change."  She cried at the drop of a hat.  She gained weight.  Positive that it was Menopause, she saw her doctor.  When he told her that her instincts were incorrect, she panicked.  Cancer?  Her doctor told her, "No.  It's not cancer.  It's serious though.  It'll clear up in about five to six months."  She still didn't get it.  He told her and she was stunned.  I'll leave the details out, again, for me.  My folks were overjoyed.

Jackie Kennedy, Ma and me. 1965
Pregnancy was very hard on my mother.  Her blood pressure was a major concern.  So much so, that it was decided that she would deliver by Cesarean section in February.  She was asked by her doctor to pick a date.  No later than February 15th.  She chose the 14th.  St. Valentine's Day.  It would be earlier than my March due date, but he was very worried about her health.  Having me nearly killed her.  The surgery was long.  The recovery was long.  I was tiny.  Back in 1966, weighing in at 5 pounds, 2 ounces was scary ("Your head was as big as an orange").  I lived my first weeks inside an incubator.  Mom left the hospital without me, though she herself was still very weak.  Knowing what we now know, it was most likely Pre-eclampsia that had made her so ill, on top of the already high blood pressure she had.  I believe my first day home was around my March due date.
They later changed my name to Mary Frances... that's another story.

She would usually be emotional by the time her story was finished.  She would always finish it by telling me just how lucky she was to have me, and how very special I am to her and to my daddy.  How I was truly a surprise from God, and that they were the luckiest people in the world.  

Our first day home, together.
My mother went through so much to have me.  She suffered and worried, daily.  My dad did too.  They both went through so much to get me here.  So, St. Valentine's Day means a little more to me than it does for you.  It's way more than heart-shaped boxes of chocolate.  Way more than glittery trinkets.  May more than sexy underwear.  I celebrate my mother.  If she were with us, I would give her 45 yellow roses, and one pink one.  An "It's a girl!" pink rose.

So, Happy Birthday, Ma!  Thank you for all that you went through for me.  I love you.

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