Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Twenty One Years

This is a milestone year for me.  This December will mark my eldest son's twenty-first birthday.  I asked him if he had any plans to celebrate or how he wanted to.  Not surprisingly, he was very nonchalant about it.  I pressed the subject, joking that he could buy me a beer.

"You don't drink."  I shrugged and said that I'd gladly drink a beer in his honor.  He simply smiled.  He didn't seem interested.  In a strange way, that made me happy. He's never been one to like being the center of attention. 

Twenty-one years.  Naturally, my mind wanders to the very early days with Robby (His first name is Robert.   Looking at him at his two-week old birthday, I sobbed because I felt his name didn't fit him.  "Robby" wasn't working.  He certainly wasn't a "Bobby," either.  Hello, Aaron ).   He was 100% planned.  Not to get terribly graphic, but when Rob and I were finally ready,  and knowing my body like I did, I knew when to try, and bingo;  it worked on the first try.  For us, it wasn't rocket science. I counted the days until I knew I could go and have my blood tested.  I hated home pregnancy tests.  I wanted to know for sure.  I remember walking around outside the clinic with Rob afterward.  We were told to come back or call in one hour for the results.  That was the longest hour of my life.  I tried not to get my hopes up.  Still, never being late, I knew in my heart that I was pregnant.  Rob and I decided to go back to our tiny apartment to wait.  When I called an hour later for the results, the same nurse answered the phone and was very calm.

"Well," she sighed.  "what answer do you want to hear?" I was a bit shocked.  I'm guessing since she knew we wanted to be pregnant, she worded it that way (I'm hoping that she would not have said that if I didn't want to be).  I looked at Rob, who sat on the edge of our sofa, looking nervous.  I had forgotten that he could not hear but half of this conversation.

"Uhm, that I'm pregnant." Rob looked puzzled.   After a few seconds, she sighed again;

"Well, okay.  You're pregnant."  In a flash, my life forever changed.  Our lives changed.

"I'm pregnant?"   I looked at my husband, whose mouth fell open.  I saw a minute flash of panic on his face.  Tears welled and fell onto my cheeks.  I told the nurse that if I could, I'd kiss her through the phone.  She said,

"And this is why I love my job!  Congratulations!" I hung up the phone and approached my husband.  Gently.  It was one thing getting this news, myself.  For him, I'm sure he felt things I just have no way of understanding, even if he could've explained them to me.  And I totally respected that.  Shock.  Fear.  Anxiety.  Joy.  Elation.  We hugged.  Laughed.  Cried.

The first thing I remember saying to him;  "Wow.  It worked.  It really worked!"  We decided to keep  our new little secret just to ourselves for the rest of that day.

I called my mom the next day and later went over to share our news.  I honestly believe that my mother had a hard time coming to terms with my new condition.  Not that she was not happy; she was elated.  Still, I was her only baby.  I know it took time for her to truly believe it.  Dad was crazy happy.  It was just a very happy time.  I was feeling good. I couldn't wait to show.

I can clearly remember being in awe of my body from the very beginning.  I didn't look different but knew a major change was taking place.  I found it strange that anyone could look at me and not know the amazing changes that were taking place right there in front of them.  I went out days later and purchased A Child Is Born by Lennart Nilsson.  This book became our bible.  Every night, Rob and I would read this together.  A book of wonderful photography from conception to birth, in a week-by-week progression with descriptions of 'How mom feels" and "What physical milestones is baby approaching, now" format.

When I was a child, I dreamed of the day I would become pregnant.  It was something that I thought about a lot. I was fascinated by pregnant women.   I was the kid that would always shove pillows into my shirts to mock a huge, pregnant belly.  When the neighorhood kids got a game of "House" going, I was always pregnant - all innocent, of course.   I dreamed of one day having a huge belly to show off.   Funny because as my pregnancy progressed, I didn't show.  At all.  It got to the point where I would stick my belly out on purpose just to try and look like I was pregnant.  By my fourth month I was still in my pre-pregnancy clothing.  The only things that were  growing were my breasts.  Great. Just what I needed; even bigger tits. Why not my ass?  At least make me look proportionate!   I was thrilled when I bought my first pair of maternity jeans; you know, those God-awful things with the round patch of elastic sewn into the front?   Looking back, I probably didn't even have to purchase those for another two months.  Leggings would have been just fine. Still,  I was hurt when the salesgirl told me that I looked great and I really didn't need maternity stuff, yet. "How lucky you are!" She smiled.   I wanted to smack her.  Didn't she want her commission?

And then one day, I had a belly.  A big belly.  Just as my fifth month was approaching.  I suddenly felt amazing.  I didn't have to stick it out, anymore.  I was so proud of my belly.  I started getting those "Aha; so she's pregnant." looks.  I strutted my stuff like I was the Queen.  I loved resting my hand on my belly.  Never had I felt so alive.  My husband liked it, too.  Proud, he was.  "Look what I did." pride.  I thought it was sweet and cute.  One of the funniest things that happened to me was while I was coming home from the OB's office.  It was just a few minutes from our apartment, but too far to walk, so I took the bus.  This one day, I had decided to do a bit of shopping, and was tired.  I was seated across from a large black guy.  We exchanged looks.  He didn't look very friendly, so I quickly averted my eyes.  Riding along, I felt the baby moving.  Suddenly it gave a swift kick and moved what I am guessing to be an elbow across my belly.  As this was happening, the guy across from me looked at my belly and his eyes grew so large and his mouth dropped open in awe.  Immediately, his demeanor changed.  He looked up at me, half smiling - half amazed.

"Uhm, s -something... was that your baby?"  He asked, nervously.

"Sure was." I said, smiling.   He then smiled and said,

"Wow.  I mean, I'm sorry.  That was so rude of me... but I've never seen anything like that, before!"  I smiled uneasily and added,

"Me neither."

He let out a small laugh, "Wow."

By the time I was in my sixth month, I was finally showing and having a lot of fun.  I loved putting cups of water onto my belly and laughing with my mom as the baby kicked them off.   Mom would scratch my belly.  That was amazing. She'd put cornstarch powder on my naked belly and rake her long nails over it.  Dad thought it was some weird female pregnancy bonding ritual and would leave. It was, in a word, heaven.   She got a huge kick out of my Braxton-Hicks contractions.  She would gently poke my belly, and giggle when she would get a kick right back.  I remember telling her that I had an insatiable craving for Popsicles.  She told me that she had the same craving while carrying me. I had so many questions for her.  I'd always put them off for another visit.  I had time, after all.

Mom didn't.

Had I known that this would be some of the last times I would ever be spending with her, I surely would have planned our times together with a lot more thought.  Still, we had our 'morning coffee' together every morning by telephone. Rob and I were living in Germantown, MD at the time.  Mom and Dad had just moved into a house in Arlington, VA, next door to my Aunt.  It was during this time, we learned that my mom had a stage two aortic aneurysm.  I really did not understand much about this, but what I did know was that mom had to keep her blood pressure controlled and to avoid stress of any kind.  Surgery had to wait.  I wasn't really sure why.  I only remember what my father told me;  "It's like she is a walking time-bomb;  she mustn't get upset."

That terrified me.  It scared me because I knew my mom.  She was a worrier.  Now I felt as though I had to tread very carefully around her.   I was suddenly afraid to speak to my own mother.  What if what I said upset her?  I told myself to think before I said anything to her.  I hated that.  I longed to discuss her condition with her, but forbade myself from bringing it up.  Even asking the simple, "How are you?" was now avoided.  I put on a cheerful tone every time we spoke.  We mainly talked about the baby and my pregnancy.  Having just left her home of 22 years, and knowing her the way I did, I knew she was not happy.  Had we known how ill she was before the move, I'm sure they would have stayed put.  Moving broke my mother's heart.  It would take years for my father to admit this to me, and he felt terrible about it. I realized it days after her passing.   He felt as if he had forced her to leave.   I think my being pregnant was her only happiness, so I focused on this when we spoke. 

 It is the last week of September, and I'm nearing my 28th week. I informed my mom and dad that in a week  that I would be having my second ultrasound. While dad was really excited and wanted to know the sex of our baby (deep down, I did not want to find out at first, but did as time passed), mom wanted no part of it.  "I want to be surprised.  Don't tell me what you find out other than health stuff."  I promised her I would not say a word.  Dad called me back later to ask if I could tell him, that he'd promise to keep it secret.  I thought it was funny.  I tried to picture my parents and seeing my dad struggle to keep his secret from her.  I told him that we couldn't do that!  He sighed and agreed.

Mom became ill later in the week.  She said she thought it was just a touch of flu.  She seemed congested.  She sounded a little nasal on the phone.  I told her that weekend that the ultrasound was the next Tuesday.  She reminded me that she did not want to know the sex of her first grandchild.  We laughed about it.  I teased her, saying it'd make it so much easier to spoil it!  Pink things or blue things!  "Yellow or green things." she giggled.  Fine.

In talking to my dad, I learned that mom's touch of the flu was a bit more than we thought.  She now felt terrible.   She had an appointment with her doctor on Thursday.  Dad was taking care of her in the mean time.

Tuesday morning.  Rob and I are like kids on Christmas Eve.  I think I was ready to go an hour before I was to leave to see the radiologist.  We get there and are quickly taken back;  not pregnant, my bladder holds just over three ounces.  Pregnant; half of that.  While I was in agony, I was also so excited.  I mainly wanted to see my baby, and make sure that it was healthy.  Like all moms-to-be, I dreamed of how my baby looked.  Like me?  Like Rob?  How could our features combine into one?  All kinds of mixtures filled my head for so long.  Lying there, looking at the screen, my mind changed.  I didn't want to know the sex.  It took a while of mapping and looking at different angles before the radiologist asked, "So, do you want to know the sex of your baby?"  My heart pounded.  What do I say?  I want to know, but I don't want to know.  I looked at Rob.  He had a huge grin on his face. He said,

"Yes.  We do.  Don't we?"  Before I could think, I said,

"Yes.  We want to know."

Boy or girl?  Boy or girl?  Boyorgirlboyorgirlboyorgirl.  I kept hearing that in my own voice.

I'll keep to myself the actual conversation.  Some things I just want to keep private.

I've never seen my husband beam so proudly.  We were having a son.  My parents and his dad would have a grandson.  It's funny, but deep down, I knew it, already.  From the day I found out I was pregnant, I was drawn to 'boy' items.  The very first thing I purchased for my baby, two days after finding out I was expecting (much to Rob's dismay... he didn't want to jinx anything) was a baby bottle.  It was a four ounce bottle I found at Giant.  It had little footballs and little helmets on it.  Any time I would go into a department store, I was drawn to infant boy's clothing.  I loved looking at the tiny little jeans.  The tiny overalls.  Sure, the tiny dresses were so sweet, and I would look at them, but I'd always end up back in the boy's section (same was true for my second pregnancy).

Robert Aaron Botkin age 28 weeks.
I got home and looked at his photos.  I was in such awe.  It was confirmation that there truly was a  child in my womb; not just some weird parasite that kept eating all of my food and kicking my ribs at 4AM.  I called my folks.

Again, I'll not be sharing that conversation.  I basically blew it from the second mom asked how things went.  I threw in a pronoun that should have been left out of the conversation.  I tried to throw in a different one, but the damage was done.  She knew.  She knew she was having a grandson.  I heard her tell dad.  I spoke to him.  He was elated. I don't think I've ever heard my father giggle in such a high-pitch, before.   He handed the phone back to mom.  I could hear her sniffling.  I could tell she was upset.  I apologized.  She then told me in her own way that no, she was not upset.  She was ecstatic.  She was so happy that it was a boy.  We talked for a while.  About boys.  That I knew nothing about raising boys.  Neither did she!  We giggled.  She again told me how much she loved me.  I knew she was still not well with the flu so I told her I'd let her sleep in the following morning and that we'd talk again on Thursday after she got home from seeing her doctor.

That was the last conversation I would ever have with her.

I lost her two days later.  She was so ill, it caused her aneurysm to burst.  To say that was the worst day of my life up to that point is an understatement.  I fell apart.  I watched my father fall apart.  Most of that day is a bunch of blurry flashes. I can't remember a lot. That's fine,  I prefer it that way.

It took me a few weeks to really come to terms with what had happened to her.  Sometimes I thought that when the phone rang in the mornings, it would be her.  Funny how the minds works.   I would replay our last phone conversation over and over.  It was a good one.  A really good one.  And, she knew that her first grandbaby was a boy.   That was my true saving grace;  that she knew she would have a grandson. 

Twenty-one years.  Sometimes it seems like yesterday.  Other times, it's so far away.  I look at her grandson now and know that he has so many of her traits. Both of her grandsons do.  I wish I could find a time machine and put Aaron, Alex and I into it and sail back to 1991.  Or 1984.  1973.  I try to imagine what kinds of conversations they would have.  What would she make them to eat?  The stories she could have told them. Maybe they would have had some little secrets of their own?  Those questions and ideas come infrequently.   I just wish she could have known my children.  I don't care if that sounds selfish.  It's so damn unfair.

And I have so much to show her. The things I've made.  The things I've learned.  I have so much to share with her.  I long to hear her silly laugh.  I would do anything to watch her cook, again.  Watch her draw.  Watch her do her beloved Crewel work.  Sit on the stoop and people-watch.  Have her scratch my head and lull me to sleep with her deep soothing songs.

She's always with me.  I think of her daily.  Sometimes, I even talk to her.  I tell her the latest gossip.  Not often.  Mainly when I'm alone.  I know she's with me, and with Rob and the boys.

When I finally gave birth to Aaron, I had an emergency Caesarean section.  His heart rate dropped dangerously low.  Having had back surgery two years prior, I was not a candidate for an epidural.  I was put to sleep.  I woke up a momma.  It took a few hours in recovery before I was finally wheeled to my room and the first stop was at the nursery.  My father and Rob were with me.  When the nurse held up this red, angry, screaming child, the first word out of my mouth was,

"Mom.  It's mom."  I was stunned. 

  Rob and dad cried.  They both emphatically agreed.  The boy looked exactly like her.  Mom was with us.   Even now, Aaron will look at me in such a way, that I see her. Alex will laugh in such a way that I feel she's there with us.  I stare in awe.  He gets annoyed, I'm sure.  That's fine.  I did too when she looked at me in the same manner.

She's with us. All of us.

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