Clara Susan: January 26, 2009

I wrote this seven years ago today, upon the birth of my daughter.

Today she celebrates her seventh birthday. Such a big girl.

Our day began yesterday, at 11:53 PM, when you mother awoke me from twenty minutes of glorious sleep to inform me that her water had broken. In fact, it was still breaking as I awoke. I could hear the splashing from the bed. Despite the hours of birthing class and hundreds of pages that Mommy and I read on pregnancy, we both stared at one another and asked, “What do we do?”

It was at this point that both us fell into an “I told you so” situation. For me, I doubted that your mother was experiencing contractions, since the brutal, possibly hedonist midwife earlier that day had told me that there was “no mistaking contractions.” Since you mom said that she thought it might be contractions, I assumed that she was experiencing cramps and that we should probably not go to the hospital yet.

Your mother, in a bit of a panic, insisted that we go and refused my suggestion to call the doctor first and bring Kaleigh to the Casper’s house before heading off. Less than fifteen minutes later, she was on the phone with the doctor, and for a moment, she was wishing that the Caspers weren’t already on their way to our home.

Oh well. Mommy and Daddy aren’t always perfect.

After loading up the car and waiting for Jane to arrive to pick up Kaleigh, we were off, leaving the house at 12:30.

Seven minutes later, we arrived at the hospital, and I dropped Mommy off in order to park the car. I said, “Don’t wait for me. Just go up.” She replied, “There’ll be no waiting for you” and exited the car. I admit that I secretly hoped that by the time I made it up to the sixth floor, you would be well on your way out.

No such luck.

Mommy was filling out paperwork with a nurse when I arrived in the delivery center, and it was at this time that I finally understood the degree of Mommy’s pain. As she was being asked questions, her responses were not very coherent. Of course, her contractions were coming every three to four minutes, which explains the pain.

After being led to our room, we met Cassie, the first of two nurses who we would come to adore throughout the process. Cassie was with us throughout the evening, making us comfortable and helping us to catch a few hours of sleep. After arriving, we learned that Mommy was almost entirely effaced but not dilated at all. We were shocked. On the way over, we took wagers on how dilated she would be. She said 4 centimeters would make her happy, and I was hoping for 7.

Zero was a disappointment.

Thankfully, our humanitarian doctor, who doesn’t believe that women should ever suffer through childbirth, offered to administer the epidural immediately, even though birthing class instructors informed us that it would not be done before 4 centimeters. This was the first of what we discovered to be several false statements made by birthing class instructors, including their assertion that the hospital had no Wi-Fi, which I am using at this moment.

I left the room for the epidural (though Cassie said I could stay, which my birthing instructor said would never happen), and even though Mommy hasn’t said much about it, it seemed to go well. The anesthesiologist was a bit of a jerk, but otherwise, the needle, the meds, and all the horrifying aspects of this procedure went off without a hitch. Mommy was terrified during this process, possibly more than any other time in her life, but she held up like a trooper.

With the epidural on board, the pain vanished, the lights were turned off, and Mommy and I managed to sleep for a couple fitful hours. The chair that I attempted to sleep in was a device that harkened back to the Spanish Inquisition in terms of its torture on my neck and back, but later I found the wisdom to open it into a bed and sleep soundly for an hour or two. We slept from about 2:00-4:00, when Cassie checked Mommy again and found her fully effaced and 4 centimeters dilated. Lights went out again until 6:00, when Cassie checked and found Mommy fully dilated.

Hooray. I expected a baby before breakfast and said as much.

She began pushing at 6:30, but in the midst of a shift change, in which Cassie left us and Catherine took over, it was decided to allow you to drop some more on your own before resuming to push.

When Catherine first appeared, we didn’t know who she was, but being the woman she is, your mother immediately requested her name and rank, and we learned that Cassie was leaving us. Cassie was wonderful; an easy going, friendly, and warm woman with three young kids of her own who was perfect for helping us to rest and relax during the night. Catherine was warm and friendly as well, but she was also a bit of a drill sergeant, specific and demanding in her orders, and it was just what your Mommy needed when she began pushing again around 8:00. This was the hardest time for your mother. She pushed consistently from 8:00 until 11:30, but because of the placement of your mother’s pubic bone and the angle of your head, you simply would not come out. The vacuum was attempted briefly, but at last, it was determined that a c-section would need to be done.

A few interesting notes from the pushing:

Several times, Catherine encouraged Mommy to find some anger with which to help push. “Get mad,” she would say. “Find something to be angry about.” Your mother continually asserted that she had nothing in her life with which to be angry. Finally, Catherine acknowledged that she was dealing with the sweetest person on the planet.

Your mother never yelled at me and never uttered a single word of profanity during the entire process.

Throughout the pushing, I was receiving and sending texts to your grandmother, Justine, and Cindy, who were all dying to find out what was going on. I also managed to update my Facebook and Twitter accounts throughout the morning.

When the vacuum was brought into play, the room filled with about eight doctors and nurses. At one point, a nurse asked me to hold your mom’s leg, which I had been doing all morning. Catherine said, “Not him. He doesn’t get off of that stool.”  Though I didn’t feel queasy or weak in the knees, she saw something in me that indicated otherwise. Later I was sent out of the room to “drink some juice.”

When the decision was made to extract you via c-section, things got fast and furious and I left your mom for the first time today in order to don a pair of scrubs while she was rolled into the operating room and prepped. It was at this time that I was forced to remove my Superman tee-shirt, which had been specifically chosen for the event. I wanted your first glimpses of me to be reminiscent of the man of steel.

The best laid plans of mice and men.

When I entered the OR, the doctors were already working on your mother, and I inadvertently caught a view of her before I was ushered to a stool behind the screen and told not to move. Yikes!

Sitting beside your mom’s head and three anesthesiologists who were busy at work injecting Mommy with more medicine than I could have ever imagined, I listened and waited with her. It took about fifteen minutes before I heard your first cries and one of the doctors leaned over the screen and said, “Here it comes. Do you want to know if it’s a boy or a girl?”

“Yes,” we said in unison.

“It looks like… a girl,” he said, and immediately thereafter, the docs behind the screen began asserting the same. We began crying while we listened to your cry and caught our first glimpses of you as a nurse was preparing to weigh you. A couple minutes later, after managing a 9/9 on your apgar scores, you were handed to me, the first time I have ever held an infant without the protection of a sofa and many cushions.

You were simply beautiful.

Because of the position that Mommy was still in, she wasn’t able to see you well until Catherine finally took you from my nervous arms, flipped you upside down like a football, and held your face to hers.

I’ll never forget this moment.

Your mom was forced to remain on the table, arms outstretched and pinned, for more than an hour while the doctors stitched her up. She began to go a little stir crazy for a while, unable to move and shivering uncontrollably, and we tried to calm her by massaging her shoulders and rubbing her arms.

Eventually the surgery ended, and you were finally handed to Mommy. The two of you were rolled into Recovery while I had the pleasure of telling your grandparents, Aunty Emily, and soon-to-be Uncle Michael all about you. There were many tears. Your grandfather laughed, your grandmother cried, and in keeping with her character, Emily was indignant over her inability to see you and her sister immediately.

She’s one demanding babe.

It’s almost 9:00 PM, and we are now sitting in our room, resting and chatting. You are asleep and have been for the past few hours. I must leave soon in order to go home so that I can teach tomorrow and use my time off when you and your mom are at home. My students will be thrilled to see your photos and hear all about you.

For your mother, the three plus hours of pushing were her greatest challenge of the day. For me, the greatest challenge will be leaving this room tonight and not taking you with me. I want nothing more than to hold you in my arms for the next week.

We love you so much, little one. Welcome to the world.

I celebrated my Christmas in the company of strangers

My wife and I hosted Christmas in our home, as we do every year. We open our doors to any and all and offer chili, cornbread, and sweets to friends and family who want to join us.

In the past people have dropped by for 15 minutes or stayed all day.

The list of guests this year was interesting. We had fewer people than usual join us, but the people who did were an exceptionally diverse bunch.

Oddly enough, no one who stopped by knew anyone else who stopped by except for Elysha and myself. As many people as Elysha and I know, these people were all strangers to each other, and yet the house was filled with conversation and laughter. 

I like to think that this is what Christmas is all about. 

The way we met these people was just as diverse:

A storyteller who I met while performing in New York four years ago

A storyteller who I met while performing in Boston last year

A woman who Elysha met while standing in line at the doctor's office three years ago
That woman's brother, who we met at a party last year
That woman's son

A man who we met at a Speak Up performance this year

Elysha's former fifth grade student who she taught more than a decade ago

A former colleague of mine from 17 years ago turned Speak Up storyteller and book collaborator
Her husband

A woman who Elysha met at My Gym classes four years ago
Her husband
Their three children

They came in as strangers but left as a group who shared a part of their Christmas day together.  

My aunts and uncles were once young and strong and infinite. This is how I try to remember them even when the shadows of my ongoing existential crisis creep in.

I’ve been thinking about my grandparents a lot lately. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the families that they raised and what life must’ve been like back then. In the not-so-old days.

I have an interesting family dynamic:

My mother married my father.
My mother’s brother married my father’s sister.

Two families more closely intertwined by marriage than most. And large families, too. 

My father was one of seven children.
My mother was one of six.

Until my mother and father divorced when I was about eight years-old, Dad lived in my childhood home, next door to his father, my grandfather. Dad’s grandfather (my great grandfather) and his uncle (my  great uncle) lived there as well. For much of his life, his brother (my Uncle Neil) lived there, too. 

Two  houses down from our home lived my father’s brother, Harold, and his wife, Cathy. Half a mile down the road lived my father’s youngest sister, Sheila, and her husband, Tim. Across the street from our house and across the street from my grandfather’s house were the homes of my uncle’s wife’s family.

Our street was a bit of a family compound.

The rest of the family, on both my mother’s and my father’s side, lived nearby. Both sets of grandparents lived in my hometown, as did most of the uncles and aunts. Until my mother’s sister, my Aunt Paulette, moved to South Carolina when I was young, every aunt and uncle with the exception of one lived within fifteen minutes of my home.

Today, the families are much smaller.

All of my grandparents are dead.
My mother and her older sister are dead.
Two of my father’s brothers and one of his sisters are dead.

Thirteen children amongst the two families now reduced to eight.

But I like to think back to a time, prior to 1978, when things were different. My father’s mother had died a few years earlier, but otherwise, the family was complete. It was a time when all thirteen of these children were alive and well. Some were married and some were single, but none had been divorced yet. The families were intact. For a tiny sliver of time, things were as they should be. There were no shadows at the family picnics.

My Aunt Carol, my mother’s oldest sister, passed away first, following her husband, my Uncle Norman, who died a little less than decade earlier.

My parents divorced. My father left the house and farm that stood in the shadow of his childhood home. He went from living next door to his father to living alone in an apartment behind a liquor store.


Then my Aunt Sheila died tragically in a doctor’s office while receiving an allergy shot. She was still in her twenties and the mother of three.

My Uncle Neil died years later, followed by my Uncle Harold just recently. More divorces along the way. More families chopped in half. Reconstituted. Chopped again.

But I like to think about my grandparents and pre-1978: a time when all of their children were alive and well. When their marriages were intact and futures were bright. When death had not yet begun to cast its shadow across the landscape of the family and whittle it down, piece by piece.

It must have been a lovely time for my grandparents. A lovely moment, really. A few years in the sun before things began to crack.

It must be hard to watch a family fracture. Separate. Shrink.

A not-so-long time ago, thirteen children who would one day become my aunts and uncles lived in the tiny town of Blackstone, MA. They ran and played and laughed and grew. They found work. They fell in love. The sun was warm on their backs and the grass was soft underfoot.

I like to think about them like this. Young and strong and infinite. 

Now there are shadows where loved ones once stood. Aging bodies and broken hearts and lost love. Someday thirteen will become zero, and those once glorious and indestructible children will be no more.

One hundred years from now, they will be all but forgotten. Names occasionally uttered in discussions of family trees. Mentioned in soon-to-be-forgotten family stories. Etched into tombstones no longer visited.  

I would – if I could – reach back into time and tell those thirteen children, spread amongst two families, to hold onto their youth with every ounce of strength that they have. Cherish it. Grab onto one another and hold tight.

And I would tell them to run. Run fast and hard and with reckless abandon through fields and streets and wood  because some day running will be a thing of the past. I would urge them to run from those shadows that are looming closer each day and remember their time in the sun, because it is all too fleeting, and someday, thirteen will become none.

My wife and children are ruining football for me.

I attended the Patriots game on Sunday. The weather was spectacular, the pregame tailgate menu was superb, and most important, the Patriots won.

It was the first game in more than a month for me. I missed both home games in October thanks to my book tour and a wedding.

I was happy to return to Gillette Stadium on Sunday. I love attending Patriots games. When I was young, I made a list of life goals, and one of them was to become a New England Patriots season ticket holder.

I’ve been dreaming about these Sunday afternoons (and occasional Monday nights) for many years.

While attending these games often means the loss of an entire Sunday, there are only eight home games a season (six for me this year), so it isn’t too big a burden.

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Except now I have a wife and a daughter and a son who inexplicably continue to do fun and cute and memorable things while I am away at the game. Rather than placing themselves in suspended animation or parking themselves on the couch, anxiously awaiting my arrival, they do stuff that I want to do, too. They continue to exist, and I find part of me wanting to exist alongside them.

I miss them, damn it. It’s so annoying.  

Five years ago a day spent at the Patriots game was pure bliss for me.

Now I miss stuff like this, making the games slightly bittersweet. 

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