Monday, May 01, 2006


In Which We Count To...


Why is it so hard to believe that this day has come? She's only 5, for pete's sake. She's still a little girl. That thought has spent quite enough time in my brain this week.

I think the answer--the best one I can muster anyway--is that ages 1 through 4 still feel to me to be within the realm of babyhood. On the other hand, 5, though young, is NOT a baby. Five is an age of reason and choices and jaw-droppingly precocious vocabulary and riding buses and receiving gentleman callers.

No shit. While we're sitting in the family room this afternoon, watching some of Baby Brownie's earliest video, there's a knock on the door. Blaze went purely crazy, forgetting all his training, and launched himself at the door as though a lunatic killer was waiting on the other side.

It was no killer, sorry to say (at least on a killer you can vent some of your aimless anxiety and frustration), but was in fact none other than Andy, the sticky little, Popsicle-sharing Casanova from three houses down. With a present for the Brownie. A present he wrapped himself.

"Thanks," said my daughter, who was wearing her birthday dress (a pink dress my mom embroidered with a number 5 plus cake emblem on the front) and looked every inch a rosy hostess. She took the present and said again, "Well, thanks," and turned to go back to watching videos of herself as an infant, leaving Andy at the door.

In this instance, common manners trumped the deep-seeded Daddy urge to close the door in Andy's face, and I asked him he wanted to come in. At this, Blaze growled a strange, whiny, ever so slightly creepy growl that seemed to say, "Oh yes, little boy, come in. We'd like to have you for lunch." But Andy demurred and ran off for home. Smart kid. Maybe there's hope for him. Not with my daughter, of course. But maybe with somebody's.

I returned to the videos and there was a bright-red, tiny Browniesque creature yawning hugely on screen. In the background, you could hear 2-year-old Thomas, yelling in his old high-pitched sing-songy way.

To say he was a little excited to have a little sister is like saying humanity was a little excited about that whole moon-landing thing.


It helped that the Brownie was one of those good babies, about who you tell stories to beleaguered and sleep-deprived new parents partly to brag, but mostly to see if you can drive those other parents screaming off a cliff. For starters, the Brownie slept through the night from pretty much her first night at home. Went down at 9. Woke up at 6. She ate like a very well-mannered pig and burped without emitting any solids.

Really, there were only two noteworthy problems we had with her:

In the first place, she arrived more than 3 weeks ahead of schedule, which means we were completely unprepared for her.

This situation was, of course, entirely the fault of Her Lovely Self, who hastened her labor by injudiciously doing yardwork with heavy equipment (as detailed briefly at the end of this post). Aside from raking, shoveling and hauling large amounts of dirt in order to get her spring planting done, Her Lovely Self made quite the spectacle of herself when she fired up the gas-powered leaf blower and waddled around the myrtle, awkwardly trying to blow last fall's errant leaves from the ground cover. I begged her to let me do this--or at least my aged mother, who had just arrived a day or so earlier for a visit (hey, I'd have let Mom do it. I was still hurting pretty badly from my back injury). But HLS continued blowing. It really was a sight. Too bad I didn't have time to take a picture.

But I had had a doctor's appointment that morning (about my back, natch) and was already late for work, which in itself was a kind of hell. At that time, I wasn't close enough to commuter rail lines to avail myself of them, so I was forced to drive a 100-mile round trip commute. Often in bumper-to-bumper traffic. That's enough to chap even the healthiest of asses. But add to the drive a herniated disk that is causing unrelenting sciatica--which grows worse the longer you sit--and you've got a recipe for some serious hurting. By the time I got to work, I often considered honking the horn by the front door and begging the receptionist to haul me out of the car, it hurt so much to move. Or maybe the guys at the loading dock could rig some kind of rope and pulley system and winch my ass out of the car.

On this particular day, I hobbled into the office just after lunch and had the pleasure of almost immediately having to turn around and head back home. For not too long after I had got into my day's work, the phone rang. It was my mom who, thank God, had finally gotten the crazy pregnant lady to step away from the leaf blower. But it was one of those good news/bad news kinda calls, alas.

"She's sitting here in the driveway, drawing chalk figures with Thomas and crying," my mother reported in her dry, matter-of-fact way. I asked Mom to put HLS on the phone but she refused. "I told her to call you and she said she couldn't talk to anyone. Also, she can't seem to stand up," my mom added. "Thomas and I are trying to figure out how to get her in the car to take her to the doctor."

"Okay," I said, although my voice was barely above a whisper--yours would be too if your heart had just wedged itself up in your throat. "I'm on my way back."

"Stay where you are!" my mother commanded and I obeyed instantly. "I'm sure she just over-exerted herself. I already called her OB-GYN and they're going to take a look at her to make sure she hasn't hurt herself. I'll call you when we get finished. Now you get back to work."

Yeah, like that was going to happen. But I didn't have a cell phone and I needed to know what was happening, so I waited. Staring at the phone.

About 40 years later--it might have been just minutes, I get sketchy on some details--my mom called from HLS's cell phone. Despite the fact that this was the dawn of the 21st century, my mom treated wireless phones like they were dodgy novelties that could break down at any moment.

"HELLO! CAN YOU HEAR ME?!?" she cried, deafening me instantly.

"Jesus, Ma! Speak normally. The mic will pick it up."


"Ma, it's me!"

A pause.

"YOU DON'T SOUND LIKE YOURSELF ON THIS PHONE." There was a pause, then she added "OVER!" like we were on a Navy ship-to-shore.

"What's going on?" I begged.

Now my mom decided the best way to communicate of the phone was to deliver words in telegrammatic fashion, with full stops between words. "WE. ARE. GOING. TO. THE. HOSPITAL. MEET--"

And here, would you believe it, the damn phone actually DID start to cut out.

"Mom, is she okay? Is the baby--?"

All I heard was static. Then my mom's voice boomed from the ether. "--SIX CENTIMETERS DILATED SO THEY WANT--"

I assume the phone cut off, but don't really know because I was already halfway down the hall, heading for the car. The last time Her Lovely Self was six centimeters dilated (and despite the fragmented conversation, I figured it was safe to assume my mom was talking about HLS and not someone else. Herself, for example.), she ended up progressing to a full 10 centimeters in about an hour and had Thomas 40 minutes later. And that was her first child. If she was already at six centimeters, I had no time to waste.

There was no easy, traffic-free way for me to get to and from work, but at least at this time of day--somewhere in the neighborhood of 3ish--I had a chance of getting to the hospital in an hour.

Or so I thought. Until I saw the flashing lights behind me.

Every family's got that weird thing that they think happens to them more than anybody else. I knew a family who had had seven members all have their houses struck by lightning (two of them burned down as a result). My dad knew a family whose kids were especially skilled at finding four-leaf clovers.

In our family, we get pulled over by the cops when we're on our way to the hospital.

Happened to my grandfather when he cut his hand on a broken shot glass. Hit an artery too. Lucky he didn't pass out in the car. Which is what the cop said when he pulled him over and saw the blood-soaked towel.

Happened to my mom's cousin Mary, when she herself was in labor and her husband was working at the airport and not answering his pages. So she drove herself to the hospital--90 miles an hour down the Mass Pike.

Happened to my Dad once when I was 10 and really sick. He was taking me to a doctor in Topeka, but the road was blocked by some kind of farmer's rally--tractors everywhere, blocking the road. My dad drove on the shoulder until two cops blocked him in.

I can think of at least five other instances, but you get the idea. And in all cases, it worked out great. The cops turned out to be good and decent public servants. The cop who stopped my grandfather hustled him into the patrol car and drove him straight the the ER (good thing too, since my grandfather almost passed out from blood loss when he stepped out of the car). Cousin Mary got a three-car police escort all the way to the hospital and the cops carried her into the waiting area, refusing to leave until a doctor came out and personally wheeled her into an examining room. And my dad, well, once the cops realized he wasn't trying to break up the rally and saw me shivering with fever in the back seat, they offered to call in a helicopter. Instead, the nearest farmer heard what was going on and radioed the rest of the rally (remember, this was the 70s and everyone had a CB. Even, apparently, on their tractors). They moved as one to the other side of the road and gave my dad a clear run all the way to the hospital.

As soon as I saw the lights behind me, I jammed on the brakes (the cop came VERY close to rear-ending me then) and skiddered onto the gravel of the soft shoulder).

I leaped out of the car, intending to run back and tell the trooper what was going on. Of course I was speeding, and if he wanted to, he could mail me my ticket. I never got a chance to tell him this. Instead, he did all the telling in this encounter. And it was a learning experience, let me tell you.

For one thing, cops really don't like you jumping out of your car and charging towards them once they've pulled you over.

I had taken all of three steps when the loudspeaker burst to squawking life:


I stopped, breathing hard. I tried to stand up straight a little bit and catch my breath. And that's when my poor injured spine sent a jolt from my low back down my leg. I reached instinctively behind me to rub the small of my back. But I was doing this just as the cop was stepping out of the car. And from his perspective, it must have looked like I was reaching for something.

"HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM!" he cried as he stayed behind his door, hand clutched on the butt of his revolver.


"Please..." I gasped. "My"

Well, the cop wasn't buying any of that wife-having-a-baby-shit. He circled me, eyeing me meanly. "What the hell are you thinking, jumping out of the car like that? I could take you in right now. You know how fast you were going back there? That's reckless driving, fella! And jumping out of the car! That's cause enough to put you under arrest for attempting to leave the scene." All the while, cars are parading by us at 12 miles per hour, a gaper delay that was backing up the secondary highway I desperately needed to be on.

At last, once he decided he'd paid me back for throwing a good scare into him, he snatched my license from me and made me wait "where I can see you" there on the dusty dirt shoulder. He spent what seemed like a long time on his computer, then grabbed his radio and started talking into that.

At last, he got out of his car again and walked over to me. "What your wife's name?" he demanded.

I told him.

His demeanor softened almost immediately as he nodded and handed me my license back. "I called the hospital. She's in the maternity wing. They've got her in a room and she and the baby are stable. They say the baby's not going to come for hours." He peered at me over his sunglasses. "So there's no need to be speeding to get there. You get me?"

I nodded. "Yessir," I muttered.

"Then get out of here," he said, not unkindly. I was tempted to tell him that, for an asshole, he turned out to be a nice guy after all, but instead I simply thanked him and dashed for my car.

I made it to the hospital a little after 4. Two bored-looking nurses gestured in the general direction of a wall of curtains when I asked for my wife. "She's progressing, but it'll be a few hours," one yawned.

Her Lovely Self was languishing alone in an exam room, writhing in pain. No one had been to see her: no doctor, no anesthesiologist, no nobody. Apparently, they either got her confused with someone else, or no one at her OB-GYN's office had bothered to call the hospital to say they had a woman delivering a baby three weeks early.

The contractions were one on top of each other and my poor suffering wife could barely speak. Why she never rang the nurse's button, I'll never know, but the last time I'd seen her like this was when we were in a birthing suite with a team of doctor yelling for her to push.

So I shouted, at the top of my lungs. "Oh, my GOD! Is that the baby's HEAD?"

Well, that got us some attention fast. And while I had not seen a head, the attending who rushed in nevertheless turned a satisfying pale shade as he announced HLS was a full 10 centimeters dilated and needed to be in a birthing suite, STAT!

After a brief stop at the bathroom for a pre-delivery tinkle (and boy didn't THAT freak the nurses out. They were afraid they'd have to fish the kid out of the bowl, which is no more than they deserved, ignoring my wife like they did), my wife gamely let herself be wheeled into a suite where they hooked her up to all the usual monitors. But then more pain hit her and she announced that she was going to push.

I thought the resident--who was younger than either of us--looked ready to start pushing out something himself. "Wait!" he cried. "Your doctor is on her way! You have to wait!"

"The FUCK I am!" screamed Her Lovely Self, and then she did push and--holy moley!--a purple head with black hair appeared. I had seen this sort of thing once before--two and a half years ago to the day, if you want to know the truth--but I get the feeling that each time it happens it's fairly unique and distinctive.

Just then, HLS's OB-GYN, the very one who had delivered Thomas, rushed in, threw on a surgical gown and some gloves and grabbed one of those bulbs to start sucking the goop out of the kiddo's nose and mouth. HLS pushed one more time--emitting a really loud swear word as she did--and out came a little girl. The doctor toweled her for a second, and then the baby took a deep gasp. In a split instant she went from purple to pink, then to livid RED as she started howling.

"Three weeks early and listen to those pipes!" the doctor yelled over the din. "I'd say she's in good shape."

And she was. While the doctors tended to HLS, I numbly followed the nurse who had my daughter (my daughter!) and was giving her a bath. The Brownie seemed to enjoy this. She settled right down as the nurse expertly sponged the organic packing material off of her and talked to her in a soft voice. All was calm and quiet.

Until my little girl--as yet officially unnamed--turned her head to look at me. Knowing that newborns had very short-range vision, I leaned in really close--on hindsight, some might say too close and said, "Hello, Baby."

And she began screaming bloody murder again.

Which at last brings us to the thing you thought I had forgotten about--the second of the two noteworthy problems we had with the Brownie: She couldn't stand the sight of me.

That's right. Despite risking arrest to be present for her arrival in this world, she seemed to want absolutely nothing to do with me. She cried whenever I picked her up. And none of this fussy crabbing stuff, no. She went straight for the full-throated hysterics. You know, the kind where newborns get so worked up that their crying starts sounding like the bleats of a lamb caught in a bear trap?


Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. When I wasn't trying to pick her up, she'd spend her time just staring at me with those deep, mysterious woman's eyes of hers. What's the deal with this guy? was the question she seemed to be pondering. I mean, what's he good for? What does he contribute anyway? No built-in snack bar like Mom has. Kind of a mooch, seems to me, always taking Mom's attention away from me, always doing stuff with Thomas when Thomas should be paying all his attention to me. And this guy, he also has the most annoying habit of showing up right at dinner time to cadge a free meal. Who does he think he's fooling?

You'll be pleased to know that by her first birthday, she discovered my TRUE function: to serve her every whim. She would make a sweet cooing noise and I would drop whatever I was doing and come pick her up. She would point at what she wanted--usually she pointed with her fist, it being too much effort to actually extend an index finger--and then say, "Dada GO!" right in my ear.


Whatever it was she wanted--a Tupperware container full of brownies, a beautiful new vase of flowers, a large hunk of lint on the laundry room floor--I would take her straight there and let her do whatever she wanted, which usually involved putting whatever it was in her mouth.

This afternoon, more or less exactly 5 years after our inauspicious first meeting, after all the presents were opened, and all the dresses and jewelry tried on, I asked the Brownie what else she wanted to do for her birthday.

"Go to dinner!" she announced, then looked at me. "And you can pay, Dad!" she said, as if bestowing a great treat. Then she patted my hand and added, "You can also sit next to me when we get there."


Which, of course, was the biggest treat of all for me.

And probably always will be, no matter how old she gets.

Happy Birthday, Baby.


She's been gorgeous from day one! :)

I love that dress with the "5" on it! She looks so grown up!

Happy Birthday, little Brownie! Many, many happy returns of the day!

XO Auntie Thim :)
Happy birthdy to the Brownie! Hope she has a great day. Your Mom did an awesome job on the birthday dress. Glad Blaze didn't eat Andy when he came to deliver his present.
Holy bejazzus, what a great read.

I think "Oh my God! Is that the baby's head!?" might just be the best catchphrase ever.

And many happy returns to the Brownie, too!
Print this out, stick it in her baby book, MM. This is something she'll want to read and treasure when she is older with a child of her own. Happy birthday Brownie!
Happy Birthday Brownie!
And thanks MM, for saying that baby years are ages 1-4. My son turns four next month and I love the idea that he will still technically be my baby for at least another year. I'm not quite ready to let go of his "babyhood" just yet
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ok, everyone on three:
one, two, three, AWWWWWWWW
Happy Birthday Brownie!!

You are right about that transition from four to five. My second turns five at the end of the month and I can barely stand the thought of it.

MM, I loved this story about her birth. It was great. HLS is lucky to have a husband with such a great memory! My husband can barely recall the day the kids were BORN! LOL

Yes, 5 is a great big milestone. My Emily just turned 5 in March, and I can barely grasp it. She lost her first tooth the day after her birthday, and even though she's my oldest, I felt like my "baby" was simply growing up faster than I can keep track.

It's great to see you have such love and affection for your children. Makes me warm and gooey inside!
A very Happy Birthday wish to the "Big" girl.

My boy will be turning 16 in 13 days.
Gawd help me.
Happy Birthday to the little lady...

Beginning of April my little man turned 5 also...
Magazine, wow, she is beautiful, especially in that last pic. You're a lucky man. Best wishes to TB, AL, HLS, and to you, MM, as well. May G-d watch over all of you, and may He continue to fill your hearts with love.
Happy belated birthday brownie!
huh. i'd never seen a live human that shade of red before. it looks kinda painful.

at any rate, happy birthday brownie!
HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY BROWNIE! Trust me, hang on to that ability to wrap Daddy around your little works at 25 as well as it does at 5!!

MM, what a beautiful post. Those pictures made me cry!!!
Happy 5th birthday, Brownie, though if your Dad printed this out and put it into some sort of folder for you, I suspect you may be reading this at a later age.

I am one of the lucky people your Dad wrote for. He was (I hope, still is!) one of the best writers, ever. And his tremendous love for you, your brother, your Mom, and everybody else he wrote (I hope, still writes!) about is evident in every piece.

You are a lovely young lady and you are exceedingly blessed to have a Dad who is one in a million.
Happy 5th, Brownie!

That's a mighty fine looking cake. So what did the sticky Romeo end up giving her?
I can see your face stamped all that child- no wonder she gives you such a run for your money-

A very Happy Happy Birthday to the Beautiful Brownie :)
Happy Birthday to the Brownie from me too!

It looks like you took her to the Boston Pizza for dinner! (or, the BoPo as we call it...don't ask, BoPi sounds dumb) At 29 it is a favourite birthday place of mine, too!
Sorry my comment is a little late, but happy birthday Brownie! She is a gorgeous little lady and I adore her dress!

What a great story (as always) MM. It makes me want to have kids - right now!
I'm a little belated on commenting on this post (yeah, I'll say!), but I do feel I have a daughter-birthday story of my own to share... In Which I Am the Daughter.

My Dad and I share a very special tradition. One that started about when I was the Brownie's age, and not by choice of my father, but completely at the urging (ordering) of my mother. My mother decided that my father and I should share some special time together. You know, like go out to dinner. Being the first born, Dad was still receiving parenting on-the-job training, and you can imagine his concerns: “What on earth will I do all alone with a 5-year old? What on earth will we talk about? What should I wear?” So similar to pre-date angst… And so the "birthday date" was born. Little did either of them know that the tradition would continue up until the very year (this one, in fact) that I was married.

The date always goes something like this: I get "asked out", and I get to choose whatever restaurant I want. More on restaurant choice in just a moment. We get dressed up in full date attire -- my second-best dress, usually, the first-best being reserved for occasions such as Church, and first communion and such -- and Dad brings me flowers. We spend the evening dining and chatting, the content of both of which have changed substantially over the years.

That first birthday, when I believe I was turning five or six, I was given my choice of restaurant. That year (as well as the following two or three) we ended up at McDonald’s. What kid wouldn’t? The next two or three years, until the restaurant ceased to be, we went to I.P. Looney’s, the type of restaurant where the servers dressed as fictional characters; where they cut off and nail to the wall the tie of any over-dressed patron which, as you will note from the attire mentioned above, was always my dad. Over the years I am pleased (relieved) to say that my tastes have changed somewhat, and instead of McDonald’s my refined palate has caused me to become quite the costly date. From five bucks to five-star, my choice of restaurant is never questioned.

As the years went on, the tradition has adapted to fit our ever-changing lives and my nomadic lifestyle. Our birthday dates seldom occur on the actual day of my birthday anymore, but always occur. On numerous occasions, Dad has traveled miles to join me for our birthday date, and we have dined in far-off cities such as Halifax, and Phoenix. But never have we missed a year.

The birthday date has always been one day a year that my dad and I focus uniquely on each other (okay, me). We “catch up”. I tell him things about how my life is going, where my life is going, that I would never tell him in the course of any other dad-daughter conversation. It’s like a progress report, except warmer. As a result, we both have tangible conversations to act as notches on the doorframe to mark my growth.

Even throughout the difficult teenage years (and preteen… and those darned early-twenties…), the tradition was never something I was ever apologetic or embarrassed about. All boyfriends took second-place. There was never an “aw, Dad, can we just skip it this year?” because I always looked forward to that special event as much as Dad did (or maybe more).

I don’t hold this tradition as being uniquely mine; I urge all men to do this with their daughters. Pretend it was your own idea if you must – my mom doesn’t need the credit. Everyone who knows me well knows how special this tradition has been in my life. Share it.

Yours, (from nowhere near the masthead)
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