Friday, August 27, 2010
Dana stood at the kitchen sink and looked out the window at the sunlight brightening some leaves. At the shadows darkening others. A yellow leaf fluttered to the ground.
Fall. I love it, and I hate it.
As she waited for the coffee to brew, she opened the cabinet over the toaster oven and looked up at the white every day dishes. No. Not today. Today I'll use china. As she walked into the dining room, she shivered. This weather's perfect. It was almost 70, but with a cool, fresh breeze. She felt it stir the tiny hairs on her arms. She glanced down the front of her nightgown. Saw where her tan flesh met her bathing suit line.
She stood in front of the china closet. I'll take the green one with the 14 karat gold detailing. The door on the hutch squawnked as she opened it. She looked over her shoulder. Listened carefully. Did it wake anyone?
It was the last day of summer break. Last weekday. On Monday, it would all start, and it would all end. The sleeping late would stop. The structure would begin. Dana would watch her middle daughter walk down the street to high school. She'd kiss her son on the street corner and wave goodbye as the bus to elementary school pulled away. After that, she could do whatever she wanted. They could do nothing they wanted, really. Except for recess, maybe. There was that one year the sandwich child had been banished to a bench. For yelling too loud. On the playground. Dana had offered to homeschool the kids. Three heads in a row moved left, right, left, right, like synchronized swimmers. "Don't even think about it." "I don't want to leave my friends." "I want to be in band." She'd exhaled a secret sigh of relief. They're brilliant. Way smarter than me. I could never teach 'em calculus, physics.
The oldest daughter had determined to be a light. "That's why I want to go to school." To shine like a star in dark places. She'd done it here, now she'd do it halfway 'round the world. She'd hold little, golden hands and say, "Five minus one equals four," in Spanish. She'd pray for her new friends to know what she knew, to feel the love she felt.
Dana warmed her hands on the delicate green cup. She filled her nose with coffee steam. It smelled strong. She pushed the saucer to the side and laid her cheek on the glass table top. Watched her breath form a circle of condensation. I've done this for thirteen years now. It never gets easier. Every day had led up to this one. Well, to Monday. In the airport, she'd hug and kiss her oldest daughter and wave goodbye. She'd say, "See you in . . . three months."
"On Skype, Mom. I'll see you on Skype. Tomorrow afternoon. Remember?"
Then she'll hug me again. "Please don't cry, Mom. I'll be fine."
And I'll grimace, sob, and be ugly, like a dried apple doll. Only wet. Soaking wet.
Dana heard the stairs creak. The shush of feet headed toward the kitchen. She picked up the edge of her nightgown. Used it to wipe her tears. This fall. She glared at the calendar. I hate this fall.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Shhhh! Don't tell anyone, but I'm the secret weapon. On my softball team. And I've never even played before. I take that back. I've played a little. I subbed as needed last summer, but I wasn't any good. Failed most at bats. Never got anyone out. It wasn't my fault though. No one would throw me the ball. Ever.
This season though, I've only struck out once. See, I use the Think System. You know, like Professor Hill in The Music Man. If you think you can play music, you will. If you think you can hit the ball, you can. It helps that I warm up real good. I swing the bat ferociously and chant Bible verses like, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," and, "Be strong and courageous." Visualization works too. I pretend I'm that chick in the Old Testament who pounded a tent spike through some war hero's skull. Nailed him to the ground, literally. That's the kind of spiritual and girl power I try to channel.
This summer I've found it helpful to suck up to the umpires. So far, it's working for me. They've all been very nice. They try really hard to teach me the rules. And heck, they throw more balls back to the pitcher than I do. Plus, they give me grace when I throw the bat after I hit.
"I'll have to call you out for that next time, sweetie."
I blow 'em a kiss from first base. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir!"
My coach, Corey, says I'm much better at defense this season. It might be because I talked my husband into giving me 20 bucks every time I get someone out. I've caught a couple of pop-up fouls, and I tagged a girl who didn't know her tee tiny hit was fair. I hoot and holler and jump up and down when I get people out. Even climbed the backstop once.
I've always been super good at psychological defense. No one had to teach me that.
"You're talking smack," my husband said.
"No, I'm not," I said. "I'm killing 'em with kindness, with sugar."
First off, I determine to learn everyone's name on the other team. Then I use their names, or their nicknames, as often as possible. When they're up at bat, I give a running commentary of what I know about each hitter.
"This is Rebecca. She's a math teacher at the high school. She hit a line drive right to Corey last time she was up, but that's way better than striking out." Or, "This is Samantha. Isn't she adorable? Not everyone can pull off a side ponytail. She's engaged on Facebook, aren't you, darling?"
My chatter makes some people giggle. Others get mad. Usually the guys. I see their shoulders tense up, and if I step in front of 'em to get a ball, they often have furrowed brows and small eyes. Mad or glad, it tends to throw 'em off. Bad for them. Good for us.
I always cheer for everyone who gets a good hit, either team. And I praise anyone who makes a great play in the field.
Evan Almighty, our right center, says, "If it weren't for you, all the teams would hate us."
"'Cause you're nice to everybody," he said.
Evan's a pagan, and I love him. He can't run very far because he smokes a lot. His one and only bit of facial hair looks like a fuzzy thumbprint under his full, cherry-Kool-Aid-colored lower lip.
"You guys are all Jesus Freaks, aren't you?" he asked Corey.
"Yep. Pretty much."
"I don't mind," Evan said. "You all are cool. You don't stuff him down my throat."
I pray for Evan to love Jesus someday. And for him to get a honey of a wife. He was engaged awhile back, but it turned out his fiance was from the Isle of Lesbos.
One of my favorite things about playing softball is breaking down the hardcore, rough tough cream puff, winning is everything players. They're not always guys either. I'd have to use a hammer to get some girls to crack a smile.
Once they get to know me, and like me, some teams let me get on base, just because. One time, I got hugged.
"Thank you so much," I said when I got to third. "For dawdling, just so I could get here."
"Girl, you are the cutest thing ever," the third basewoman said. "Give me a hug."
I grinned and leaned into her arms. "Your lips are chapped," I told her. "Want some lipgloss?"
Besides making sure everyone has a good time, I really enjoy the hand pat line we do when the game's over.
"This was fun."
"You all are really good."
"Good luck the rest of the season."
"You, Missy, are the MVP of your team." A big, tall guy with three white zeros on his blue jersey told me that one Friday night.
I looked behind me, then back at him. I pointed to my chest.
"Are you talking to me?"
He huffed. "Uh, yeah."
I pulled him aside. "I'm not a MVP, Triple Zip," I said. "I'm a SW."
He brushed his sweaty hair out of his eyes and squinted down at me. "A what?"
I stood on my tiptoes, cupped my hands around my mouth, and whispered. "Secret weapon."
He grinned and thumped me on the back. "That you are, Missy. That you are."
Friday, August 13, 2010
"I can make a boychild," I told my husband. "Really, I can."
He smiled, a sure-you-can-(not) smile. "I don't care what we get. Another baby would be wonderful."
I went to the library and checked out books on the subject. Then I got to work. No kidding. It was like having another job. Wake up. Don't move. Take your temperature. Record it. Check this (You want me to check what?). Do that. Touch such and such (You're kidding, right?).
A month passed. No baby. Another thirty days came and went. Miss dot-at-the-end-of-a-sentence came to visit. Again.
I sniffed in my hairstylist's chair. "It's never gonna happen," I said. "I bet I have secondary infertility."
Becky smiled at me in the mirror. "Hush, now," she said. "Go buy an ovulation kit. You're probably just off by a day or two."
Becky was right. Month three? Bingo!
"What do you see?" I asked the radiologist. "Is it still there? Is it?"
His face was an inch from the screen. "Honestly, I don't see a thing. I think we're out of the woods. I'll doublecheck the films and call you to confirm."
My breath came out in a whoosh. I grabbed my husband's hand and squeezed. He pressed back.
"So," the radiologist said. "Do you want to know the sex of the baby?"
My mouth fell open. "Really?"
My husband's eyebrows went up. "Right now?"
The doctor scooted his rolley stool around to face us. He rubbed his thighs briskly.
"This is West Virginia," he said. "I don't want to start a family feud. So do you, or don't you? Want to know."
My husband shook his head.
My husband shrugged. "I like surprises. So does my family."
I clasped my hands in front of my face and opened my eyes super wide. "Pretty please? I won't tell anyone inside the state."
My husband sighed. "Oh, all right."
The doctor wheeled the stool back to face the screen. He tapped it with his pen.
"See that right there?" he said. "That's what makes your little guy, a guy."
I grinned and clapped. "I did it! I made a boy!"
The doctor gave my husband a little shove. "You okay, Dad?"
My husband leaned closer to the ultrasound screen. His breath fogged it.
"It's a boy? Really?"
The doctor smiled and clapped him on the back. "It's a boy. A healthy son. Congratulations."
Fluid, surprisingly warm, gushed from inside me. I looked down. The legs of my blue maternity shorts darkened. The water continued on its way. A puddle formed on the back porch, between my flip flops. I shut my eyes and groaned.
The girls were swinging. "Watch how high we can go," the older one said.
The younger one looked at me and put her feet down to stop. "What, Mommy?" she said. "Why's your face all funny?"
I glanced down. "Someone bring me the phone."
"Mommy, you wet yourself."
I shook my head and spoke louder. "Just get me a phone."
"Right now?" my husband said. "It's coming right now?"
My answer was a whisper. "Yes."
"Dad's in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer, and I have someone in the office with me."
I nibbled my lip. "Last baby was born 20 minutes after my water broke."
"I'll be right there."
"You could stimulate your nipples," the nurse said, as she glanced at her watch. "Since your labor doesn't seem to be progressing."
My eyes bulged. I touched my cheeks. Hot. I crooked my finger to bring her closer. So the whole world wouldn't hear.
"Stimulate your nipples," she said. "It makes the body release oxytocin which can move the process along. Just slide your arms inside your gown."
She busied herself tucking the sheets around me, adusting the monitor beside my bed. I tapped her shoulder.
"Can you close the door, please?"
"Sure thing, honey. Your doctor's been paged. He'll be here any minute."
She pointed at the control panel near the bedrail. "That's the nurse call button if you need me. Don't forget. Stimulate--"
I put my finger to my mouth. She laughed as she left.
I had my birth plan all figured out. I'd had an epidural with child one. That was very nice. I'd gone natural with baby number two. Did the I-am-woman-hear-me-roar thing. Not so nice, but certainly doable. Given a choice, I wanted drugs on my third and final (Lord willing) labor and delivery.
"Can you write it in my chart now?" I said to my doctor. "Put it in all caps. PATIENT WANTS EPIDURAL AS SOON AS SHE ENTERS HOSPITAL."
My doctor had laughed. "We'll see."
"What do you mean I can't have an epidural?" I said. "It's written in my chart. In all caps. Look it up!"
The nurse fussed with my sheets. Patted my hands. Wouldn't look me in the eye.
"They said something like the anesthesiologist had a more emergent situation," she said.
My fingernails bit into my palms. I gnashed my teeth.
"What is more emergent than a baby emerging from my body?"
The nurse cringed. Her hands were like nervous butterflies in the air between us.
She moved towards the door. "Let me see what your doctor says."
Within five minutes I was speaking in tongues. So my husband says. I was watching a documentary on television, about Mardi Gras. I heard drums--a primal beat--and my head turned side to side, matching their rhythm.
I started to chant under my breath. "I want drugs. I want them now."
Another contraction started. My stomach churned, and my eyes wouldn't focus. I heard the nurse come back in the room, but she looked like she was walking toward me through a cloud. She held something. I squinted at it, wary.
"How about some Nubane, honey?"
I snarled my nose. "What's that?"
She brushed a stray hair off my face. "I think you'll like it," she said. "It'll take the edge off. Help you relax."
I shrugged. "Okay."
Prick. Ow! Warmth. Oooh!
I collapsed against my pillows. Let out a noisy breath.
"That's nice," I told her.
I grinned at my husband. "I'm the queen of Mardi Gras. And I'm floating. See? I'm on a parade float. On Bourbon Street. That's in New Orleans, right? Want some beads?"
I felt sultry. I tried to purr. The nurse grinned as she swabbed my arm. She walked over and deposited the needle in the red box on the wall.
"Hey!" I said. She glanced over. I smiled coyly. Blinked a couple times.
She chuckled. "Uh, no." She sat in a chair at the end of the bed and nudged my knees apart.
I stuck my tongue out at her.
"You're almost ready now," she said. "I'll get the doctor."
I scooted myself up on my elbows. "I want more Nubane, and I want it now!"
I glared at the med student behind my doctor. "And I want Doogie Howser to go away."
"Be nice," my doctor said. "He's just observing. I won't let him touch you."
I blew air out my wrinkled nose. "Is he old enough to hear me cuss?"
The med student cowered.
My doctor sat in the chair at the bottom of the bed. He put his hands on my ankles.
"You ready to do this?" he said, looking between my knees.
I winced as another wave of pressure and pain radiated through me.
"Can't you just grab its head and pull it out?"
"Easy," my doctor said. "Don't hold your breath. That's it. Breathe."
I tried to sit up when the fire started. In my girl parts.
"Will whoever has their hand on my-- Dang it! I can't even say the word 'cause Doogie--"
My doctor stood. "Keep pushing! You're so close!"
The med student got in my face. "Do you want me to pull the mirror down, ma'am?" he said. "So you can watch?"
I clenched my teeth and took a swing at him. "No, I do not--"
Pain stole my words. I fell back on the pillow stack. Doogie slunk back to his corner.
I wanted it over. Now. I pushed hard. Forced everything in me down between my legs. My head felt like it was going to explode. And I was so hot.
I panted. "Someone fan me! Fan my face! Ahhh!"
And then the pressure in my groin dropped.
"We have a head!" the doctor said.
I felt my nose drain. Then my eyes. More flesh of my flesh slid out of me.
"And we have a baby. A perfect baby boy."
Everything in me softened. Went limp. Like I had no bones. I whimpered. Heard the pounding in my ears slow.
The doctor brought the boy child to me, still slick with his white icing of vernix.
"Tell him, 'Hello,' Mom. He's a little blue. He needs oxygen."
I stroked my son's face with my pointer finger. Tears spilled onto my cheeks. "Hi, little guy."
"Gosh, he looks like his dad," my doctor said before he took him over to get oxygen and a belly button.
"I made a boy," I said to the ceiling.
My doctor laughed from across the room. "You get what you get, you know."
I shook my head. "Nope," I said. "I made a boy. With a little help. Just a little."
Friday, August 6, 2010
I never wanted kids, but then my husband said, "Try it. You'll like it."
I crossed my arms and huffed. "Oh, all right," I said. "Just one. For you."
"Hey," I said when our daughter turned one. "I do like it. A lot. But one's enough."
"How 'bout another one?" I said across the dinner table a couple years later. "You know. To keep the other one company."
My husband's eyes looked buggy. "Really?"
"Really," I said as I handed him a spatula. To scrape his chin off the table.
So there we were. At Sea World. With the two girls. And all the babies. Good golly! I'd never seen so many babies in my life. In strollers. In slings. In backpacks. Toddlers too. Some were taking their first Monster Mash zombie steps.
I turned to my husband, and as I did, I heard my voice say, "Wanna try for a boy?"
I see the moment in slow motion. My husband looked like he'd just chugged a pint or two. His eyes were glassy. Bright. His mouth hung open. Something came towards me. From him. Amazement? Hunger? Unspeakable joy?
I cupped his chin and lifted. He put an arm around me and pulled me close. Tight. He placed his other hand on my belly. I smiled as I watched the blonde Sea World girl in her blue and black wetsuit put the tee tiny fish into the giant black and white whale's mouth. It was an I-can-make-a-human-being-with-a-little-help-of-course kind of smile.
I blipped my key fob to lock the car. Ran into the house. Called my friend Kelee in Ohio.
"Guess a what?"
"There's a penis inside me."
I heard her huff. I grinned.
"I mean, it's a boy."
"A boy? Oh! A boy," she said. "Yay! You're just like us--two girls and a boy. Awesome!"
I nodded and smiled. Leaned over 'til the sofa caught me in a black leather hug.
I stopped smiling when my doctor called.
"I'd like you to have another ultrasound."
Everything stopped. My heart. My breath. Time. My doctor's words sounded like they were coming through a tin can and yarn. I heard apology in his voice.
"There's a spot on the baby's brain. On the ultrasound film," he said. "It's just a couple of millimeters right now, but I'm concerned. It could grow. Sometimes it's an indicator of problems."
I blinked. Finally. "Problems?"
"Or," he said. "It might disappear. I've seen that happen too."
I pushed my fingers into my hair. "Disappear."
"I'll call you after the ultrasound results, okay?"
I hung up the phone. "Yeah. Okay."
I tipped over until the sofa caught me in black leather quicksand.
My husband and I? We hardly told anyone. We didn't want folks to worry about the baby. Didn't want anyone to feel sorry. For us.
I mentioned it to a few people. Praying people. "Pray for our baby. Please?"
I didn't ask 'em to pray for us. That would be selfish, right?