Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Deciding Forever

I am besotted. Absolutely besotted. Just drunk with the delight of holding in my arms this most recent reminder that, even while exploded oil wells destroy ecosystems and we argue about whether the administration has been angry enough about it, there is reason to be optimistic.

A baby will do that to you. He will get you up in the middle of the night so you can go tearing down the interstate to be there when he is rolled out of the delivery room still squinting against the new light. He will make you laugh and cry and tremble with both exhilaration and fear all within his first hour of life. He will open his eyes and stare at you with a look that, the inability to focus notwithstanding, says, "I don’t think we’ve met, but you look very familiar and I feel quite certain that you would move heaven and earth for me. Is that right?"

It’s been nearly 28 years since I sat outside the delivery room at University Hospital in Augusta awaiting the arrival of the first baby that would grip my heart with his tiny fist. I was alone and every so often would calm my thoughts long enough to read a few pages in the paperback book that kept me company. I can still feel the raised letters of the title on its cover. It was cold and I got up every few minutes to jump-start the circulation in my legs.

Just a few minutes after 2:00 a.m., Dr. Natrajan pushed his way through the big double doors. "We have a baby!" And a few minutes later, a nurse pulled a curtain back from the nursery window and pushed a bassinet to the front for me to get my first look at my nephew. I couldn’t see his face very well because his feet were pointed away from the window, but that didn’t interfere with the conversation that I’d been waiting for nine months to have.

I told him how much I loved him already and I told him all the things we were going to do together and I think I might have mentioned that there were other people who loved him, too. And, suddenly, he twisted his head up and to the side as though he had sensed that I was there. He opened his eyes and, for just a second, they met mine.

I’ve revisited that moment over and over as the baby became the towhead toddler became the long-legged kid became the broad-shouldered teenager became the handsome groom. I revisit it again as I stare into the face of my baby’s baby.

Jackson Carl Bradley was, like his daddy, born in the middle of the night, but for him there was not just one royal attendant. There were a lot of people standing in the hallway staring through the nursery window as the nurse bathed and measured and pricked and swaddled, a lot of people – grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and friends – taking pictures and cooing and making ridiculous, but necessary comments about who he resembles.

The writer Elizabeth Stone said, "Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."

For some of us it is not our decision, but someone else’s, that results in open heart surgery. The first time it happens it is like electric shock, unexpected and startling. The first time it happens there is a great wondering: How did this come about? How do I do this? Am I allowed to do this? The first time it happens it’s a little like falling down a rabbit hole and discovering that nothing, most of all yourself, is the way you thought.

But, then, if you’re fortunate enough to be around when that momentous decision gets made again, you – having learned about the incredible elasticity of the human heart, having learned that a child never has too many people loving him or her, having learned that there is nothing nothing nothing quite so affirming as the tightness of tiny arms twined around your neck – dive right in, steeled for the electric shock and all that goes with it.

When most of the crowd had left to go home and get some sleep, when Jackson and his sweet, brave mama had been given a room of their own and when both grandmothers had had their turns at cuddling and inspecting, I got mine. I touched his cheek with the back of my finger, I nuzzled the top of his downy head, I watched his chest lift and lower in tiny little baby breaths.

I sang a song and said a prayer and made a promise, a promise that is a secret just between Jackson and me.

Copyright 2010

No comments: