It was McDonald's for dinner tonight, Noah's birthday pick. He got his favorite: a hamburger Happy Meal with extra pickles, chocolate milk, French fries, and apples dippers. My boys don't know there is dip with the apples. I don't know why anyone would hand a small child a tub of gooey caramel and expect that to go well.
Noah is four years old today. Every day, every year, I love him more than I ever did, and I find out that, if possible, he is even greater than I ever knew. Tonight when I tucked him into bed, I told him, "I am so, so glad I get to be your mom."
I'd considered telling him his birth story, but he's heard it a million times. I tell him about how he was jumping around so much in my belly I had to tell the doctor, "I can't wait anymore! This baby wants to come OUT!" and how the doctor told me to go to the hospital in the morning.
I've said before that I never planned for Noah to be a C-section, or an emergency (I guess "unexpected" does usually go with "emergency"). I will never forget being rushed into the operating room with nurses, my beloved doctor, and my worried husband running alongside me. I was really, really ticked. When I'd had Joey, the delivery had been a disaster because I was a total wimp. All through my pregnancy with Noah I'd researched and planned and been determined to be super tough and impressive. And I HAD been--up until we realized something was wrong. It's weird, but even though it couldn't possibly be true, I felt like it meant there had to be something wrong with me. I felt like I'd failed at something that comes easily to millions of women every day. It didn't occur to me that easy isn't a word most women would use to describe their childbirth experiences, even if it went more smoothly than this was going. I could only think that I'd already messed up.
In the OR, the anesthesiologist was a real tool and kept yelling at Joe and me to settle down and look away from the procedure. I didn't want to see, anyway, but stupid Joe kept leaping out of the stool and saying, "Is he out yet?" and the anesthesiologist would shove him back down and say, "Sir, I TOLD you to sit down!" And I was thinking, "DUDE! Our baby's being born! Shut the hell up!"
And then my doctor, my super wonderful doctor who saved both me and my baby, was holding up this angry, angry child. His tiny face screamed into mine and I fell back, shocked because he looked absolutely nothing like his older brother. The whole time I was pregnant, I was all calm and sure of myself while Joe would lay awake at night saying, "I just can't picture anyone but Joey. I can't imagine loving anyone more than him," and I would sagely reply, "He'll look like his own person. It would be silly to think he'd be the same as Joey. And of course we'll love him just as much." And yet when Angry Baby was there in front of me, and Joe was gasping, "My God he's so beautiful! I love him so much already!" I was feeling all incredulous that he looked different from Joey.
I wasn't able to hold him right then. I don't know why. Lots of people I know who have C-sections are able to hold their babies right away. Noah wasn't in distress or anything, but they still whisked him away to be cleaned, measured, and weighed. And I had to wait.
Joe held him first, which also made me mad. This happened when we'd had Joey, and I remember feeling like, "Whoa! I just did all that freaking work while he just STOOD there, and he gets to hold the baby first?" But because of the circumstances, the nurses finished cleaning Noah and just handed him straight to Joe. And from several feet away, I heard him say, "He's perfect! And Mary, he looks like you."
It wasn't until I was out of the OR that I finally got to hold him. My mom and dad, terrified that I'd been about to die, were waiting anxiously in my room for me. They were really excited to be there, especially my dad since he'd never been there in those precious newborn moments for any of his grandchildren. He'd always visited my sister and then me the next day, when things were hunky-dory in the private room on the other side of the maternity wing. They hovered over me as I pulled the hospital blanket back from Noah's smooth, round cheek. Joey had been a bit of a cone-head at first since he'd refused to be born for thirty-six hours, but Noah was perfect. His skin was golden and he had tufty blond hair that parted on the side--a detail I fell in love with immediately. He did look like me, his tiny nose bunched up like mine was in all my baby pictures, but he had his Daddy's ears. The left one was folded up from the way he'd been pressed against my belly, and I smoothed it carefully with my little finger. He bunched up his big full lips, frowned for a moment, and then leaned into me for a more thorough snuggle.
"His fingers are so blue," my dad whispered, but with a happy smile. "I haven't been around a baby this new since you." He squeezed my shoulder.
Joe leaned over us, kissing Noah's fuzzy hair and then my forehead. "You did great, you know," he said. "He's perfect."
I kissed Noah's full cheek, loving him so much I felt it like a scream inside me that was going to explode. I sang to him, "You're just too good to be true, can't take my eyes off of you. You feel like heaven to touch, I want to hold you so much. At long last you have arrived, and I thank God you're alive. You're just too good to be true, can't take my eyes off of you."
Those moments before he was born, when I'd been afraid and felt like I'd failed somehow as a mother--I wish I could bottle those along with the amazing feeling of total perfection that came when I finally held him. I'd label the bottle: Dealing With Noah Forever--because that part of him never seems to change. He is my daily challenge--the thing that shoves me to the end of my rope and leaves me dangling there all desperate and crazed and thinking, "Why can't I handle this kid?" But it's always, always followed by a moment where everything just clicks. Because for all his faults, Noah is wonderful--he's amazing in so many ways. He always manages to quickly make up for whatever he's done, and to remind me, "You are an awesome mom, Mom." (Addressing people is a big thing with him.) "And you're so beautiful." (So is complimenting.) "And I don't want anyone else but you." (Total sincerity.)
And Noah, I promise you'll always have me. Always. My perfect little baby boy. Happy Birthday.