“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Monday, January 21, 2013

Everybody's Baby

When the millennium was just barely born, and I was just barely twenty years old, I had reason to drive myself to the hospital. This is a terribly big deal, you must understand, because the words "I had to" and "myself" were rarely strung together in my life at that point.

I was excited to be at the hospital early in the year 2000, because I had no life experience. I had little knowledge of suffering, and little understanding of loss. And I was there for neither reason. I was there, quite the contrary, to celebrate something new.

My sister, the oldest in my family, had just had a baby girl. My sister's first baby. My first niece, first grandchild of my parents. First everything. And that made our new girl, tiny little angel, everybody's baby. The day she was born, it was like a whole new family was born. There was a reason to be excited about all the things we'd forgotten in our new adult angst. Suddenly, where everything had been old hat, we saw new, tiny hat. Magic. Possibility. I entered the hospital room, and she was bundled up in a tiny blanket, nothing to see but the tuft of blazing red hair that peeked out from the swaddle.

There are very few people I've loved so fast in my life, but my Olivia is one of them. Somehow, though she was my sister's, and as I've said, everybody's, somehow she belonged especially to me. Not because I was her godmother, or because I'm Jane's only sister, but somehow, when her eyes blinked open at me as she was placed in my arms, we connected. I think God must have decided in that moment I'd only give birth to boys because he knew I'd never love another girl quite like I love this one.

I spent Olivia's first year as her nanny, gladly arranging my college schedule around my sister's work schedule, so that I could be there as a trusted person to care for her. I'd hold her red head just under my chin, smelling her good baby smell, and we'd fall asleep together in the rocking chair in my sister's living room. As she grew, and showed more of her special stubborn streak, I was the one who rocked her to sleep willingly (as I wasn't the one waking with her in the night). I was the one who knew that Africa by Toto could lull her like nothing else. I was the one who was willing to lay next to her indefinitely until her sweet bronze lashes would fall to slumber, and her perfect round cheeks relaxed with the angelic sleep that only babies know.

Thirteen years later, I am signing my two sons up for Little League. I am rushing through the house to find town IDs and birth certificates. I have a teenage girl--hear that? a teenage girl--in my car, ready to run into the town center to drop off these forms that my husband and I misplaced, or forgot, or whatever the reason is that we were unprepared this time (because I'm no longer twenty and the words "I had to" and "myself" are regularities and can cause quite the mess). She is tall--too tall for my family. Her hair is flowing fire, a cascade of lava that matches her personality. She is a girl to be reckoned with. She wears skinny jeans and tall fur-capped boots and--inexplicably--a sequinned hat. I guess at some point every girl makes the mistake of not knowing sequins are ridiculous. Lucky for my girl, it is now when she is freshly thirteen and not down the road when she has a fancy date with a fancy boy who will want to roll his eyes because sequins are ridiculous.

I watch her dash through newly fallen snow, dainty and coordinated as I never was, her sequinned hat sparkling against the white around her, her red hair standing out against the blank desolation of winter. It is the perfect metaphor for my Olivia. She is anything but plain. She is anything but quiet. She will be heard, she will be seen, she will be noticed. She is the fire against the snow against all odds.

We are so, so proud of the girl you have become, Olivia Rose. I am so proud to be your goddy. Happy Birthday, Teenage Girl.

My baby girl holding my baby boy.

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