She was born on the 28th of August, though she was scheduled for the 15th of September. She was another emergency caesarean, I arrived at the clinic at ten pm, with contractions every four or five minutes and at 11:59, she was born. I first saw her through a fog of waking up after anaesthesia. It was sometime in the early morning – still dark out, but the sky was turning gray around the edges. I turned over on my side so I could see her. She was in a clear plastic bassinette. I looked, and there she was, a tiny little baby with a round head, thick, back hair, and a crumpled, red face. My little tomato-face, I remember thinking. My little girl.
She was, to me, the most beautiful baby. Of course she was, and she was good natured. She ate and slept, and didn’t cry except for a tremulous “maaa” when she needed to be fed or changed. She stopped breathing once and turned gray. The nurse was in the room at that moment, and flicked her on the soles on her feet. “Do that if she does it again,” she told me. I couldn’t stop shaking. My twins had been preemies and we’d nearly lost them. I didn’t realize how traumatized I was. I cried for three days. “Baby blues”, everyone said, and maybe it was. But I kept her with me, in my bed, and slept with her for nearly a year. She was like my second skin, we breathed together, slept together, and when she cried, we cried together. I had a little kangaroo baby carrier, and hardly ever put her down.
The twins were, predictably, terribly jealous. But she won them over by being sweet. She was the sweetest baby. She smiled often – her mouth would curve into a smile – but her eyes were always deeply serious. Her favorite time of day was bathtime. She had the famous three month colic, and I bounced her gently on my knees while reading aloud to the twins every night. We lived in a tiny house that had an outdoor staircase. There were three rooms downstairs, and three rooms upstairs. The boys were in school, my husband worked in Paris. I was at home with Julia, my tiny girl, my dog Fudge, and our cat Felix.
We walked the boys to school each day, and at lunchtime walked to the school to get them. Two other children lunched with us – their mother worked and I offered to take them. We had microwave hotdogs most days – the kids loved them, and the French children told their parents, who were amazed. Microwave hotdogs, a yogurt, a fruit, and some veggie or salad. And Julia, in her little baby seat at the table. I don’t remember being lonely or bored. The house was tiny but the garden vast, and the neighbors were friendly and often dropped in. I had a vegetable garden, and grew most of our salad and tomatos, our corn, pumkins, and our zucchini. I also loved flowers, and planted blue borage and pansies around the rose bushes.
A year passed. We moved from the tiny house with the outdoor staircase to a drafty old converted barn in a nearby village. The boys were in elementary school, but I had to drive them now. Julia slept well, and some mornings I would leave her in her crib while I dropped the twins at school. In my purse, was a note and the house key in case I got in an accident. Fudge, our dog, lay in front of Julia’s room. She stood guard. We took walks every day – often with Fudge pulling Julia’s stroller like a sled dog. Julia loved blackberries and as we walked by the hedges, she’d reach up and pull down the little berries, popping them in her mouth. Those are the images I have of her as a baby. A sweet, serious girl who called her brothers “Ada and Ada”, and bread was “Yumgunga”.
The years go by too fast. When she was five, Fudge passed away and we got Rusty, who was always Julia’s dog. She made Halloween costumes for Rusty, wove crowns of flowers for her to wear, and trained her to do circus tricks. When Auguste came along, seven years later, he joined the dog circus. She loved to train them, so it came as no surprise when she taught her horse to bow for treats. The years fly by. So much to remember – the good and the scary – the horse shows, the broken toe, the heart surgery (four – but thankfully minor surgeries each time, though horribly painful). Walks in the forest, Christmas shopping in Paris, spending summers in New York and in Spain, making snowmen, her pink bike and yellow boots, her never-ending cheerfulness.
More years fly by. Highschool, and graduation, and college – where did time go? She had successes and failures, but success never went to her head, and failure never defeated her. Last year she completed her studies, passed her last teaching exam, and this year she has three classes of her own – 7th and 8th grades for English, and she’s planning a Harry Potter themed “students arriving at Hogwarts” course, to get them in the mood! It’s her birthday, and I wish her all the bright and shiny things in life. But looking back, I realize it’s also the small, sweet things that make me smile. The blackberries crushed her her fist, the egg she tried to hatch, going to a park with her wearing a plastic tiara, walking in the fields with the dogs, the look on her face when he realized Kalin was hers to keep, and her amazing record of catching 123 fish in a day at the lake- never beaten!
Happy birthday, beautiful woman. I love you way past the moon and back – way past Jupiter, Pluto, and the Milky Way Galaxy. I can’t wait to read your books, and see what you make of your life. I will always admire you, I am so very proud of you.