If you don’t have something nice to say…

I know it has been a long time since I wrote one of these posts. I feel guilty about it from time-to-time and then I remind myself not to be pretentious—there are no starving crowds hanging on my every word waiting for me to sprout words of wisdom. The few of you who do follow me faithfully tend to prefer stories about the idiotic things I do and situations I get myself into…and there are a few of those I should be telling you about…but I have just not had anything particularly worth saying really. That, and I started a new job, which is time-consuming and new and takes a fair bit of my already diminished and sleep-deprived brain power to accomplish.

BUT TODAY I have something good to say. Today, my middle son turned eight years old. My gorgeous Hudson has had a whole day of celebrating the fact that he was born. Now that doesn’t seem all that special when you say it like that, but the fact that he stayed alive after he was born is.

When Hudson was born at 38 weeks and 5 days (well and truly full-term) at 8pounds and 15 ounces, he should have been a healthy baby boy, but within seconds, the doctors were inturbating him. In fact, my first real glimpse of him was of this tiny baby  on the table with a paediatrician pushing a breathing tube into down his throat. His apgar score was 3. He wasn’t breathing well at all and, instead of rising and falling as he took each breath, his chest caved in. His newborn nostrils flared as he struggled to draw every single breath. I held him for barely a minute and listened to him grunting each time he exhaled. While the doctors stitched me up, another doctor was downstairs in the nursery putting a drip into my newborn son’s tiny arm. I wept when I saw it; there is something wrong with the idea of invading such a tiny body—so innocent and new—with something that sharp. But they kept him alive, and I was grateful.

As the day wore on and we realised he was not improving, the shock set in. I remember telling my husband to take lots of photos—I knew I couldn’t cope with everything— “Take photos, and I’ll deal with everything later, when he is safe,” as though I had any sense he would be.

Within a few hours, he was retrieved, by ambulance, to another hospital where they had a neonatal intensive care unit. It was the second time I held him, and it lasted  mere minutes before they whisked him —and the oxygen mask we had to hold over his face all that time—away. I don’t know if you have ever held someone you love and wondered if it is the last time you will ever see them alive. I did that day. It hurt like nothing on earth. I carried him inside me for 38 weeks and expected to hold him in my arms for many more to come, and here he was off on his own and barely a few hours old,  to fight for his life—without me.

It still brings tears to my eyes to remember those moments, even now with my healthy son asleep in his bed. Andrew and I held each other and took turns to weep as we waited to find out if they had room for me at the hospital and, if they did, how long it would be before an ambulance could take me there to be with my baby, all the while praying that the worst news we would get is that I couldn’t go be with him. There was other news we feared, but were too afraid even to speak out loud. The nurses were guessing it might be after 6pm before an ambulance could be found for me, a very long 7 hours away! Andrew and I had spent time together reading one of our favourite psalms from the Bible that morning, Psalm 121. I was beside myself with panic and emotion when Andrew reminded me of one little phrase from the Psalm that says ‘God will watch over your coming and going’. I do not exaggerate when I say that within minutes of him reciting those words, an ambulance was downstairs waiting to take me to FMC.

Hudson survived the trip but continued to struggle to breathe, gradually getting worse for at least three days before there was any sign of improvement.  At one point, the incubator was augmented with a 90% oxygen mixture so that he could absorb enough to survive. Monitors beeped all around the ward, but all I could see was this little boy (not as little as most of the neonates in there, but my little boy nonetheless) whom I longed to hold and comfort  as he continued to struggle, his chest caving inwards with each breath. My arms literally ached with desperation to hold him. I sat alongside his incubator and put an inadequate hand into the warm but inhuman space he was confined to. I talked to him endlessly and sang the same songs I had throughout my pregnancy. His oxygen levels improved whenever I was with him and he seemed to struggle more whenever I returned to my room to rest or take my pain meds (I was recovering from a caesarian). On more than one occasion, I returned to my room in tears because some well-meaning (and ultimately right) nurse had told me not to touch him because it distracted him from breathing. I was angry that I could not hold my own child when he needed me, and resentful that the fifteen women whose rooms I passed on my way to my own empty room, held their crying babies or fed them or changed their nappies. I cried because I felt it was my job to comfort my baby, and I could not; because it was my job to take care of him, but I could not. Those first few days of Hudson’s life were the longest of my life.

It is strange to look back at those days and the uncertainty of Hudson’s future. He was four days old  before I even thought about brain damage due to oxygen deprivation. I was too busy counting the fifteen needle pricks on his tiny feet where they had taken blood to rule out one thing or another. I didn’t think about expressing milk to feed him for days because he was too weak to open his eyes, let alone eat. I couldn’t think about how the experience might affect his future because I was too concerned about the drip that was in his arm and the way the tape that held his breathing tubes in place seemed to be damaging his pink skin. He was two days old before I got a photo of him because some obnoxious criminal stole my camera from my bedroom while I was keeping watch at my newborn’s bedside. (how I got that camera back is a story worth telling too…another time).

All the while, my other precious baby, Michael, was in and out of hospital with Andrew to visit us. We shared many afternoon naps on my hospital bed—18month old boys think the world of automatic beds and wheelchairs—while Andrew and I took turns in the NICU.

…To be honest, I can’t stay in those scary days a moment longer….the point of all this is that Hudson survived, has thrived and become an intelligent, sweet, funny, considerate and loving child. Today I have something to say: I am so grateful that God gave us this amazing son, that we get to share his life and be his family. I am so grateful that weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning. I am glad that time does not heal everything, because some scars are worth keeping—they remind you about what’s important, where you’ve been and, how faithful God is even when everything seems hopeless.

Happy birthday Hudson! You were worth every mile we walked, every mountain we climbed, every tear we shed and the joy you have brought us all is immeasurable. You rock our world little man.

How is it that…

How is it that music can take you out of your daily life and deposit you in a memory almost twenty years old? I remembered a song the other day that I have not heard (or even thought of) for about 18 years. In that single moment of remembering, I was flung back to my late teens— time travelling on sound waves— to some of the most long-forgotten but delicious memories . For those of you old enough to remember the song, it was Nightswimming by REM.

I have always loved swimming at night, especially in the dark, though not in water that is home to other living things—Jaws cured me of that. I’m sure Freud would have something to say about a fixation with being in water in the dark…something about returning to the womb perhaps? I just like the silence of the dark, the water lapping against some unseen barrier, the sensation of being surrounded and secret. I might stop there….there may be one or two of you who know why…let’s keep it that way : )

How is it that a book can transport you to a world in seconds so effectively, in fact, that when you lift your eyes from the page, you are there, emotionally, with the characters, falling in love, grieving the loss of a loved one or floating hopeful through your day? I remember a book I read once that cured me forever of the bad habit of putting a  book aside because I didn’t like where the story was going. The book’s name escapes me, but it was written by Bodie Thoene. In the thrid(ish) book of the series, one of the main characters dies in a bomb blast. I remember reading the scene, the pit-of-my-stomach grief that followed and was marked by four days of ignoring the offending book—an unnoticed protest at the author’s poor sense of story and her homicidal cruelty to my favourite character. I picked up the book the following week and discovered, to my chagrin, that the cliff-hanger bomb blast had not, in fact,  killed the character that I had—for days—been mourning. I learned my lesson well! It’s a good thing too, or I might never have finished New Moon! Twigeeks will know what I mean.

How is it that a smell can transport you half way across the world to the bedroom you had as a child in Africa, the warm scent of jasmine washing over you in waves of pure spring pleasure? I will not think about the other smells that take me back: disinfectant, blood, Earl Grey tea (oh yes, you heard me…evil Earl Grey, thou shalt not have me!).

What are your favourite triggers for long-forgotten memories or sensations?

Siblings.

“I am hungry, Bruder,” the small girl whined as she clambered over mossy logs. “Can’t I share the bread?”

“I don’t have any bread.” The words tumbled to the ground where they were crunched with autumn leaves beneath four small feet.

Two blonde pigtails flicked from side-to-side. “But I saw you sneak a crust into your pocket while Steifmutter was looking away.”

He quickened his pace.

“Bruder, please?”

She whines like a mosquito, he thought. “I don’t have any bread.”

“What did you say? I can’t hear when you mumble.”

“I. Don’t have. Any bread.” The little girl stopped a second before her pigtails did.

“You ate it?” A shrill accusation. He could imagine her little mouth an indignant ‘O’ in her pretty face. Seconds of silence passed, then she sniffed.

The boy sighed.“I used it to make a path when Vater brought us here this morning,” he called back over his shoulder.

The girl began following again, skipping to catch up. “So we are following it home, ja?”

He fought the urge to run. He could just leave her here—he was fast enough to bolt—but he was not his father.

The boy stopped. “The birds have already eaten it, Kleine Schwester.” His head dropped like the setting winter sun, leaving nothing but cold dread.

“But you know where we are going, ja? You are taking us home?” Her trust stung worse than Stiefmutter’s face-slaps when she had caught him trying to sneak out for pebbles the night before.

“I… It will… we must keep moving.” He wiped his eyes with his tattered sleeve and took his sister’s hand in his own—her fingers were cold, and small. Perhaps, if we are lucky, we will not wake tomorrow morning.

They walked in silence for some time, the crunch-crunch of their feet interrupted only by the occasional growl of their hungry bellies.

“I think I hear water,” said the little boy. They listened for a moment before setting off in the direction from which the soft babble of a stream was coming, stumbling into a run as the sound grew louder.

They threw themselves onto the bank and scooped up handfuls of icy water to slurp. When they were done, the front of their shirts were spattered and their hands numb. The boy smiled at his sister—her face was wet and her pigtails clung to her cheeks. He looked away before she caught the uncertainty in his eyes. “If we follow this stream, we will find people.” He hoped it was true.

They stood and began to walk, not bothering to brush the leaf clutter clinging to their knees.

“Perhaps we will find a cottage with a nice old grossmutter. She might be baking bread and roasting meat and wishing for two little children to feed. Bruder, do you think we might find a grossmutter like that?”

He grunted an ambiguous answer, but his sister didn’t notice, she was already prattling on about the grandmother she was creating in her mind’s eye.

The boy tuned out, his thoughts involuntarily drawn to his memories of their mother. He couldn’t quite remember her face, but he could see her hands—they were rough, red and cracked from washing eight pairs of lederhosen and her own dirndl. Her belly was full and round—he remembered this because he could no longer sit on her lap for his evening milk. Instead he curled up under her arm and rested his head on the bump that was his little sister—his mother’s longed-for girl-child, and the baby whose passage into the world had taken his mother from him. Vater could barely look at the baby when she was born and had married Stiefmutter within a week so she could care for the babe and his seven boys while he took long walks into the forest to cut wood and forget. Their house always had a warm fire, but Hansel had not tasted milk since.

“Your pocket smells of bread.”

His sister’s voice summoned him back to the present. “What are you talking about?”

“I can smell bread. Your pocket smells like the crust you hid there.”

“I never put it in my pocket,” insisted the boy, but he could smell bread now too. Not bread exactly, but cake.

He did not need to manufacture the enthusiasm that was building in his chest. “There must be a house nearby. Perhaps that grossmutter is baking for us.”

The children began to run, barreling headfirst through low-hanging branches just in time to avoid the fallen logs over which they might have tripped. They were no longer holding hands, and the distance between them was growing steadily. The boy reached the clearing first and stopped dead—even his breath halted—until his sister barreled into him from behind.

“You nearly lost me,” she fumed. “I couldn’t see you and I was calling and calling….”

Whining mosquito!  “Look.” His eyes caught hers and drew a straight line between them to the magnificent sight off to his left. “Kleine Schwester, look.”

Her eyes followed his all the way to the spectacle that awaited them.

“Oh mein Gott…”

A blasphemous mosquito! “Don’t speak like that. Vater would beat you for that.” He choked on the image of his father, belt-in-hand, beating him for the same blasphemy. He shook the unwelcome image off. After all, what Christian man leaves his children in the forest? “Let’s go see if anyone is home.”

“Is this a dream, Bruder?”

“If it is, don’t wake me until I have tasted those walls. Are they made of cake?”

“I think so, it smells so, and the roof tiles look like gingerbread.”

A cracking underfoot made the children start and look down.

“Bruder…it looks like…” Before the boy could stop her, the girl had scooped up a shard of rock that had cracked from the brown path that led to the front door of the cottage. She popped it in her mouth. “It is…chocolate!” Her face melted with sheer joy.

The boy’s stomach growled, and he took the piece of paving stone and threw it in the bushes. “We must behave or the people will not want to help us.” His sister was eyeing the path and chewed at the corner of her mouth. He glowered at her, but his mouth was filled with the sweetest taste he could imagine—he had inadvertently licked his fingers. His resolve teetered.

The boy took hold of his sister’s hand and, with a loud cough to disguise the sound, smashed his heel into the path, breaking a paver into chunks. “Let’s go to the door. If they turn us away, grab whatever you can, and run.”