Sixteen Years Ago Today
August had been miserable in Columbia, Maryland. Hot and humid are even more difficult to deal with when you’re dirt poor and living in a 1,000 square foot apartment. September wasn’t much better. Indian summer stretched through the month, and the electric bill (from running the a/c) went through the roof. It was 90 degrees outside and about 60 in the apartment. There could have been a thunderstorm in our doorway! Making the month especially…uh…interesting: my mother had come out for the birth of her first grandchild. She was helping…sort of.
My father juggled his schedule so he could fly out the day after the due date. He spent an entire week twiddling his thumbs, reading all my books and jumping every time anyone sneezed. Eventually, my wife got tired of being stared at and started hiding in the back bedroom. Then he left disappointed — no baby.
One Sunday morning we were driving home after church, and my mother ordered me to stop at a produce stand. She bought peppers of every variety and turned them into the hottest salsa she’s ever made. Some old wives’ tale. We ate salsa until we cried. We went for walks. We did all the things grandmas say will make the baby come out.
We blew past the due date. Then we lapped it. Finally, our doctor told us to schedule a time to come in and be induced. We were told to come in late at night. That way we could sleep while they were setting everything up, wake up the next morning (well-rested) and have us a baby.
So, after our Tuesday night Bible study we watched Emeril on the Food Network, packed our bags, waved goodbye to my mother, stopped at the grocery store for snacks, and headed to the hospital. On the way there, she had indigestion or Braxton-Hicks contractions or something. The funny thing is…they were 14 minutes apart.
It wasn’t until we were sitting in the waiting room filling out forms that I realized she was in labor. There would be no sleep that night…or the next.
The best things in life make you wait for what seems like an eternity. You get all excited, mark the date on the calendar in red and then wait while the days crawl by. You go about your regular activities, but they don’t seem to have as much meaning.
In fact, as I look back, I don’t remember anything substantial happening — even though I was serving a church and continued my teaching schedule. I know I must have spent time studying and meeting with people. But I can’t remember any of that.
The only thing I remember was waking up every day wondering, “Will it be today?” I remember every time my cell phone went off during those 10 overdue days: “Is it time?”
Every day was filled with hope and expectation and disappointment and more hope. I knew it wouldn’t be long, and even though it was longer than we expected, I never lost hope.
The baby ran out of water in there. She lingered and swam and rolled over until there was nothing left in there but her. And she still wouldn’t come out.
The doctors told us it would be soon. They lied. There was struggling and suffering and we waited too long for the really good pain stuff. I tried my best to keep everyone distracted, playing Yo-Yo Ma cello music softly in the background, reminding people to breathe, and cracking inappropriate jokes at appropriate times.
We laughed a lot and kept the doctors generally confused.
But that baby wouldn’t budge.
Then, after what seemed like an eternity, everyone got in a big hurry. The baby's heartbeat was growing faint. The doctor looked scared, and I readied myself for the possibility that I might not get to see her after all.
Suddenly we were whisked upstairs into an operating room. I had scrubs on, and they were cutting through skin and muscle — going in after our little girl who will forever be remembered by the scar she made on her way out. She still prefers to do things in her own sweet time.
I remember holding her for the first time. I didn’t have words. Sometimes I still don’t. She had that big ridge on her head from where she was stuck.
It all seems like a far away memory of a dream now. Everything was slow and fast all at the same time. I had no idea what I was in for. You blink, and she’s 16.
Oh, Time, slow down, please.