for grammy and me, and anyone else who would like to go back and revisit previous birthdays…
last year i was startled to realize that quinn was halfway to 18, and now suddenly he’s halfway to 20. for some reason, time feels like it is accelerating on me.
the time we spend together when i walk him from the car up to the door of the school, never fails to be the time he wants to talk my ear off. i really cherish this precious “get to hear from your kid” time that feels like a secret that a lot of other parents don’t seem know about as they drive their subarus through the “hamster wheel” as i like to call it, and pop their kids directly out of the car onto the doorstep of the school. on one recent walk up, he was telling me all about the next game he is drawing on graph paper which is about angry birds, and explaining all the details to me, but he was still explaining when we got up to the door. i was hugging him, and he just held onto me and kept explaining, so i kept hugging him, and listening, and then he was finally done and let go of the hug and said bye and ran inside.
he has lived a whole year for each one of his fingers, and will have to start counting on toes next year. also, a year for each leg of a crab (they’re decapods!)
10 = 1+2+3+4… from the bathtub, he told me, “there’s actually a fourth person point of view in stories, because sometimes the narrator is telling you about everything mostly through one person’s thoughts.” he explained how in harry potter, he noticed that the narrator isn’t harry, but only reports on the thought process of harry, and observes the actions of other characters from his frame of reference without reporting on the thoughts of other characters. he noticed that this differed from a third person perspective in which the author could see inside all of the character’s thoughts. i proceeded to pull out my notes from reading word painting, specifically the chapter on point of view, and we discussed the subtle nuances between third person omniscient, third person objective, and third person limited omniscient (the magical point of view which he had identified). i had never fully articulated the differences among these points of view, until learning about them approximately a year ago when i read this book intended for writers.
what’s funny is that i had just had a conversation with him about minor frustrations with the level of material he feels he could be learning, which ended in a discussion about using his time in fourth grade to bring his writing level up to speed with his reading and math. more about that in a lifelong learning post, but needless to say, his writing skills are not a big concern.
“now wash your hair, son.”
10 is special. it’s the culmination of the numbers that come before it, and the start of a whole new set of numbers. there is still a little bit of a younger boy in there, the one who still needs to be cajoled into taking a bath, and reaches for my hand as we walk up the sidewalk to school. but there is also an older, mature and capable young man in there, whose brain can wrap around narrative points of view he hasn’t been formally introduced to, who can prioritize his learning goals, and microwave his own tupperwares of rice.
quinn is in an intensive art mode right now, mostly drawing games on graph paper but also some on regular paper and even getting out the markers, not just pencil drawing. he is coloring in and making scenery for games, and designing many intricate details of games. as a result, every time we leave the house for school or karate, he asks, “can i draw in the car?” and a few times recently when i expressed that we were really cutting it close on time, he ran back anyway and grabbed binder/pencil/markers. at one point he told me, “i’m doing a peaceful protest. i’m going to draw on the way to school. i’m like martin luther king jr.” what could i say? “if you are going to be martin luther king, i’m going to be proud. but you also need to bring your backpack for school.” “i’m peaceful protesting again,” now seems to be shorthand for, “i know you’d prefer i didn’t, but i’ve thought about it, and i’m going to anyway.”
10 is the sum of the first 3 prime numbers, 2+3+5. this stage feels like the prime time of parenting. quinn told me the other day, “lisa was being so cute sitting on the white box, and i just had to take a picture of her! so i went and grabbed the camera…. ” i had had no idea, but i adore the fact that i now sometimes get surprise pictures on my camera that i didn’t take.
he’s halfway to 20, the age that, when he was 4, he used to idealize as the magical age at which he’d be able to do all the things he was as yet too little to do.
from 2011: we arrived home to the dark house and snuggled up on the couch in the almost darkness, and i asked if i could talk to him about something. “you know how i told you i’d be going on a boat for a few days?” i explained in more detail how it would be ten days, and all the ins and outs. quinn got very quiet, then he got a little quiver in his voice and sat up straight on my lap (he had been snuggled up against me) and said, “well, can i come on the boat too?” oh god. the agony. the poor kid. i not only feel bad leaving him, but it’s his favorite dream ever to go on a boat and here i’m going and doing the super funnest thing ever (in his mind) without him. so i explained that we’re going too far offshore, where the waves are too bumpy for little people, and we have to do a lot of work with heavy equipment that’s not safe, etc. “well, maybe i could take a nap down in the cabin?” oh my god my throat hurt so badly, listening to his problem solving little self find potential solutions. sigh…. pretty soon he was just saying, “don’t go on a boat, mama!” and we both cried a little bit and i told him i would miss him so much. he asked a lot of questions like why did i have to go on the boat for work, and then finally told me, “when i’m 20, maybe you can go on a boat again and i can go with you because i’ll be 20 and i can catch some salmon and do work on them with you too.” resolved.
mother mother ocean, he’s wanted to sail upon your waters since he was three feet tall. a pirate looks at 10. 10 in roman numerals is x marks the spot!
celebrating having been a mama for a whole decade, i indulged a bit this morning in reading back through the story of his birth, which was a bittersweet time for a multitude of reasons, due to relationship strain and hospital stress all mixed up in the incredible joy of meeting quinn for the first time. i’ll admit it, i was a little teary-eyed while reading these memories. it struck me that birth stories, especially ones that were written, like mine, within days of birth, are impossibly intimate. they distill an unbelievable amount of the human experience into paragraphs, but are almost too graphic to share. i have so far spared the public the play-by-play of cervixes and contractions, dilation and doppler, perineum and pitocin and paramedics, oh my!, but i have extracted a few favorite excerpts of tmi (you have been warned!) to share on the tenth anniversary of the hardest thing i’ve ever done.
(it got bigger. there was still another month to go.)
On Wednesday I was finishing up session four of acupuncture when my water broke- I felt a small gush as I sat there all poked with needles in my hands, legs and feet, visualizing flowers opening, water flowing in and out of sea caves, baby’s heads pushing on cervixes and opening them up… woohoo! I thought that would start things off for sure. Kate visited to test that it was really amniotic fluid, and it was. I knew it anyway, it smelled like earthy water, like nothing I’ve smelled before, but reminded me of spring gardening in the rain.
I started finding that I could do 5 or 6 pushes instead of just 4 per contraction, and soon I was able to feel his head- I felt so much hair! This spurred me on- I knew the midwives had been able to see part of his head each time using the flashlight, but now I knew how big a circle I felt, and his hair for some reason made him a real baby and made it real to me that he was coming really soon…. I would sigh with relief to hear his heart beat, take a deep breath, and start the next gathering of my senses~strength~energy~spirit and begin the next push.
the midwives were telling me to reach down and hold my baby and talk to my baby and there he was! a slimy little tiny creature with tons of dark hair, all curly from being wet, all curled into a litlte ball of arms and legs and butt and head and umbilical cord. this was the very first time in the entire twenty hours of labor when i wanted to be on the bed. i think i needed help getting my legs on the bed at all. all i could pay attention to was quinn, this little dark haired bundle on my belly. the cord was just long enough for him to lay on my tummy with his head close to my breast. he was so tiny to my eyes, and so amazingly perfect. that was when he really became quinn to me. we had found out he was a boy days before, thanks to a fairly insensitive ultrasound doctor, and had decided almost for sure on his name, but now it was for real. i saw his dark blue eyes, his round cheeks, his tiny pink mouth, his little hands and feet, ears, arms, legs, butt, chin, tummy, chest… his head smelled like cinnamon.
on why i might be overly attached to my placenta:
(after it was decided we would head to the hospital by ambulance) i was immediately thankful we were attached, because immediately someone suggested taking him from me. i think my placenta refused to move from that point on, feeling that we could stay together if it would just cling a little longer…
(at the hospital) i don’t remember that moment of them separating us, i think i blocked it out. next thing i remember was looking over to my right to where quinn was lying on his own little stretcher, surrounded by people in scrubs. i was taken up to the labor and delivery ward, since i had not yet delivered my placenta. that was the first order of business. it sounded like the last thing in the world i wanted to do. i couldn’t really handle the thought of even one more contraction. they said they would need to give me pitocin (a shot in the leg) and then they would push on my belly and i would need to push once and then it should come out. (neither shot of pitocin i was given did anything to stimulate contractions. i never had another one.*) unfortunately, although my head was soaring from the meds, i felt the pain quite well when they pushed on me, but somehow i was able to push once and get the placenta out. it happened quickly, at least. sometime in this vicinity was when word came up that quinn was in the nicu and stable and that he weighed 11 pounds and 15 and a quarter ounces.
*ten years hence, i believe i never will have another contraction, including menstrual cramps. i think my uterus retired right then and there.
on wires and tubing:
it made me so sad that he had to have a tube in his throat. they tried to put him on CPAP (oxygen support that uses tubes inserted into the nostrils) but he seemed like he needed more support, so they intubated him and therefore had a tube down his throat and tape all over his face to hold it in place- i was warned it would be hard to look at him that way… It seemed like a thousand years between when they took him away from me and when I finally got wheeled in beside his crib. he was elevated (all the babies in the neonatal intensive care, NICU, are elevated so the nurses can reach them) and I couldn’t stand up, so i only got to stroke his little hand and talk to him from way down low in the wheelchair. i remember feeling sad and a bit defeated, but at the same time overjoyed to finally be touching him again. I just wanted to hold him. He was peaceful but it was a shock to my system to see how many monitors and tubes and things they had running to and from his little body. That first time in the NICU I didn’t notice any of the other babies. i just focused on quinn, and talked to him so he would hear my voice and know i was there with him. i scanned the layout of the place so i would know exactly where to find him- there are “pods” in the NICU, like little alcoves off a big hallway, and i counted which one he was in from the entrance…
People kept saying to me “no news is good news” and I was so frustrated with that. Any time I would ask how Quinn was, that was the answer I would get. I was still feeling so weak and had to rely on others to be able to be near Quinn, and that was the most frustrating, helpless feeling.
…Now that I had been to the NICU a few times, I had noticed the other babies around Quinn. Most of them were premature, and tiny. I could gaze at Quinn for an entire hour thinking how tiny and perfect he was, then all of sudden I’d glance to the right and the itty bitty girl next to him was less than a quarter of his weight- that was surreal.
I did a lot of studying of monitors and instruments that day to learn what the numbers all meant. I learned that the settings of Quinn’s respiratory support were all very low or “ambient” settings, and that meant he was mostly breathing all by himself with just a tiny bit of enrichment to the air he was being exposed to. I learned which finger clamps and which little pads taped to which parts of his body were pulse oxymeters, which was the thermometer, which was his blood pressure cuff, and what tubing went to and from his umbilical IVs (one was in the umbilical artery, for drawing blood for his repeated tests of dissolved oxygen levels, and one was in the vein for giving him fluids, electrolytes, lipids and aminos, as well as his Fentanyl and antibiotics… I had to learn to be around for shift changes (7am and 7pm) when the nurses give each other the run down of the previous shift, so I could hear what they REALLY thought, not just what they said for my benefit.
on blood loss:
i asked if i could have help getting to the bathroom, so she got another nurse and they supported me over to the toilet and i sat down. then when they helped me to stand up again, i blacked out, i remember the nurse saying “look into my eyes! look into my eyes!” and really trying to obey, but i just couldn’t keep mine open. Then I was sitting down again, and they made me smell something to wake me up, and they helped me get back to my bed and lay down again… My blood hematocrit had been measured that morning, a 19 being pretty far below the “normal” level they quoted to me of 33. The doctors came into my room and told me they strongly urged me to have a blood transfusion. I could live without it, however, it would take me many months to regain my blood supply, and my energy levels would also remain low for a long time. In the end, I decided to have the transfusion because it meant I could be stronger more quickly, and be able to be there for Quinn. That night I had to stay in my room all night because the blood transfusion (two units) took 6 hours to complete. I was more than ready to be up and about the next morning to go see Quinn, and I felt SO much better that I stood up and walked down to his floor myself, trailing my IV pole behind me.
It was so strange to have grown up on a dairy farm milking cows, with milking machines, and then all of a sudden to be a new mother and hooking myself up to the same contraption…by evening I was running on a pretty large surplus over what was needed (according to their calculations) for feeding Quinn every 3 hours. I was holding myself to my 2 hour pumping schedule, and I think that had a lot to do with my success. My midwife checked in with me and reassured me, “your body knows you made a twelve pound baby.” It was so good to be reminded of such grounding wisdom.
and just like that, his time on earth has increased by an order of magnitude. my heart feels as though it has correspondingly expanded like a universe by its own order of magnitude to accommodate all the love i have for him.