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16 August 2006

On the day we were born: A Play in Three Acts for Emma

Emmas_birthday_164_2“Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young.” - A.W. Pinero

ACT I – August 16, 1959

“What was it like the day you were born?” Mama asked, making sure she had heard the question correctly, then answering immediately as if it was yesterday, not 47 years ago today: “It was a pretty Saturday and I had been busy all day - of course, your brother, Mickey, was not quite 2 - and I remember I had cooked a good supper - fresh green beans and other fresh vegetables. Daddy had been telling me for 9 months to please not go into labor on a Saturday - you know that was his hardest and longest day in the barbershop. We got through supper and I think it was about 8:00 when I started having pains. Now, I really didn't know what to expect because labor had been induced with Mick and it was long and hard. But, then I got sick on my stomach, so Daddy and I were suspicious.  Daddy called Dr. Lang about 10:00 and he told him to take me to the hospital. Mick was in bed and Daddy called PaPa to come stay with him. We got to the hospital about 10:30 and the nurse called Dr. Lang. I Mama_reads_to_usremember that when he told me they were taking me to delivery, I said ‘oh, no, my pain isn't that bad.’ He said ‘it's time.’ And you were born about 11:30, so you were kind and didn't give me a long labor. Daddy, of course, got to see you after you were born and see that both of us were o.k. so then he headed home and when he got there and told PaPa we had a little girl, PaPa didn't believe you could already be here. We were thrilled to have a baby daughter. Just what we wanted, Daddy said. You were a little over 6 pounds as was Mick. We didn't have big babies back then. I don't remember why we picked your name, Patricia, but, of course, you were Patti right away. Maybe we saw it somewhere and liked it.”

ACT II – August 16, 1992

Life got lived. All kinds of stuff happened. Little Patti Baby grew up and got ready to have a baby of her own.

Garden_party_1“What was it like, waiting for Emma to be born?” my friend Rosemary asked, making sure she had heard the question correctly, then answering immediately as if it was yesterday, not 14 years ago.“A phone call in a little office cubicle. Pale light coming in over someone else's wall.Your voice, tiny and tired. Emerging slowly was a very compelling, undeniable truth:  affirmation of life. Unbelievable opportunity--this gift. I was so excited for you I couldn't think. I was so nervous I couldn't focus. Calm the brain so the words would form in language. Affirm life. Grab this chance to love someone so unconditionally, so fully, so beautifully. What a blessing. What a pleasure. This, my dear, is what it is all about......”

“What was it like, waiting for Emma to be born?” my husband John asked, making sure he had heard the question correctly, then answering immediately as if it was yesterday, not 14 years ago. “Waiting for Emma to be born was like waiting for the day to turn in the world: like waiting, for one day, waiting for the day to be born, watching the world turn with my eye on the ground in the desert waiting for the earth to move, which it never did.  And then watching the world move from space, from 10,000 miles away, watching the whole thing move quickly, silently, beneath me, like water in a deep narrow stream. Sometimes the world moved quickly while I watched and waited; sometimes the unmoving world watched me. It was like an entire prebirth life of Emma-to-be, waiting for her to be born; sometimes a month happened in a day; sometimes the day lived in a month; and sometimes time didn’t happen at all. Through it all, Patti grew more beautiful and more powerful with each sunrise. But that’s another story.”

“What was it like, waiting for Emma to be born?” I pondered myself. “Well, your Daddy would cook for me and then send the food by courier in a paper grocery bag from one side of Washington, D.C. to the other, just to make sure I was eating lunch. He made asparagus and broccoli ice cream to try to pump some nutrients into me. But we won’t talk about that experiment. Let’s not speak of that vegetable ice cream again, shall we? It was the most magical time of my life—that’s it. I was the most sure, the most strong, the most human I had ever been—eating Ethiopian food every night followed by Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and then at 6 am on the morning of my birthday, I knew you were coming. I stood for hours in front of the bathroom mirror looking straight ahead at my face as if in a trance, rubbing my big belly and quietly willing myself through labor pains until I knew we needed to go. I realized after we got to the hospital that we had forgotten to call Gay to say we wouldn’t be there for the birthday dinner party she had planned for me. And then you came into the world and I knew in an instant what love was, the kind of love where you fling your heart into the sky and feel it fly out from under you, the kind where you know it might be broken sometime because it is so full, but it will be okay. You had the most perfect skin, like you glowed from the inside out. I used to want to eat you up, I loved you so much. Still do.”

“What was it like, the day Emma was born?” my friend Gay asked, answering immediately, as if it was yesterday, not 14 years ago today. “It was August and it was hot and the window air-conditioners weren't doing a great job of cooling off the kitchen, mostly because we had the oven on for the yeast rolls and the requisite vegetarian casserole for Patti's birthday. And there was cake, of course. We were worried that it might be too hot for her; she was, as she would admit, HUGE. We have a picture of her way before this evening, dressed in a polka dot maternity dress, looking pretty doggone large months before. Jack, from downstairs, was bringing appetizers and was late. I went out on the balcony to get some air, and heard the doors to the downstairs garage open. I knew immediately what that meant. I looked down and there was John, pushing Patti into the very high-off-the-ground truck that would take her to the hospital. It was indeed a birthday, but at that point Patti's celebration and my ruined dinner party didn't seem nearly as important as being able to soon meet the amazing wonderful being who arrived that night. Happy Birthday, Emma.”

“What was it like the morning of your birthday when John called?” Mama asked. “He asked what I was doing 33 years earlier that day. And I was in labor with you, of course! And then I figured it out—Emma was going to be born on your birthday! And we started up there - both of us so excited.  We stopped at a Cracker Barrel to eat supper and I called John from there - you had just had Emma about 7:30. When I got back to the table, the waitress brought our food and I said I can't eat but, of course, I did and we hurried on. We got there about ll:30 and, luckily, met a nurse coming out of the locked door and she unlocked it and told us where to go. The nurses didn't question us showing up at that time of night - I don't guess they could have kept us from seeing you three if they had tried. We were so excited and you and John were exhausted.”

ACT III – August 16, 2006

Emma_and_mama_hikingThat luminous wonder baby, Emma, was my best birthday gift ever. Born on my 33rd birthday, she turns 14 today and starts high school; I turn 47 today and continue my education—she is my teacher, my dissertation advisor. Aside from the tiny fact that she forgot my birthday one year (think about it—that’s hard to do when it’s the same day as your own, isn’t it?) Emma is one of the wise humans, a muse, my greatest teacher, the source of my very biggest laughs, the fulcrum of my care and concern and passion in the world. (She’s also a teenager, so there’s all that teenaged stuff that comes along with that phase but I’m sure we’ll live through it and look back on it and laugh even if I’ve been institutionalized by that point by the sheer terror of the idea of her driving and dating and doing things that I did as a teenager. Not that I ever did anything wrong, Mama, in case you’re reading this. I’m just saying…)

In fourteen short years, Emma and I have eaten strawberries as big as our heads together in Israel, seen plays in London together, waited on line at midnight for Harry Potter books together, seen the beautiful Johnny Depp in “Pirates of the Caribbean” at midnight on opening day together, slept on a (hard, cold, hard and cold) floor at the Sea World in San Diego together so we could wake up and watch manatees play, driven together in a red convertible to a Breyer horse show where people are Way Crazy Serious About Plastic Horses, made movies that made us snort with laughter in the local supermarket, sold fresh-squeezed lemonade to raise money for abused horses, taken all-night train rides together and pinky sworn never to do that again, ridden Ferris wheels in Chicago rainstorms together, sang Johnny Cash tunes at the top of our lungs together in the car, planned great things for the future together.

Emma_and_mama_in_newark_train_stationFor our birthdays this year, I just want to thank Emma for teaching me to stand on my own rock, be outraged by my own racism, question who gets to decide what normal is, acknowledge my erasable fears, and much, much, much more. Peanut, I love you with every ounce of me. 37days is all for you, you know. And when you are nervous about going into high school for the first time because you’re suddenly not sure where the stairs are and don't want to get out of the car right there because people are looking at you, I want to spare you from it, but then I realize you’ll be fine, more than fine, and that at least part of my job is opening my wings to allow you to step further onto the branch. Let me open the door for you--it'll still be open when you want to come back in. Thanks for teaching me how to live and how to love in the way that only you could. Each of us makes the other possible. Happy birthday to us!


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this is possibly one of the most moving entries i have ever read of yours, patti - and i also read the one about being outraged by your own racism, and will read the one about kelli davis before's amazing what a trickle down effect these words, powerful words, can do to change and shape reality.
happy birthday! cheers.

you know, I read one of your posts and I either laugh or cry, and wonder how you can do another one like that, and yet you do.

Happy birthday to both of you!

It must be that great combination of mother and daughter, growing, learning, sharing, celebrating life together that is turning up this wonderfulness! Keep it up, I (and I am sure there are others who agree with me) are definitely enjoying the ride!

what a beautiful, touching post.
happy, happy birthday to both of you.

Have a blessed and fun birthday today!
What a lovely post!

Happy birthday to you both, and thank you for all the inspiring you do.

Patti, what great storytellers you all are! You and Emma are lucky to have each other, and blessed to know it so deeply.

Warm wishes and thanks.

PS: I forgot my OWN birthday once. Another story.

Today is my birthday too - but based on hindu calendar :) Next year, it would be a different date. Its actually quite fun asking my mom every year, what date my birthday would be ..., but she would still remind me a week ahead of time.

What a beautiful, beautiful post. Wishing you and Emma many more happy birthdays.

Many thanks to everyone for the wonderful, encouraging, happy, celebratory words! Each of the commenters has received an individual email from me to say "thanks," but I wanted to publicly acknowledge all their kind words here as well! Emma and I are enjoying our ongoing celebration (we'll keep it going just as long as possible!) ;-)

What a beautiful and touching post. Wishing you a continuous celebration of love and life. . .Happy Birthday to you both!

What a lovely set of clear memories to treasure. Glad you both had a good birthday.

It is possible... I forgot my twin's birthday several times... but that's another story. Happy birthday to two beautiful people. :D She definitely has her mother's smile.

dear patti and emma--
happy birthday and good luck with high school. my daughter, hailey turned 18 in june and is starting her senior year this week. i am trying to come to terms with the fact that in one more year she will be leaving for college. wasn't it just yesterday she was 14 and starting high school? anyway, thanks for another beautiful essay! emma is a lucky young woman to have such a mom. this post is a tribute to you both. best wishes--

Happy Birthday to both of you. My second daughter was born on my 35th birthday. We shared that day until she left for college and decided to stay in Chicago for the summer.

What a beautiful and luminous sharing of the celebration that is your joined lives. Wishing both of you a very, very happy birthday. My oldest niece turned 16 on Saturday, and I watched my younger one perform in a gymnastics meet the following day. I thank my lucky stars every single day that I'm so utterly blessed to have these young remarkable females in my life...who mirror back to me my best possibilities and teach me well.

I'm laugin', I'm cryin" I am so touched.your words are such a gift to me as I drive off tomorrow to take my 18 year old over 900 miles away to college, as I do I will be saying, "YES! spread your wings, fly my child."

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