Tuesday, March 18

Write a Good Story

Dear Jacob,

Today is your cousin, Noel's, birthday.  She's ten today. I'm certain she had a big birthday party over the weekend with two different kinds of cake and balloons and craft stations and all kinds of Pinteresty things that her mom is so good at doing.  Some people really love doing that kind of thing, to throw parties that are whimsical and decorated and full of thoughtful details. But that kind of thing actually makes me dizzy and feverish and prevents me from making complete sentences. For the record, I threw you an awesome third birthday with a Thomas the Tank Engine cake and a bean bag toss game I painted on a cardboard box. It was just you and I and Grandma Lou and your baby brother in attendance until your dad got home.  That's about as fancy as it's ever gotten for you. Sorry about that, kiddo.  It's just the mom you got.

Noel's birthday is such a celebration because it's a crazy miracle that she's even here at all. Her mother had a very difficult time carrying her to term; bedrest and hospitalization and pre-term labor and early delivery and everything, just everything, that could go wrong did.  We were all so glad to see that little girl when she came into the world. She fits so nicely in the gap in our family, right after Ben and before Sam, the gap where Dad and I didn't have another child because things in life weren't so good at that time.  In our little family line, she's surrounded by boys but she fills in her space with all the pink and piano and leggings and lipgloss that boys just don't represent.

Noel is actually your cousin's middle name.  Her first name is Kalena and she is named after her sister. Twelve years ago, Trinity Kalena Lane came too early into the world and it was the saddest time. The hospital gave her a little dress and did little footprints and her mom and dad had to say good-bye right when they said hello.  If you ask your aunt, she'll tell you she has two daughters. But asking her will make her sad so be delicate and loving if you ever do.


The day you were born, I went to work at the church where I managed the office.  My good friend, Denise, came to have lunch with me because we'd do that every week. Sometimes we went out to lunch and took way longer than an hour because friends talk a lot.  But on this day we were brown bagging it at my office and talking about your baby shower that had been over the weekend. I was having those fake contractions they call Braxton Hicks all day long.  They're "fake" because they aren't actually staring the process of labor.

Except that these were.  This was a Thursday, a full month before you were due to arrive.  After work I went to school to take a weekend seminary class. And my cute professor made a comment to me about how pregnant I was looking and how far along was I now.  I reassured her by saying I was still a month out and not to worry.  And then I freaked her a little when I said I wouldn't have the baby in her class as long as these contractions stopped. She stared at me for a second and I smiled.

We took a break and I paced the halls because walking was supposed to make fake contractions stop.  Nothing.  After the break I gave a little group presentation which I don't really remember. When I was done, I sat down and listened to the next guy give his and he said something funny which made me giggle.  Which made me pee myself. Only it wasn't pee. It was gushing fluid that wouldn't stop and as I sat there in my comfy upholstered chair (sorry, Golden Gate) hearing it all drip onto the carpet, feeling it run down my legs I had to make a plan.  Except that I couldn't think of one.  So I waited until that guy's presentation was done and then I whispered to my classmate that I needed to leave to go have a baby and I sloshed out to my car and stood there and tried to think of what to do.

My professor came running out yelling, "Did your water break?!"  And I yelled back, "I think so." And she sent out another classmate, Patricia, who was a nurse who was going to drive me to the hospital.  She gave me a towel to sit on and asked me questions and laid out for me how this whole giving birth process was going to go down and I was sitting there trying to adjust to the fact that I was, pretty quickly, going to be someone's mom.

Grandma had come to town from Virginia and she was still at my apartment being really helpful.  She was actually going home in a couple days, but she and Dad went out to eat that night. This was the age before cell phones so dad had this archaic thing called a pager. When I got to the hospital they got me all checked in and paged Dad who drove like crazy with poor Grandma to get there. And so began the process of you being born.

Here was the best part: when my contractions were getting pretty painful and I didn't want the epidural (which is where they stick a needle into your spinal column and that just makes me all squirmy) they gave me a drug, Nubane, in my iv line. And it knocked me out cold.  I don't think it was supposed to do that, but drugs usually work overtime in my system.   I slept through the hardest part of labor and I think your dad went and got something to eat.  I don't know.  Ask him.  I was sleeping.

You arrived on the scene early the next morning and all was well and we took you home the next day.  Then the following day was Mother's Day and so I got you dressed and took you to church and got my first Mother's Day carnation with my two-day-old baby boy.

Birth stories are the beginning of something big.  You can't read too much into them; unless they go horribly wrong they don't determine the course of your life or personality, (like you obviously aren't always early to everything now) but they do ground you in your life.  One day you started, so let's just keep this train running, k?

At one point a couple years ago, it occurred to your dad that he didn't have a birth story because he was adopted and his mom wasn't actually there for his birth. One day, while he was at the coffee shop, it was suddenly important for him to know it. So he asked her and found out that his story wasn't exactly the story he'd always thought.  This affected him in a big way.

I think it's important for you to know your story.  Story keeps us from floating aimlessly across the horizon. It demonstrates for us that we aren't alone.  Our lives aren't a man-versus-nature story like that poor chap in London's To Build a Fire  or like The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway, which I give you permission to never read because Hemingway equals boredom.  Our stories are more often man-versus-man or man-versus-society and when they really get good they're man-versus-self.

In order to have any kind of story at all, our characters interact. When you hear your story what you really hear is that you are a part of something bigger in the world, that your beginning impacted me and Dad but also Grandma and Patricia and Denise and my poor seminary professor and the other frazzled girl who had to start filling in for me at work the next day, totally unprepared because I was supposed to be there for another month.  From the very beginning, you were one in a line of adventurers exploring life and love and hope.

I was a big part in the beginning of your story, but you get to take over the reigns and keep it going. I don't make any claims for the outcome of your story at all.  It's yours. I just get to read it. You decide what characters to add and sometimes, to keep the story interesting, they'll be a little unsavory and you'll learn things from them.  You decide how many conflicts it will have and how many resolutions you'll strive to make. You get to write the hyperboles and the truth. If you want to throw yourself big birthday parties one day, that's totally fine with me and I won't be offended thinking that you're making up for some deficiency from your childhood.

You have a co-author, you know, and his name is God. He's got a pretty good idea of the best plot line for your story, but you're going to have to ask him for it, because he doesn't give that to mothers when their babies are born.  I made a pact with the tooth fairy, but I never got to make that pact with God.  He can help you determine who the antagonists are in your story, how to be a round character not a flat one, and to be dynamic and not static.  God can give you some hints about how the climaxes of each chapter will go and if you stick with him he'll ride with you clear through your denoument. (And, yes you should say that like the French).  Writing equals living, so get writing.  Write what you know.  And give me a little cameo.