Wednesday, January 20, 2010

of birthdays and buds

it's the buds i remember most of all.

eliza's due date was february 14. valentine's day, day of her long-deceased great-grandmother's (helen valentine sherlock crowley, she was named) birth in 1918. an easy due date to remember, day of love and all that. sam and i have never had big valentine's day plans--actually, it's tradition that we eat subs and rent a movie--so that would have been a nice twist to add to an otherwise boring-ish hallmark holiday.

but eliza arrived more than two weeks early, on january 29, 2006, just a matter of hours after my baby shower had ended. which was fine with me, hater-of-pregnancy that i am. her birth was dramatic and mundane in many of the same ways most births are. and then her story began.

(here, were i a thorough blogger, i would retell some of eliza's story. were this a book, again, the story. but being a lazy blogger, and knowing full well that if you're reading this, you already know eliza's story, i won't take the time. and if you don't know the story, well, stop right now and head over here: don't forget to come back, though.)

i remember thinking in those early days, as eliza lay naked in her hospital bed, clothed only with wires and tubes and gauze and tape and a little bitty diaper, comatose and shielded from all stimulation of sound, light, or touch, that at least she'd be home by her valentine's due date, in time to wear the sweet baby heart socks and onesies awaiting her. but days turned into weeks, ten to be exact, and she just managed to wear her st. patrick's day hat over the e.e.g. leads on her head for a minute, just for a photo. it was palm sunday--april 9 that year, nearly easter--before she actually came home.

which, where we live, is full-blown spring. my born-in-midwinter baby didn't make it home until spring.
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain. --t.s. eliot, The Waste Land

during the ten weeks eliza spent in the intensive care nursery at the hospital, i walked daily--sometimes many times daily--between the parking garage and the hospital. that sidewalk to hell is lined with trees of some flowering-cherry-or-apple sort (botanist or arborist, i am not, which you'll know if you've ever seen my yard). i will never forget the day, perhaps right around eliza's valentine's due date, that i noticed the buds on those flowering trees. could the trees already be budding? but she was just born, and in the winter! i reassured myself that she'd be home in time for a family photo under the flowering tree in our yard when it was in full bloom.

and full bloom came and went, as i daily walked past those painfully beautiful trees. full bloom came and went, and the blooms even began falling to the ground as the trees leafed out. and my born-in-winter baby still hadn't seen daylight. even as hope and spring bloomed around her, she continued to not bloom. and i feared--we all did--that she might never see daylight at all.

though she never did see it, blind as she was, of course eliza did experience spring outside the windowless world that was her home for those interminable blooming weeks; if you know her story, you know that she who would never experience her first birthday on the cusp of spring did in fact experience two and very nearly three birthdays.

and now it's january four years later, and we've just had an early taste of spring in the form of three glorious days of sunshine and sixty-degree weather. as i expressed my sadness that winter wasn't in fact over yet and bound to reassert itself one more time before it was gone for good (what a spolied southerner i've become to complain of winter not being over in january!), my friend agreed, concerned that her daffodils would be fooled into blooming, only to freeze when it got cold again.

and the thought of things blooming in january, the thought of the promise of spring blooming and wilting its way past again brought those budding trees lining that sidewalk to hell right back to me. and along with it came the dread that they'll bloom again. they'll bloom again without her. and i'll walk past them--or others like them, at least--without her, take family pictures without her valentine's socks, her st. patrick's day hat, her easter dress.

i'll notice--and remember, and dread--the buds most of all.