Six years ago today, Charlie came home from the NICU. On the long trip back from Connecticut, Paul and I took turns; one of us drove the car slowly, oh, my God, sloooooowly, while the other sat in the back next to Charlie, staring at him so intently, with such focus and emotion, that I'm surprised his tiny hatted head didn't explode, Cronenberg-style.
I don't know, maybe I've been more panicked in my life, but that night stands out as a high watermark of sheer wobble-legged terror. After an uneventful trip during which we were overtaken by a geriatric tree sloth driving a Geo Metro, a herd of crippled tortoises scrabbling by on the shoulder, and at least three tectonic plates, we got Charlie home safely, changed his diaper, and started to feed him, at which point he seemed to decide that he had had quite enough adventuring, thank you, and if no one minded, if it wouldn't inconvenience anyone, he might just indulge in a nice spot of EEEEEEEEEAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH for what seemed like hours.
I feel a reminiscent prickle of sweat just typing that. We were trying to feed him. We tried to burp him, tried the bottle, tried the breast, tried rocking and swaying and shhhhing and swaddling and I don't remember what all, in this screechy crescendo of dismay, his and ours. He was crying, I was crying, and Paul was dialing the NICU 250 miles away to say — I don't know what, maybe Mistakes were made? To ask what the hell we should do.
I know now that they knew Charlie to be medically stable and had no worries about his health; I also know we'd demonstrated our operational competence to a satisfactory degree. I'm sure the answer they gave us was intended to be the equivalent of a mama sparrow elbowing her fledglings out of the nest, if indeed birds have elbows; certainly NICU nurses do, and they basically told us to suck it up, figure it out, and parent. Which we have, more or less, for years now.
Mercifully I've forgotten the rest of that evening, but the record indicates that he eventually fetched up quiet in the co-sleeper, lying on his side, one fist escaping his swaddle as it would do for as long as we tried it.
And goddamn if Charlie isn't upstairs now in bed clutching that same cloud blanket. (I really mean it. Goddamn if he isn't, because I told him to turn off his light an hour ago.)
And almost six years ago today, I last posted on my blog. Fine, more like a month. A long time, anyway. But December was intense. A fair portion of that time was consumed in wholesome apple-cheeked starry-eyed Santastic Yuletide merrymaking, but a lot of it, too, was exhaustion and a feeling of resignation, of mourning. Can't think of Christmas without thinking of my father, and how well the holiday suited his natural expansiveness. And how he loved having all of us home each year. And how it became a point of honor for him to leave all his shopping until Christmas Eve. I have to assume it was annoying to my mother in the early years, when the only thing open in the nearby low-end mall would be Sears, where he'd comb the denuded shelves looking for a suitable gift for her, but it strikes me now as funny. "Do you think your mother needs a new set of socket wrenches?" he'd ask me hopefully as we marched through stores an hour before closing. She still hasn't used up the set you got her last year, Daddy. Or the ones from the year before. "Oh, hey! I was driving her car in the rain the other day and I couldn't see worth a damn. Let's get her these new wiper blades!" No, Daddy. "Not even for her stocking?" No. "Are you sure she doesn't need a spice rack?" Yes. So no. "Aw, but it comes with bonus asafoetida!"
And every year without fail he'd read The Cajun Night Before Christmas, slipping easily into the accent, though he'd left bayou country decades before. It was strange this year to hear our children's librarian read it — strange in part because how often does that happen, exactly, in a small town in Vermont? But also strange to watch Charlie listening and laughing with no notion of the man his grandfather was, or the place my father came from, or what Christmas used to be like before my dad's death, when everything about it changed.
I'm no longer in that raw place where thinking about my father makes me cry every time. (Just every other time.) This year the feeling was one closer to resignation, a dully grudging acceptance, than to fresh grief. I frequently have these moments where I recognize, through whatever it is we're experiencing as a family here, how my own parents must have felt, what they probably thought, how hard they worked, and Christmas this year was no different. My awareness of this grows as my kids do, and my gratitude with it, and I keep wishing my dad could see that. And my kids, who embraced the holiday with a gusto he'd have admired.
Charlie's best present was a label maker from my mother.
Since then there are few household surfaces that have gone unmarked. He even labeled the machine itself:
...and this, too, of course:
Ben got a Little People school bus, a toy wooden barn with animals (some farm, some decidedly not), a working toy garbage truck, a police car, a fireman's uniform, and a set of small plastic SpongeBob figurines. I enumerate these items not to highlight the ridiculous bounty of our holiday, but to allow you to imagine the hilarity of the mashups he's been diligently creating since.
All I can tell you is that when a two-year-old firefighter and his colleague in law enforcement, Officer Many-Nippled Sow, respond, lights flashing, to a traffic call involving multiple heavy service vehicles — well, let's just call it the funniest damn catastrophic collision you're ever likely to see. (Two reliable witnesses, Squidward and Dark-Haired Lady Holding a Chicken, are prepared to testify that the bus driver was at fault, a charge the prosecution will have no trouble proving in court. Isn't it true, Mr. Bizarrely Shaped Lower Body, that you routinely drove the bus with both hands full?
Answer the question, sir.)
Speaking of questions, I've been thinking a lot about my last post and the excellent conversation that has continued in the comments. Even a few days after posting it, I realized I wasn't especially inclined to construct a line-by-line takedown; as time has passed and I've considered it further, I'm even less interested now. I haven't softened my opposition to what Walsh wrote. It's just that I've moved on from the specifics and am more committed at the moment to a generality:
Time and again I see it suggested that infertile people don't choose adoption because we can't recognize or won't admit its manifold benefits and advantages — that in our selfishness and thoughtlessness we're somehow dissing adoption.
But my observation is that if infertile people feel reluctant to adopt, it isn't usually out of a lack of respect for the act of adoption. It's more frequently because of an abundance of respect for it — an awareness of its potential complications, a concern for its relation to our own limits and boundaries, and a determination not to do it unless we can do so with an open heart and a real feeling of joy. Unless we can do it right.
It seems to me that it's the oversimplification of adoption and the drive to minimize its complexities, which Walsh's piece demonstrated, that does a greater disservice to adoption as an ideal than anything I wrote, anything my commenters said, or indeed anything most people consider when they seriously contemplate the matter.
And with that said in a tone of pleasant firmness, damn it, I'm out of time, when I still have twiblings and Ross I Am a Bigger Jackhole Than Even I Fucking Hate William Saletan Douthat and an iPhone app that purports to predict your chances for IVF success to cover. I will be back, I promise, sooner this time — thank you to those of you who were concerned. What's new with you? How's 2011 treating you? And is anyone in the New York area interested in meeting up for drinks next weekend? Come on. It'll be fun. I'll bring my labelmaker. And maybe if I ask him nicely, Deputy Inexplicable Kangaroo will give us a police escort.