You are SEVEN.
All week my girlfriends have been shaking their heads in disbelieving solidarity. “Seven,” they utter, laying the heavy brick of this word gently in my lap. Because it’s easy for us Mamas to forget sometimes while we’re making meals and cleaning up meals and earning a little money and then dropping everything to tend to feverish bodies, that you children are growing as naturally as wild grass spearing up towards the sun. Because that is what you do.
But here’s the truth. Seven is fabulous. It’s like this twist cone of complimentary flavors. Sweetness and independence swirled together in a staggeringly lovely combo. “Kiss me here,” you instruct, pushing an unembarrassed puckered mouth towards my face when I drop you off at art class.
And then a blink later you and your friends disappear for an hour, roaming the alleyway behind our house, searching out snakes and dinosaur bones.
On this occasion of your 7th birthday, I’ve been re-reading my journals from your first few months, those 101 days you spent in the Neonatal ICU. I’m struck by what was our life at the time. “Col wears a C-PAP to keep his lungs inflated,” I wrote, as if I were simply filling in the baby book section on, say, chronic lung disease.
The first few weeks of your life, I found myself repeating, like a line from a script handed to me at your birth: this is my life. When I entered the NICU, past security, past the hand-washing station, into the sea of incubators where a symphony of alarms blared, I’d rehearse: this is my life, this is my baby, this is my life. When I returned at night to the Denver Ronald McDonald House, where volunteers served us mounds of spaghetti and tried to inquire inoffensively, “why are you here?” Because this is my life.
Eventually, we settled in. I pumped breast milk every 2-3 hours, setting an alarm to wake me twice in the night. Dan assembled the plastic pump parts at 2:00 am and I trotted the warm milk out to the freezer on the 3rd floor kitchen, where the speakers constantly whispered 80’s rock and the Denver skyline twinkled beyond the huge dining room windows.
We visited you 3x/day; 2 of those 3 times we got to hold you for one hour, which we looked forward to every moment we weren’t. It took 2 people to lift you from your incubator. One to portage your floppy body in two steady hands while another trailed behind with your tubes and wires like a wedding attendant carrying the bride’s train. We’d lay you on our chests, skin-to-skin, a warmed blanket cinching us together, feeling as if we were part of your life-saving team. You’d snooze while we told stories about the world outside, about our home. Each story—of the mountains, friends, our garden—was a prayer of hopefulness. Grow and get strong and we’ll show you all of this.
back at home, safe and sound
Dan and I learned so much during those days. We learned to continue breathing when we showed up at the NICU to find an IV threaded through the soft skin of your tiny scalp, delivering a blood transfusion. We learned to celebrate small victories, like weight-gain measured in grams. We learned that a community can hold you up when you think you’re falling. We learned that families are adaptable and that love is a powerful medicine. We’d do it all over again in a heartbeat for you, darling boy.