Posts Tagged 'birthday'

Slade/It/Whatever

Sometimes we call him It.

“What’s It wearing?” Sally asks Tuesday evening as Slade wanders around the living room with a dog food bowl on his head.

“It’s my hat, Mommy,” Slade answers.

And then Wednesday evening: “Did you hear that?” Sally asks after we put the boys to bed.

“That what?”

“That Thud.” Sally looks slowly left and slowly right like she’s about to share a secret and adds, “It’s still awake. . . And I’m pretty sure It’s up to something.”

***

Early today, at 3:00 or 4:00 this morning, It slides out of its bunk bed, waddles down the hall, and climbs in bed with Sally and me.

“Ouch, Slade,” Sally grumbles. “Be still.”

And later, “No talking, Slade. It’s night night time.”

Later still, It sticks a finger in my ear. I grunt, lift my head off the pillow, and peek at the clock. 5:05. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

“Hi, Daddy!” It whispers.

I grunt again, which makes It giggle, and It hugs or maybe tackles me.

For an instant, I go back to three years ago, almost to the minute. I go back to Sally waking up in drenched sheets, to Sally telling me to call the doctor, to pink blood on the carpet, the bed, the tile, the wall, and all over the toilet. I go back to driving to the hospital, almost certain the baby is dead.

Then I fall back asleep.

“Slade, do you know what today is?” Sally says from inside the bathroom.

I glance at the alarm clock. It’s 5:55 now. Swell.

“Today’s my birthday!” It exclaims in the bathroom.

I slip back in time again, to three years ago, to the waiting room, to the nurse who says placental abruption and C-section and significant blood loss and NICU. I slip back to Eli telling me we should name his brother Pick Pack while we sit, we wait, we hope. I slip back to Sally shaking in the hospital and a 3-pound baby wired to strange machines.

I get out of bed, three years almost to the second that Sally was cut open and our unnamed son was pulled into this life. I make my way into the bathroom.

“It’s my birthday!” It proclaims when It sees me, grinning, raising his arms like It’s won something.

And, you know, maybe It has.

***

Slade. It. Slader Tot. Your Son. Slader Tater. House Tornado. Feral Toddler. We have lots of names for our child, but whatever we call him, we’re grateful to the bone that he pulled through three years ago today, even if he sometimes sleeps too little and ends up in time out almost daily and has a thing for silly hats.

Happy Birthday, Slade/It/whatever. We sure are glad you’re around.

5:45 AM

Our toddler wakes up at 5:45 AM every morning. No matter how late he stays up or how long he naps or how much the boy waddles around the yard, at 5:45, the babbling begins.

We have, on average, five minutes, before the babbling turns to complaining and then to wailing. If it comes to that, to Slade crying so loudly that the dogs pant, we all get up. Sally will make coffee, and I’ll hand the boys bananas, and I’ll unload the dishwasher, and I’ll look around and realize, holy hell, it’s Saturday and the sun still isn’t up.

Most mornings, Sally, who leaves for work before sunrise, scoops the talking toddler up and hauls him into the bathroom with her as she puts herself together. Drifting in and out, I’ll hear “Slade, turn off the water” and “Slade, the toilet is not a toy” and “Slade, can Mommy have her scissors back please?”

This morning it was “Slade, let’s not eat the deodorant” followed by “I mean it, no deodorant” followed by “okay, that’s it” followed by Slade yelling.

Yesterday, the deodorant-licking boy turned two. The 731 days have felt long, but the two years themselves have rifled past. That’s the way it goes, I think. You push and you push in a life that feels like a race but passes like a smooth dream. You wake up and you go hard and sometimes, driving alone or washing dishes or watching the baby sleep, you wonder where it all went.

We didn’t do much to celebrate Slade’s birthday. We gave him a couple of presents. (I have it on good authority that one, a talking Elmo toy, is soon to lose its batteries forever.) We ate cupcakes. Then we put the boys to bed and shuffled off to bed ourselves before the local news even started. We need our rest. 5:45 arrives very loud and very early.

Climbing mountains

It’s hailing. Thunder booms and pebbles of ice ding my helmet and arms as I pedal down the mountain, descending from Columbine Mine at 12,600 feet to Twin Lakes, the low point on the course, which is still 9,200 feet above sea level.

Today is August, 9, 2003. Today is the Leadville 100, the race across the sky.

I’m 55 miles deep into the mountain bike race, and I’ve already crashed twice, suffered through cramps in my calves and thighs, and teetered on the brink of vomiting for at least an hour. It’s been a hard day, and it’s only going to get harder.

What I should be doing right now is concentrating on riding smart, on forcing food down, on picking right lines, on conserving energy, on not getting electrocuted by lightning.

But instead I keep thinking about Sally, my wife, who is waiting at the next check point with an iced bottle of Cytomax, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and mango slices, none of which I’ll want to choke down. I keep replaying the scene from that morning, me pulling together my gear for the race, Sally walking out of the bathroom, Sally showing me a plastic stick the size of a pen.

“Does that line mean what I think?” I had asked.

Sally nodded.

“Holy shit.”

Sally smiled broadly.

“You got that right,” she said. “Holy shit.”

On the bike, I well up, imagining Sally waiting for me in the storm, wondering about the cells dividing and growing in her belly. I’m thrilled and terrified and confused. This race. This hail. That that line on the stick. Holy shit, Holy shit. I’m going to be a dad.

Eight months and two weeks after Leadville, those cells in Sally multiplied and changed and combined and became Eli. In the middle of the night, wailing, covered in slime, Eli arrived, birthed without drugs.

I’m sure I was in shock: Holy shit. Me? A dad? Holy shit. But I bet I was also awestruck: Isn’t he beautiful? Isn’t this all very beautiful?

Eli turns five today. He’s wiry and sensitive like his old man, athletic and smart like his mother. I can’t imagine a better child. And I can’t imagine that life before him, that world of late-night dinners and long bike rides in white sunlight.

I enjoyed that time. I’m grateful to have had it. But I like this better, me riding bikes with Eli on the neighborhood trail, me holding Slade while he coos, me being a dad.

So happy birthday, Eli. Your mom and I are proud of you. We’re awfully glad to have you here.

As to the race? The Leadville 100? I broke and then I broke again, but I kept riding, my gut rotten, my body crushed, a slow flatlander destined to fail.

My goal was to finish in under 12 hours. At Leadville, if you beat 12 hours, you get a belt buckle, your name and time on a sweatshirt, and the pride of being an official finisher. If you finish in over 12 hours, you get jack squat.

With a time of 12 hours, 1 minute and 12 seconds, I got the jack squat.

It burned working that hard, coming that close, and failing. But I knew on August 9, 2003, just as I still know today, that I left every ounce of me on the course.

I’m not ashamed. Not one bit.

And besides, before the race ended, I was gearing up for the looming challenges of pregnancy, child birth, and daddyhood. New mountains were growing in my mind, and soon I would climb them.