Twenty six years ago tonight, I was standing on the frozen steps of a small apartment building in Brooklyn. The snow-covered streets were empty and my mother stood beside me. Her cotton candy hair blew about in the wind, as we waited for the car service to take us to the hospital.
The evening that preceded the night included a massive bread baking session in my tiny kitchen as a result of the hormonal madness inspired by the fact that the baby I was waiting for was nine days late.
So, I baked.
Kneading bread with my hands, proofing dough and shoveling the loaves into my ancient oven kept me busy. But, in my craziness, I had forgotten to grease the pans and none of the perfectly domed, yeastily aromatic loaves could be freed from their pans.
I tried running a knife around their golden edges and rapping strategically with a knuckle on the bottom of the pans. Nothing worked. So, totally in character, I flung them, one by one, against the kitchen wall. This did not loosen the bread from the loaf pans but it did cause my water to break. So, off we went.
Seth--a merchant marine at the time--was in Florida, waiting to head out on a cable layer for AT&T. Dispatched just days before and, in a world before cell phones, he had to be tracked down by a marine operator. Due to a miraculously timed postponement of the ship's departure, he was able to fly home and attend the birth of his first son.
Labor was painful. And long. And it worked it's way, fruitlessly, through several shifts of nurses. My doctor, a fabulous Russian, with a mane of hair more magnificent than that of the MGM lion's, stayed through it all, waiting with me...soothing me with corny jokes told in a deep, rumbly, heavily accented voice.
Ultimately a C-section became necessary and I was trundled, delirious, into an antiseptically austere surgical delivery room. Back then husbands were not invited in for anything other than natural births, so Seth and I parted at the door. He was able to see Tommy as he was lifted onto the table and examined. I caught a glimpse of him, too. His mouth was huge and open. I fell in love at first sight.
There were some benefits to the old days. One of them was that, if you had a C-section, you stayed in the hospital for no less than five days. Can you imagine? Tommy and I lived the good life....he was whisked away at night while I slept, visitors brought balloons and stuffed animals....but I did have to say goodbye to Seth whose ship was ready to sail for Okinawa.
My little mother and I were on our own with "the baby." On the day we were to leave, we had to call another car to bring us home. As those familiar with the questionable fleets of privately owned car services in 1980's New York know, some of the cars were pretty icky.
The one that arrived for us was a battered two-door but having just had a section, I was limited physically. The driver stuffed my mother into the back and settled me in the front, holding the baby as I backed my tuchas into the passenger seat. To my surprise, the seat had no springs and I sank down so low that my knees almost touched my chin. Did I mention there were no seat belts?
The driver then handed me the baby and off we went....me holding a baby in my arms, unbelted. And no one thought a thing of it. There were fewer laws, restrictions, penalties....today, I would be arrested for child endangerment.
When we arrived at the house, the super happened to be outside having a cigarette on the front steps. He held the baby while my mother and the driver, each holding one of my hands, pulled me out of the car and set me on my feet.
Then, the driver refused to take a penny. He told us, in beautiful broken English, that it had been his honor to drive us home. I will never forget him. Or anything about that day.
So, twenty-six years have sped by. Raising Tom meant screaming and laughing and shrieking and singing and crying and laughing and ranting and roaring and laughing some more. It meant running through the house to close the windows before a fight so the neighbors wouldn't hear and it meant laughing so hard or singing so loud that the neighbors must have wondered if we were all certifiably insane. Or been damn jealous.
So, Tom, both our lives began on the day you were born. Yours in the literal sense. Mine, in the sense that you fulfilled my destiny. I am so very glad that you are exactly who you are. Happy birthday. Many more. Love, Mom