My eldest stepped out of the car yesterday in a brand new lemon-yellow school shirt and khaki shorts, holding a bag full of pencils, gummy erasers, round-end scissors, Elmers glue, etc. Before I could even catch him for a kiss, Kai was up the stairs and gone to his first day of first grade. At least he was smiling, which is more than I can say for my wife and me.
As we drove away, Jodi told me she felt nervous and out of sorts. About what exactly, she could not say.
Today is our 9th anniversary.
I won’t bore you with “it goes so fast” sap. I will give props to the person who carried that first-grader … and his preK4 brother, through a herculean struggle that nearly put the light out of both our eyes. We thought, very seriously, we’d be childless. Jodi weathered 3 miscarriages in one year, stuck a needle in her belly every day for 8 months and laid still on a couch for 8 weeks, unable to do anything but stare out the window of our houseboat at the beautiful cruel world that mocked our most fundamental dreams.
Jodi’s bedrest quarters on our houseboat
She sacrificed, as all mothers do, at a level we men can only pretend to understand. For far too long, our lives felt like a Dali painting where all the clocks were melting. I did my best, throughout those dark years, to cheerlead and not make a bad situation worse. One thing I did do was make some paintings specifically geared to bring our son.
Bounce, acrylic and antique Betty Crocker Cookbook recipes on panel, 40″x60″, 2007, Stuart Sheldon
Then, on the fourth try, we found ourselves in a SF hospital, nervous that our son was five weeks early. “You ready to have a baby?” our doc asked, her gloved hands raised. Jodi bore down in agony, channeling all mothers from all time. I held her sweaty left hand, or should I say, I allowed her to squeeze mine fiercely. For the next half hour, roughly every minute, each contraction and push extracted a guttural, low-pitched groan. No man can make that feral, wounded wolf sound.
A contraction ended, and I touched a cool wet cloth to Jodi’s sweating face. Her chin dropped to her chest. “Almost home, honey,” I whispered into her ear. In a few more contractions, the very top of the baby’s head, still not outside Jodi’s body, became slightly visible, a white clammy sliver no wider than a pencil and covered in dark matted hair. Soon you will smile in my face, Kai … or cry. I do not care which.
“I can get him out in the next two contractions,” the doc said. “Do it!” Jodi barked with the last of her vigor.
Our world was a pinpoint.
I wanted this next moment to click by in frames, so that I could fully witness my child emerging. To study the evolving look on his face, and Jodi’s face, and mine. To feel the earth shift in my reality. To recognize a line at which my life changed forever. I wanted this moment to be very, very slow. It could not have happened more quickly. The doc put a small suction cup on the crown of his head, and with Jodi’s considerable cooperation, yanked him out on the next contraction like she was uncorking a rare Bordeaux.
And there he was … our first-grader.
All covered in white foam. Our little seahorse. Alive and well and chomping at the bit so hard he arrived four-and-a-half weeks early. His eyes puffy as scones. He grabbed my finger and squeezed it seconds after emerging. A firm unwavering grip. “I am here. Let’s DO THIS!” he said clearly with that squeeze.
Hello Kai. Thank your mother.
My world did shift on that day. In fact, it shifted 9 years ago when she said, “I do.” Because that was when a semblance of order entered my chaos. We weathered some squalls together that would have sunk many a couple. Now, we’re cruising like nobody’s business.
Thank you, Jodi … for being a natural, amazing, prototypical mother. And for being a stellar, empathetic and patient partner. And for being funny and silly and serious and adorable. I’m sorry I forgot to put Bodhi’s family picture in his school bag yesterday; thanks for always forgiving my dumbassness.
We’ve got a good thing, even when one of us is out of sorts. We’ll just be out of sorts together. Let me say, with humility and gratitude, for all the world to hear, that I LOVE YOU and appreciate every bit of it.