Monday, February 28, 2011


"On the day that Cliff was born, on the day that Cliff was born, on the day that Clifford was born the angels sang and they blew on their horns and they danced, they danced. They smiled and raised up their hands on the day, on the day that Clifford was born." -- Red Grammer, "Hello World"

It's early on this February morning, and still a little dark, about the same time I awoke twenty-six years ago in labor with my first child. I am doing what I always do on this day each year, remembering the events of the day that changed my life in such profound ways that I am still discovering how. I've told this story often but each time brings a welcome recall, albeit bittersweet, that I hope I will never forget.
Early on that February morning, while I let Ken sleep, I got up and decided to take a shower with the foolish notion that I'd look prettier for the work ahead. I had everything set: snacks for my husband in case the labor went on and on, my bag packed and sitting by the door, the camera, the baby announcement cards I planned to write out after my baby arrived.

But you know what they say about God and the plans we make. Only I don't think God was laughing that day. I think, in fact I know, he had his arms around me saying, "Don't worry. I know what I'm doing. I am with you."

After just six hours, Clifford Anthony Taylor arrived. He was named Clifford after the grandfather he would never meet. Anthony was for my own dad. He entered the world just like any other baby--squalling loudly, a beautiful sound we captured on tape and still listen to from time to time with tears in our eyes. That tape captured not only the brand new cries of a baby boy, but the voices of my husband, the doctor, the nurses. In fact, I distinctly remember the nurse who abruptly left the room soon after Cliff was born. She had been my birthing instructor and I was so glad she could be there. On the tape I can hear her saying, "What a beautiful baby, " and then the glaring absence of that voice. I found out later that she was newly pregnant with her own baby and became upset when she looked at Cliff and saw something a little off-kilter. She knew.
When Ken left the room, I recall asking where he went. "We think there may be something wrong with the baby so your husband is speaking to the pediatrician."
Something wrong? Is that what he thought of my baby? He knew the truth before I did and he used the word "wrong"? How awful for a doctor to use such a word. Wrong means the baby is sick with a disease. Wrong means the baby might die. Wrong means something horrible and tragic. My son's birth meant none of those things.
When Ken came into the recovery room he gave me the news. He held my hand and said, "The doctor thinks the baby has Down syndrome, but they have to do a blood test to be sure." I stared at him as relief flooded my face. The doctor had said "wrong". But  my baby was healthy. Down syndrome? The meaning of those words had not yet entered my brain. At that moment I cared only that he was not ill or in danger of dying.
Later in my room, as Ken and I discussed what this all meant, I realized that I had been waiting for over two hours to hold my son. Looking back, I honestly believe the nurses were told to wait until I asked for him, just in case it turned out I didn't want him.
Can you imagine?
I'd like to tell you every thought that went through my head when he was finally put into my arms, but there was only one. I loved this baby! As I gazed at his little face, he suddenly opened his eyes and at that moment I was sure of two things: I didn't need a blood test to know what was right in front of me. And he was mine to keep  forever.
We lay him gently on the bed and carefully, slowly unwrapped him. We marveled at his perfection: the ten fingers and ten toes, the soft brown/blonde hair on his head, the full lips, the roundness of his belly. I thought I knew what love was, but this...this was beyond my imagining.
I hadn't yet cried. That would come...later. be continued...


Friday, February 25, 2011

New Normal

"Where we love is home--home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts." ~Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

Used to be I would lie in bed awake, waiting for the sound of the garage door opening. I liked the sound. It brought me peace. It meant that Max was home safe and that I could sleep without startling awake, wondering where he was. Even without the sound of the door opening and closing, I could tell when he was here. He has this way of bounding the stairs, doesn't matter up or down, and taking two steps at a time.  No one else in this house comes in quite like he does. His arrival is as unique as a thumbprint.
From my vantage point, lying in bed with my door ajar, I could even tell it's his hand putting on the bathroom light in the hallway, just the way he does it, with his full hand flat and covering the light switch. He flips the switch between the second and third fingers on his right hand. Is it weird that I know that? It's funny that I could know these small details considering how little I know about what's going on in his head. But kids aren't always supposed to tell you every single thing they're thinking. I discovered a long time ago that our kids have a secret life, apart from what we've known. 
He's the least talkative of my three children. I'd throw out the term "typical guy" here, but I don't think there really is such a thing. I just know that when he does talk about what he's thinking, I am like a soldier! I snap to attention and listen carefully because he doesn't like to say things twice and besides, he lets out his news and information so infrequently, I'm practically starved for his conversation.
He's away at school now and each one of us in this house feels his absence in his or her own way. I miss the way he leaves his fingerprints all over the microwave when he cooks up his Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches. I miss him asking ,"Mom, have you seen my work shirt? my wallet? my phone? Can you help me with my earring?" I miss the way he leaves the house and comes back in three times because he's forgotten his wallet, his phone, his iPod. I miss the way he hugs his big brother and jokes around with his sister. I miss the way he'll ask me for permission for something instead of going to his father because I'm the permissive one. 
I've been wondering if I will ever get used to this. How long will it take? Does one ever get used to children leaving? It's the future of every parent after all. After Max, it will be Olivia. Then someday, Cliff, who will need to find his own life before his parents leave this world.
I have to tell you, I miss them already.