Written September 17, 2009
She went up to bed tonight,
Still pink-eyed and shaky.
Finally calmed enough to hopefully get some rest.
And as she walked into her room,
From beneath her bed,
The bright kaleidoscope patterned paper
Caught her eye.
I heard the sobs,
“My birthday present.
The one she gave me early.”
She stood pointing at it,
Like a child pointing at a dead
Animal in the middle of the road.
Together we looked.
And then all at once it hit me.
I knew what she was talking about.
Two weeks ago,
When my in-laws were visiting,
Paige’s grandmother had given her a wrapped box
“This is for your birthday.
Put it somewhere safe.
Don’t open it until October 28th.
I know it’s something you’ll like,
But you have to wait until then,
Because that’s the kind of 10-year old she is,
Paige didn’t peek,
Or lift the corner of the paper,
Or ask her brother what was in it.
She carefully put it under her bed
To wait until October.
We had no way of knowing we’d never see Grandma
No way of knowing that was the last present that would be
No way of knowing that a truck which had no business
Trying to pass anyone,
Much less several vehicles at once,
Would slam head-on into my in-laws’ car and kill our
The very sight of the box,
And the thought of its giver,
Brought her to tears,
Racked her with sobs,
Riddled her with grief,
Filled her with anger,
And did the very same
I remember it so well.
I hope I never forget.
Those feelings I had eleven years ago as I had my first contractions and went into labor with my first child, Paige.
My husband and I were living in New York City.
I was taking a long walk home after an appointment when I
first felt the tightening begin.
It was three o’clock in the afternoon of October 27th.
By dinnertime I was at the hospital.
By evening I was home again.
Too soon, they told me.
Could be hours,
could be a day or two.
By midnight I was back at the hospital again,
This time for good.
All night we waited.
All night I labored.
And at 8:06 a.m. she arrived.
I left the hospital two days later in typical New York fashion:
not with a car seat,
but instead with sweet P bundled in a carriage.
We walked home the 4 blocks to our one bedroom apartment.
Two days later we emerged to show her the NYC marathon.
As every parent does,
I fell in love.
As Clarke worked 80+ hour weeks,
She and I were buddies,
my city baby and I.
For hours we would explore the city.
Everywhere I went, so too did she.
When she was one year old I had medical problems;
an autoimmune disease which attacked my skin,
pigmenting it bright red,
thickening the soles of my feet
and palms of my hands
until I could hardly use them.
Hours were spent in the waiting rooms of doctors
before I was correctly diagnosed.
The treatments were time-consuming.
Paige came to every appointment with me.
It never occurred to me to get a babysitter.
She just came along.
As she grew I just knew she was something special.
She was always perceptive.
At sixteen months she sang the alphabet.
By eighteen months we were having conversations.
Once we started we never stopped.
Paige “gets it.” She’s an old soul.
She is so mature it is sometimes hard to remember her real age.
I am so lucky.
I am so lucky she’s mine.
And I tell her so all the time.
I don’t know what she’s going to do when she grows up.
But I know what she’s going to be –
All the things she already is:
Paige has seen a lot in her few years.
More than I would have liked for her.
I wish I could have spared her some of the
difficult things we’ve gone through.
My medical diagnoses, especially cancer, and Tristan’s issues too.
There’s the box under Paige’s bed (“the box” 9.17.2009) –
The one Barbara gave her in anticipation of her birthday.
She knows what it is now.
It won’t be a surprise.
I know what she really wants for her birthday: she wants to have Grandma back. Alive.
When Paige was 5
I got a call from the ski school in Jackson Hole.
“Paige is done skiing for the day,” they said cryptically,
“You should come get her.”
They wouldn’t give me details.
But they wouldn’t tell me anything.
Clarke was on the mountain skiing.
He was able to reach her first.
It was one of those times I marveled at how we existed before cell phones.
I made it to the medical clinic at the base of the mountain.
I walked through the swinging double doors.
I’ll never forget seeing Clarke and a doctor staring at x-rays
up on a lighted board.
It happened in slow motion…
I mouthed “Broken?”
and Clarke nodded.
My five year old had just broken her leg.
It was the first time I’d ridden in an ambulance.
I didn’t know the next time it would be my turn.
It was the first time there was a fracture.
I didn’t know the next time it would be my turn.
It all seemed so dramatic at the time.
Maybe being far away from home made it worse.
I had no idea I’d look back on that episode and think it was
literally “child’s play.”
After we finally got to the hospital and talked to an orthopedic
surgeon it was time to set the leg.
They’d given Paige pain medication and something to make her drowsy while they put the cast on.
Clarke and I were a few feet from the foot of her bed
talking about the logistics of getting her home on the airplane.
As she slipped off into a hazy slumber I saw her arm go up
into the air.
She slowly raised it, then her hand.
And then she made the sign language symbol for “I love you”:
Thumb, pointer, and pinkie extended out, middle and ring fingers
It was our signal.
I’d taught it to her as a toddler.
I wanted a way to tell her I loved her if I couldn’t be heard.
Across a crowded room, in a place that was quiet, or when she was nervous at a school performance,
I’d make the gesture for “I love you” and
she would know I was right there for her.
as she drifted off,
my five year old
told me she loved me,
that everything was going to be okay,
that this was all just a bump in the road,
all without saying a word.
there are so many things I hope I’ve given you:
skills, characteristics and traits to
help you find your way in this world.
I hope I will have many more years to watch you grow
and see what you will do in the years ahead.
You make me proud,
you make me smile,
you make me laugh,
you make me cry.
Now, forever and always,
I believe in you.
May you someday know the joy that I have known having you as my daughter
and the special bond we will always share.
The love that Nana and I have,
now next to you and I…
I hope that you will have that gift
someday with a daughter too.