I can’t say, for certain, what I read in the wide hazel eyes of our first-born, Maggie Ann, as she stood just inside the doorway of the hospital room — curiosity, excitement, fear, a hint of betrayal. It was as if she knew, on some level, that her world had changed. It had. She, alone, had been the center of our universe (for all too short a time). She seemed suddenly shy, something Maggie had never been. I will never forget when my husband’s parents, known to their grandkids as, Nana and Papa walked in with eighteen-month old Maggie. She stood there holding Papa’s hand, beautiful hazel eyes framed by crooked bangs (we could never get them straight), hot pink corduroy pants, and sparkly red shoes. She had wanted sparkly red shoes so badly, and Papa couldn’t resist her pleas. My heart was filled with longing and a desperate need to hold her. She hesitated when I asked her to come to me. I held her close as we introduced the sisters to each other, “This is your baby sister, Serrah. You’re a big sister now. What do you think?” There came no answer at that time. Later in life they would become quite verbose about their feelings about each other, and their thoughts on being sisters. I remember Maggie asking me when she was six or so, “Why did you have to have all these kids?! Didn’t you know I wanted to be a lonely child?” I would respond, “You mean ONLY child, but you would be very LONELY without your sisters and brothers. You’re lucky to have each other. You’ll see.” Through the years, their feelings for each other have been various and sundry, and usually mutual. But, the ties that bind and their love for each other ultimately rule each day as it comes to its close.
Our second daughter, Serrah Elise, was born in the usual chaotic frenzied fashion. Apparently, we really didn’t know how to do it any other way. My sister, Jolene, was there to lend a hand, give my husband the breaks he would surely need, and possibly to referee, if necessary. A very eager student nurse had cut the cord “too soon.” As a result, “the baby didn’t get all of HER blood,” we were told, but they could give her some. “Of mine?” I asked, as we are the same blood type. Perhaps, the idiot, who has now failed the “cord cutting” portion of today’s lesson, should offer some of her own. I don’t remember handing her a scissors? “Why did you let HER cut the cord? Was this her first time?” That question went unanswered, as they went on to explain that, for some reason or other, it wouldn’t be possible to give my own blood to my own precious baby because of laws, blah blah, procedures, policies, yadda, yadda, yadda, and other nonsense that I didn’t bother to store in my brain for as much as a millisecond. You see, Little miss Serrah Elise was born in 1987. We had just recently become aware of the existence of HIV. We knew almost nothing about it. It seems there were less than a hundred confirmed cases in the U.S., possibly even less than fifty. I can’t remember for sure. I knew that there had been cases of tainted blood at blood banks. NO thank you, we would rather she suffer through iron drops and constipation for the first three months of her life. She was pale with a hint of pink on her cheeks and lips, like a porcelain baby doll.
Grandmas, grandpas, great grandma, aunties, uncles, cousins, and friends all came and went. The kinder, more tactful pondered our choice of spelling, “That’s a unique spelling. It’s pretty.” The less tactful, bluntly stated, “That’s really odd. She’ll never have a license plate for her bike, or a sign for the door of her room or a pencil with her name on it, you know.” I told them the same thing I told the nurse who asked, “Are you sure? With an E and two R’s?”, “That’s how the name sounds when you say it. Think about it. The first vowel sounds like an E, you extend the r, and there’s a whisper of an H at the end.” I tried to explain. No one would have a name like it. Turns out, years down the road, that there were all kinds of philosophical spelling freaks just like me, who had come up with the same spelling. Elise was for her great-grandmother, Papa’s mother, Elise Sommerfeld, long gone, whose birthday had been a couple of weeks earlier.
Back then, we stayed in the hospital for three or four glorious days, during which time we were pampered, received back rubs at night, slept peacefully as the nurses watched over our sleeping cherubs, bathed them, and brought them to us at our request or when it was time for them to be nursed, smelling sweet, freshly changed, and swaddled in soft flannel blankets. Those were the days. It was a downright spa vacation for mothers with more than one child waiting at home.
We settled quickly into a new routine at home. Serrah seemed to enjoy the baby swing. We stuffed blankets around her and she would sway, often with one little fist up against her cheek, as if she were deep in thought with her eyes closed. She probably was. Maggie danced around her in my high-heeled shoes or the new sparkly red ones, singing and talking to her. She seemed satisfied with her new audience. Every once in a while I noticed that she shook Serrah’s hand or pinched her cheek a little harder than was necessary, a hint of something in her eye that caused me to raise a brow. Was it determination, satisfaction, passive/aggression? It was amusing, infrequent, and perfectly normal, I’m certain.
Daddy worked hard and doted on his little girls, often napping with them laying on his chest after long work days. Maggie’s job became helping daddy by unlacing his boots when he got home. I think I remember doing that for my dad. There’s something significant about the act. It makes little ones feel important, needed, skilled, beloved. Maggie delighted in it, as did each sibling through the years. Of course, there was always the occasional gift, in his boot, of toys, usually legos, painfully discovered in the morning as he left for work.
Life became normal, peaceful, contented. We paid our bills to the best of our ability. I remember getting a call about delinquent hospital payments on my most recent maternity stay, to which I responded, “We send something every month. You aren’t going to repossess our baby, are you?” There was a light chuckle on the other end of the line, “Heavens, no. Just keep sending something every month.” Followed by another light chuckle as we said “goodbye.”