Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Madeline is Nine

Today is my daughter Madeline's ninth birthday.

It's also George Washington's birthday. Perhaps you've heard of him. And Edna St. Vincent Millay, of burning the candle at both ends fame. She's slightly less famous than George Washington.

Other notable birthdays include Drew Barrymore, she of the Laugh-Cry, Ellen Green, the actress/singer who portrayed the ill-fated Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, and Edward Gorey, the author/illustrator who drew the Ghastlycrumb Tinies, as well as the classic opening credits of PBS's Mystery! And, of course, scores of sports figures, just like every day of the year.

That puts Madeline in pretty good company, Drew Barrymore notwithstanding, and at least she is in two of my favorite movies: E.T. and Donnie Darko.

It's bizarre that Madeline is 9 years old, just one short year away from her double digits. The fact that she is this age is both surprising and completely understandable, given that there are aspects of her birth that feel like they just happened yesterday, and other things that feel like they happened an absolutely LIFETIME ago.

One of the things that I find quite fresh in my mind is the pain of her birth. Everyone assured me that I would forget the pain moments after she was born. And that your body doesn't remember pain, anyway, at least not vividly. To all that I cry LIES. Giant, stinky, rotten lies. You better believe I remember her painfully long delivery, all 24 agonizing hours of it. Not that others haven't had longer labors. I know women who labored for days, and God bless 'um. But I'm not engaging in a pissing contest. I'm simply stating that I recall the details quite vividly, and it was very painful. That is all.

I also remember what it was like to bring her home. My mother was in town, so when we came home from the birth center, she kindly offered to sit up and hold Madeline while I got a nap in. After sleeping for I'm not sure how long exactly, I recall hearing a quiet knock at my bedroom door.
"Kandy...Kandy, wake up," my mother was saying. "Madeline is hungry."
In my exhausted haze, I thought, "Who the hell is Madeline, and can't she just make herself a sandwich or something?"

I remember my mother finally leaving after helping me for several days, and I think I cried and begged her not to go. "What am I supposed to do with this small helpless thingy?" I wondered. Who in their right mind would entrust me, ME, of all people, with an infant?! What kind of astonishing lack of foresight and responsibility would result in my mothering a child?? Someone probably should have written an angry letter to someone.

And then there was the crying. I remember the endless crying. Madeline was really colicky (I still don't really know what that means, but that's what everyone told me she was) for about the first two months of her life. (This was during the five seconds I got to be a stay-at-home mom before the bills started to pile up and it looked like we'd be living in a comfy refrigerator box if I didn't go back to work soon. You know, because some of us don't get a choice about staying home or working, contrary to what some people might believe). Madeline's father would leave for work in the morning, and I would start to sweat, knowing that I would be spending the entire day alone with Madeline, pacing endlessly around our 400 square foot hovel of an apartment while she screamed inconsolably, and I contemplated throwing myself out of a window in spite of the fact that we lived at ground level. Sometimes, I would just crank up the TV and cry along with her, begging her to give me some clue as to how I could comfort her. Some days were spent never leaving my rocking chair, because nursing her was the only way to keep her from crying night and day.

I got hooked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns. Two episodes would air back-to-back on FX starting at 6am, right after TVLand was finished showing episodes of Family Ties all night. All the other channels were showing infomercials, and I could only watch the one about the Vacuum Sealer so many times before my eye would start to twitch. I still remember the first Buffy episode I ever saw: It was the sixth season finale, the one where Buffy (SPOILER ALERT!!!) sacrifices her life for her fake sister Dawn by throwing herself off of the tower built by Glory's crazy, brainwashed minions. And the one they showed right after that was the pilot episode, so I really had no choice to but to get caught up from there.

One very early morning, just before sunrise, after a particularly excruciating night of Madeline screaming and crying, I remember looking at her while we sat on the futon couch in the living room, and I was once again for the 9 billionth time questioning everything about my abilities to be a mother ("What kind of mother can't get her kid to stop screaming?" was a popular question I asked myself) when suddenly, Madeline just stopped crying. And that was pretty much the end of that.

There are so many other things, too, of course. Like her first steps, her first words, her first birthday, her first haircut. Her first day of kindergarten. All of those milestones. For some reason, though, the little minutiae I've mentioned about her first days and weeks of life are so much more vivid to me to other things. It was just Madeline and me against the world during the day. That was the only time in my life when all I had to worry about was her, and that went away quickly when I got a night job when she was still very tiny.

I'm not having another child, sort of by choice and because it's a little too late. I'm going to be 36 this year and don't really have it in me to start all over again with an infant. And there's something slightly bittersweet about the fact that never again will I be able to smell my newborn's wee tiny head, play with her stubby little toes and fingers, stay awake all night trying to quell her cries. But I really don't mind. All I have to do is stop for a second and experience the near-total recall of Madeline's life as a bitsy, darkhaired squirt of a girl, and it's like I'm there all over again.

So happy ninth birthday, Madeline. You're a great kid, and I have no doubt you'll be an amazing adult when the time comes. And it's a good thing, too, because you're the only try I get at this whole parenthood thing.

Oh, and also, happy birthday, Drew Barrymore. Maybe you'll make some better movies from now on and I won't spend quite so much time making fun of you and your signature laugh-cry.


  1. poignant, bittersweet and funny
    thank you for sharing so eloquently

  2. Happy belated birthday, Madeline! Your mom is amazing, and you two are so lucky to have each other.