Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Happy birthday to my oldest daughter

When a parent thinks back on the birth of her oldest child, it's hard to draw the line between it being about herself and about the child.

My daughter Kelly was born on this day in 1969. Eleven days prior, the Apollo 11 astronauts had landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong had said those historic words, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Heady stuff. History in the making.

Not nearly as heady as giving birth to my first child. For months I had read and dreamt about that day and I was, of course, totally unprepared for the reality of the event. In 1969, it was a bit of a magical event. In those days, we didn't have the incredible array of books, internet, reality TV shows, etc. to give us every detail of what to expect. Nor did we have sonograms. We had ... the heartbeat. That's it ... heartbeat. Month after month, I could put on the doctor's stethoscope and hear my baby's heartbeat. Major diagnostic tool. Gender of the newborn was still a surprise to most of us. So was health of the baby. But my doctor, Dr. Harry Douglas, had for several months promised me, based on the baby's heartbeat, that I would shortly give birth to a son, and he promised he that he would be healthy.

Also in those days we didn't have the fascination with sharing the details of our bodies that is so prevalent now. I wasn't close to my mother at the time for various reasons. Not that she would have shared those details with me either ... it would have been unseemly. Only one of my friends had given birth before me and I wouldn't have asked her for information. She had given her daughter up for adoption the year before and I felt a little guilty that my child would be much wanted and kept close to me.

So, what to expect? Kelly was due around July 15. (The baby was going to be named Clella, for her father's father, no matter what the gender.) By July 31, languishing in a steamy Washington, DC summer, I was more than ready for her to be born. Dr. Douglas kept saying, "now, now, all in good time." Well, the heck with good time ... I was ready. Wasn't it about me? What about me? I was hot, tired, huge, ready.

Alon and I went to Pope's Creek, Maryland, about 75 miles from our northern Virginia apartment (in the old Buckingham apartments in Arlington, if it matters), for steamed crabs. Big, sweet, hot Maryland Blues, covered in Old Bay seasoning, served with malt vinegar and lots of cold beer for him, icy soda for me. Driving home late that night I thought I would be pregnant for the rest of my life, but having just wolfed a big pile of Maryland crabs, it just doesn't matter. I was a happy camper. It might have been a little irresponsible to drive so far from home for food at 70-hundred months pregnant, but who cared? We had no one to be responsible to except ourselves.

So, our last day of childlessness. Kelly was born a day later at 3:29 am on the 31st. Instantly, my life was different. I was different. I was someone's mother -- not of the boy that Dr. Douglas had foreseen, but a gorgeous daughter who wasn't at all a Clella, but more of a Kelly. (My mother had held out for the name Erika, but although Kelly was blonde, she was not Scandinavian and she was definitely not an Erika.)

My life has never been the same. The birth of your first child changes you immeasurably. Every decision since that point was based on the fact of having a child ... where to live, what kind of car to buy, foods to keep in the house, TV shows that were appropriate, what books to read to her, how loud to play the music, how to vote to keep my daughter's life as free as mine was.

I've just spent a few days at the beach with Kelly and her four children. Four children! Unbelievable that that one magical child could have enriched my life so totally, and impossible now to imagine how my life would have progressed without her.

Amazing! Happy birthday, baby. I love you.


Joslyn said...

That is such a wonderful memory. It was touching to read...

Romi said...

Happy birthday Kelly!!! :)