My baby sister is getting married this September. This is not just a term of endearment; compared to me she’s actually a baby. I’m a Gen X-er, she’s a Millennial and in between us are two more sisters and a brother, all of whom are married with kids. And now, at long last, she’s found a man worthy of all of her awesomeness, an awesomeness that includes a wicked sense of humor, a Master’s in Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering, a company which she co-founded and impressive swing dancing skills.
I’ve been struggling to come up with the perfect wedding gift, so until I do, I offer this: The story of the day she was born.
For those of you who think this is a rather crappy gift, one that you would not be grateful to receive, consider these two facts:
- I’m the only one left to tell this story because our parents are long gone.
- It’s a REALLY good story.
Now that it’s in writing, for the first time in the 29 years since it happened, she can relive that day as often a she likes. My hope is that this also serves to draw a more vivid picture for her future children of the grandparents they won’t get to meet.
On April 18, 1991 I woke up at 5 AM to the sounds of groaning. I was 17 and usually wouldn’t have gotten out of bed two hours before I had to get up for school but my mother was pregnant with her fifth child and I knew she was due imminently.
I shuffled into the kitchen and there she was, doubled over, already dressed and clutching the mauve-tiled counter, inhaling deeply through her nose and exhaling in quick, sharp burst through her mouth. She was clearly in pain. But this wasn’t her first time to the rodeo so she was calm and in control.
When the contraction passed, she looked at me and said, “Go get your father.”
My father wasn’t home. He’d come into my room when it was still dark to tell me that my mother was in labor and to listen out for her while he went to pray in our synagogue up the road. I thought I’d dreamed that. But at least it explains why I heard her while my younger siblings ages 16,11 and 7 were out cold.
My father always prayed three times a day and would have done so at home, but his father had died a few months earlier so he was saying the Mourner’s Kaddish, a special prayer said by the children of the deceased in the presence of a minyan, (ten men). My father was an only child and took this obligation seriously. He went to the earliest possible service, certain he’d be home before the labor progressed too far.
Before I could leave the kitchen to get dressed, a gush of clear liquid came flooding out from under my mother’s stretchy denim skirt.
By now I was WIDE awake, bearing witness to my mother’s water breaking on the kitchen floor, to which I’d like to say EEEWWW on behalf of my 17-year-old self. My mother looked up at me and, water still dripping onto the floor beneath her said, “Go wake up your brother and tell him to get your father”.
I ran and yanked the covers off my brother who was as delighted to be awake at this hour as I was and barked “Go get Tati from shul. NOW! Mommy’s having the baby!” and then ran back to the kitchen to clean up the flood on the kitchen floor. I think I used an entire roll of paper towels, much to my frugal mother’s dismay.
Six months earlier when I accidentally found out she was pregnant by purposely eavesdropping I was mortified. I’d be old enough to be the mother of my new sibling. Could anything be grosser than that? It turns out, the answer to that is “yes”: mopping up your mother’s amniotic fluid off the kitchen floor in the early hours of the morning is grosser.
I was helping her into some dry clothes when my brother returned, breathlessly relaying our father’s message to swing by the synangogue and pick him up on the way to the hospital. This would have been an odd request except that my father was having trouble walking at the time and the synagogue entrance featured a 15-step staircase- more on that in a minute.
We helped our panting mother down the stairs to the garage and awkwardly stuffed her into the back seat of our silver Dodge Caravan where she lay on her side, rocking back and forth and screaming for her mother who had been dead for 17 years. And it was under these circumstances that I backed out of our garage as carefully as a person who’d only gotten her driver’s license 3 weeks prior could have.
Thirty seconds later I pulled up to the synagogue to see my father limping slowly down the endless staircase, gripping the bannister with one hand and clutching his Tallit bag in the other.
Maybe my mother’s wails from the back seat made the time warp but I swear it took him an hour to get down those stairs. He walked up to the open front passenger window, leaned in and said, “I’ll be right back, I have to take a leak” and after tossing his bag onto the front seat, he turned around and started limping RIGHT BACK UP THAT ENDLESS STAIRCASE.
I never did get to ask him why he didn’t just go before walking down the first time.
“Go without him!!” my mother ordered from behind me between furious breaths, “Just DRIVE!”
I’d already had enough new experiences that morning. I wasn’t about to add “Be my mother’s birth partner” to that list. So, I stalled for time and tried to distract her with some light conversation.
Now seems like the right time to tell you WHY he had such a hard time walking. Two weeks earlier, my father decided to cut some branches off of the large tree in our backyard with a chainsaw that he’d rented. While cutting the final and most stubborn branch, the chainsaw slipped and cut my father’s thigh. A fraction of a centimetre closer and he would have cut his artery and died.
This happened in the presence of my whole family. We watched from our backyard deck as his white chinos rapidly turned red from the blood gushing down his legs which dangled beneath him and the branch he was still perched on. I was sure my mother would go into labor right then from all of her screaming. The paramedics hauled him off on a stretcher, and a few hours later he was back home with more than 40 stitches and a serious amount of bandaging from his calf up to his groin.
And now, back to our story. My father finally emerged from the synagogue doors and my mother and I again watched him awkwardly maneuver his way down all of those stairs. It was almost comical.
I drove as fast as I could which was not very fast given that I was a new driver, while my mother barked directions to the hospital from the back seat because we were doing things HER way now. Adding to my stress was the fact that my dad was sitting in the front seat with his wounded leg propped up on the dashboard. If I rear ended anyone I’d be leaving TWO parents at the hospital.
I parked right in front of the ER doors and can only imagine what a sight we must have made- two adults who were having serious difficulty walking straight propped up by a teenage girl between them. At 6:15 AM.
Having safely delivered my parents to an ER staff member, I went to park the car in a legal spot. By the time I made it up to the labor floor, my perfect, tiny, red-headed baby sister- who I was 100% sure was going to be a boy- was nestled in my mother’s arms, waiting to meet her big sis. I was smitten.
I left my parents in the hospital and drove home, ready for a solid nap. The adrenaline coursing through my veins, however, meant I’d never get back to sleep so I went to school where I shared my morning’s adventure with my friends along with gooey-eyed declarations of love for my new favorite person; my baby sister.
Now that I think about it, maybe I can call off my search for the perfect gift. What could possibly be more appreciated as she begins the next stage of her life than a first hand, eye witness account of the day that set it all in motion?
Ok, probably an all expenses paid trip to the Maldives. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t register for that.