Two summers ago I was in training.
It was for an elective I was to teach, and the training was for certification. It was two weeks long.
I met several wonderful teachers there, enjoyed the time we spent together prepping labs and presenting and sculpting anatomical organs out of clay. We were the students this time and that's always fun. It's kind of my dream to take classes for the remainder of my life. A forever student. Maybe one day when I win the lottery. The money lottery and the one for spare time.
There was a significant conversation that took place on our second to last day of class.
I was speaking with Jim, an intelligent and quirky science teacher from Alaska of all places. We had been paired together for one of the presentations, and I was scripting our skit dialogue. A woman with Myasthenia Gravis who goes to the doctor complaining of chronic headaches, is subsequently diagnosed.
I remember telling Jim how I'd been struggling with memorization, with memory in general, since your uncle was hurt. How I'd be driving somewhere and completely forget where I was going. The frequent blank-outs mid-conversation. How once I'd actually forgotten my age. "How old are you?" and for close to fifteen seconds I didn't know.
"It's the stress," he told me. "Stress affects memory big time."
Jim went on to explain that several years ago, one of his children passed away. A water bottle was shared during soccer practice, and Jim's child contracted meningitis. It quickly spread to the brain stem, proving fatal.
He asked me how many children I had. One. It's the last time I remember answering that question without cringing.
"Have more children," he said. "Because you just...you should have more than one."
And I remember thinking how awful that sentence was, how morose and intrusive and sad, what he was trying to tell me. And I pushed it far out of my mind because I wanted to, and because I could. And that morning when I held you I thought of so many things. I thought of empty car seats and cold bassinets and clean sippy cups. I thought of the hole in the snack circle on the Kindergarten floor. I thought of the person you were supposed to marry, marrying someone else instead. And I thought of that moment in our frigid lab room mid-July. I thought of Jim.
I've thought of him since, too. When it's three AM and I'm using my cell phone light to confirm the baby is still breathing. When your older brother wanders off with the little boy down the street, two houses down past the bush just beyond my gaze. And when your father and I talk about having more children, because there's no longer a number. For the longest time it was two. Two and we'd be "done". Because we thought we could plan something like that. As if we were ordering another spring roll or baseball tickets, as if we were in charge.
I guess you've taught me differently. You and Jim.
That control, it doesn't exist. Never did. There's a comfort to its illusion, and it helps for sleep at night, but it's never really there, and it never really was.
When your little brother was born there was a problem with my epidural. The numbing medicine that was present for my first two deliveries did not work properly, and by the time we knew it wasn't working it was too late. The anesthesiologist was on another floor and the baby was coming. Essentially, I felt everything.
My doctor arrived and confirmed that it was time. I could wait for the next contraction or I could push now. I was writhing and attempting to breathe and probably cursing loudly at your father, but I remember the moment our eyes met. There was an immediate focus and I remember what she said.
"Nora, this is going to hurt but you can do it."
And it helped me, her words. Along with my amazing, amazing nurses and the instantaneous relief as I held him in my arms, those words willed me through it. Because after the nine months of mental anguish and the nearly two years of sciatica and shortness of breath and swollen feet and a fear so paralyzing that it nearly killed me, all I had to do was push.
It is, quite possibly, the best way to explain my life now. And some days I get bitter, so bitter that I can hardly taste anything else and I have to remember to push through. This day in your absence. This life without you. Parenthood without the illusion of control.
It's going to hurt but you can do it.