I was introduced to this sweet little girl when she was born on a cold dreary day in January in Northern New England. Her birth was a scary thing. I had been there at her older sisters birth and I cut her sisters umbilical cord and I got to hold her after she had a chance to bond with her mom, but that wasn’t the case with L. L was a difficult birth. She got stuck in J’s birth canal. It turned out that the umbilical cord was around her neck and it was short, so it was both choking her and holding her back. The insightful doc saw that something was up so he cut the cord in the birth canal and out she popped. But she was not the yowling baby that I had seen in her sister. She was floppy and gurgly.
When they did her Apgar tests at birth (indicators of vitality at birth) instead of getting an 8,9 or 10 indicating a vibrant baby . .. she got a 3. A few minutes later when they did a second test (which is supposed to go up), she got a 2. It was not good. J was trying bond and was oblivious to the issues that were going on with the baby . . . she just thought she was quiet.
So as the doc dealt with afterbirth and stitched J up, the head nurse grabbed the baby and gave her to me and dragged both of us into the next room to deal with the baby, telling me that we had some issues to deal with as we walked. My first ten minutes with my little girl were spent giving her oxygen while the nurse poked and tweaked her feet and suctioned her to get her to breathe. After 10 minutes she was breathing ok but I had no color whatsoever. I kept forgetting to breathe!!!!! Her time in the hospital was uneventful …she was much quieter than her sister and we marveled at her docile nature.
After two days we took her home and her docile nature hit the extreme. We had to wake her to feed her and she would fall asleep halfway though feeding, and she would sleep. She slept through the night the first night we brought her home. Something wasn’t right.
As the day turned into the first week she got a little better but by 10 days old she began to get jaundiced. They took her back in the local hospital and put her under lights to bring her billirubin down. So instead of bonding with us at a week old she was readmitted for a week. They put a mask on her to keep the lights from hurting her eyes and she was left under lights. While J took care of L ‘s sister at home I sat in the hospital waiting for the opportunities to change her and feed her; the hospital allowed me to do that.
That was the beginning of my bonding with L.
She was discharged after that awful week when her billi count was down. To our fear and chagrin at three days home she was jaundiced again. This time we didn’t fool around. We took her to a major medical center 2 hours away where they did all kinds of tests. What they discovered was that she had no thyroid gland. So at two weeks old we began to work with a pediatric endocrinologist who guided us in crushing adult pills and getting her to swallow them twice a day, with follow up blood tests once a week to check her levels and adjust her meds. We did this for the rest of her life (with us).
It was amazing what happened at three weeks old. She was literally born again. This listless, lethargic orange lump turned into the most beautiful, pink smiley cherub. There is English and Scots blood on J’s side of the family. This little thing was a picture of little Scots lass . . . her hair was light - light brown, almost red and it was so curly; her skin was china white with cherry red cheeks and grey green eyes. She looked like a poster child for a Scottish Travel agency. She was gorgeous!!!!! We were told afterwards that the early detection and medication saved us from literally having a cretin for a child.
Her personality blossomed by leaps and bounds and she had tons of personality as a tiny one. She was the earliest to laugh and she did it with gusto. For all her lethargy at birth she became (what my mother used to call) a “god dammit on wheels” as she got older. She was into everything. She ate dirt out of plant pots, she tore cupboards apart and emptied them all over the kitchen floor. She figured out how to unlatch childproof cabinets. She was her own boss.
At two years old she loved to sit on my shoulders. I would carry her with her two legs around my neck and I would hold her ankles tight. She in turn would wrap her arms around my head and ride like that. She hated strollers. It was always daddy’s shoulders. The height didn’t bother her. At some point during this …she discovered that if she lapped and sucked on the top of my bald head I would go yuck, cringe and tell her to stop!!! She found this to be hysterically funny and she would laugh her belly laugh and get hiccups and go right back to sucking and slobbering on the top of my head. I got used to streams of baby slobber running down the sides of my head, I couldn’t stop her. J thought this was hysterically funny and would say …hey she is happy . . . it will be easier to wean her off the top of your head than it would be a pacifier. And it was.
Her cuteness grew along with her size. She was always a big girl but she remained this curly headed moppet with a face that made people stop and comment. For all her adorableness . . . she was a spitfire. She was (and still is) strong willed and feisty. When she turned 6 ..... I said that she would either be a longshoreman (stevedore), a coal miner or a labor union organizer when she grew up. She was tougher and feistier than most boys.. But there was always this empathy in her that shone through. Wherever there was an under dog or a kid being bullied in school, L would always interject herself between the bullies and the victims. She took great grief in her early years …for that behavior. She was always an outcast.
As much as it hurt her to not be popular (and it hurt a lot) … she would never compromise her position of defending victims. It was easy for her to do because she was as big and muscular as the boys, and taller than most. She always wanted to be girly and cute, but was always over looked for the sweet little girls in her classes.
From 2 to 8 or so I was the only one who could give her a bath. Mainly because of the shampoos, that lovely curly red brown hair was a nightmare to shampoo. I had the patience to cajole her through getting it shampooed, rinsed and brushed. Oh the brushing of her hair!!!!!! It took forever but it always finished with milk and cookies and a book before bed as a reward. . . that was almost always my job. This was where her love of reading began and our bonding deepened. The memories of the smell of her fresh from a shampoo in my arms can still bring tears to my eyes.
One of the symptoms of hypothyroidism in girls is horrendous monthly cycles. When she was 14 they were so bad that she was literally immobilized with abdominal pain. There were many times when J and I would alternate staying home with her when she had a period with her head on my lap (or j’s) just helping her cope with the awful pain. She has an incredible pain tolerance so we knew if she was flattened like that we couldn’t imagine how bad it must have been. So at 14 the doc put her on birth control pills to control the symptons. We discovered over the next seven years that the birth control pills reeked havoc with her absorption of thyroid hormone so there was 7 years of absurd symptoms and grief on our part till the docs sorted that out. Through it all there was endless shoulder sessions of me listening to the pain and the other symptoms that she endured.
But during this whole time nothing stopped her. Both of the girls went to an outdoor – wilderness oriented private high school. L’s claims to fame were rock climbing, wilderness backcountry hiking and competitive cross country skiing. At 16 she was already 6 foot 1” and 160 lbs. There was not an ounce of fat on her it was (is) all muscle.
I used to rough house with her when she was 11, 12, 13 or so but I stopped at 15 because she didn’t realize her own strength and I was getting hurt. She always read books, but in her teen years she began to read voraciously.
But despite her muscularity and her athleticism there was always this empathetic - feminine side to her. She is the nurturer. I so admire that in her. She and J love each other but oh how they fought. They are so very much alike. As a result, I became the confider and the one she would cuddle with as a pre teen and older to talk out her problems with. We spent many hours on her bed with her rambling on about all the stresses and strains of her relationships and interactions with people. Almost always it was about her doing the right thing and getting hurt as a consequence.
She went off to college and there were numerous health complications relative to another condition she had and we managed to help her deal with that over her four years in college. In college she truly discovered books. In her summers she worked in a local bookstore. It was not unusual for her to read 150 books in a summer. She began to write poetry. Despite her health issues she continued to rock climb and do yoga to stay limber. She developed a sense of humor that borders on the raunchy and is always ready to hit me with some nasty joke or off color story to this day. Our senses of humor are very similar much to J’s chagrin. I loved her summer’s at home from college. She inherited her mom’s love of coffee and chat and many hours were spent on the patio talking. Those summers were the best.
She turned into this lovely young woman before my eyes. She is her mother in demeanor, passion and emotion but with a fire and feistiness that is uniquely L. When she was married 3 years ago it was all I could do to maintain my composure as I walked her down the aisle.
As we danced the traditional day daughter dance, I rested my head on the top of hers and smelled her hair. I was transported. If I had closed my eyes I would have sworn that the next thing to do would be to get milk and cookies and go read a book. But it wasn’t, she was all grown up.
She and her husband left for a two year stint teaching in Japan and I didn’t physically see her for two years …except every other night on Skype.
She is now a 27 year old graduate student in elementary education in Washington State; she is working with a person in a school system on a grant funded project to stop bullying in the schools; she is still sticking up for the underdogs.
She is this lovely complex young woman who melts my heart when I look at her and who can make me laugh like no one else can. When I hug her I think of holding that little teeny thing in the hospital … the time I have with her now is just the same as those precious moments when they took her out from under the lights for me to feed her. I look at her and think how lucky her wonderful husband is and how lucky I am to be her dad if only for those sweet short moments we are together.
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