Two years ago we started saving. Looking ahead to our 20th anniversary, we wanted to save up for the Hawaii trip that we have hoped for and talked about for almost two decades.
Then Natalie came. You know the rest... well, most of it.
Besides having spent away our little nest egg during "The Era of the Blood Clots" on things like gas for two round trips a day to Roseville for two weeks and sometimes-daily doctor visits, fast-food and compression stockings, there was the new reality; on our 20th anniversary, we would have a nursing toddler. My idea of a picture-postcard anniversary didn't include an interloper in a onesie, I promise you. In perfect irony, we had actually housed a couple unexpectedly only days before as they made their way to their new dream home... Hawaii.
For Christmas this year our sweet friend, Joyce, gifted us a night's stay "somewhere" to use on our anniversary, so I found a little B&B in Loomis, only about 40 minutes from home. I felt oh-so-sexy, dahling, as I packed diapers, wipes and cheerios. Ooo-la-la. We did stop at Dianda's Italian bakery for cannoli before leaving town, which, ever since our anniversary in New York, will always put me in a lovey-dovey mood, poopy diapers not withstanding.
Natalie was a dream all day as we headed out into the crisp December air, window shopping while grazing on Christmas leftovers from a cooler in the van. The night before we left she began running a mild fever, of course, and though she was sick the whole time we were gone, she didn't complain a bit. In fact, she slept much of the day away in her stroller.
Yeah. It seemed pretty awesome at the time. You know what is better than having a toddler on board during a romantic weekend getaway? Having a sick and very awake toddler. Kind of like having the Channel 5 News team in your room, or a very curious squirrel. In our quest for alone time, and yet needing to balance that with keeping her safe in a strange place with uncovered power outlets, we set up my phone to Netflix, and, I confess with my head hung in shame, we turned on Barney. I know. I'm not proud. It was a weak parenting moment. I will make up for it later with some Baby Einstein or something.
Guy and I left her where we could see her from the door, and turned on the jaccuzi tub in the next room. Our little chaperon made sure to drop by for frequent inspections to make sure that the show stayed strictly G-rated. Barney did his share, metaphorically wedging himself firmly between Guy and I via his nasally serenading (sing with me now; "I love you, you love me..."). Oh. So. Romantic. We managed to laugh as Natalie did her rounds, a stern expression on her face that read, "All right boys and girls, keep your hands where I can see them." It's certainly wasn't palm trees and white sand beaches.
The next morning we sat in the quaint dining room of the old Victorian (quaint as in doilies and vintage china, not as in pealing paint and pigeons in the attic). The only other folks staying there that day were a friendly couple about our ages. Their's was a second marriage, their kids all grown and gone. Again, the irony was not lost on me. The wife was a pediatrician, and as we chatted we told them a little about our experience getting Natalie here. We shared that the doctors had never been able to explain why my blood titers had been rising (indicating that my body was building antibodies that would attack Natalie's red blood cells), only to have her born completely unharmed, her blood type identical to mine and thus having protected her. With the same blood types, why had my titers been rising?
"Oh, I can tell you what happened there," she said, sharing with us that, as she has been looking for the cause of childhood rheumatoid arthritis, the understanding of prenatal blood issues was right up her alley. "When a woman is pregnant, along with the exchange of oxygen and nutrients, a certain number of the mother's and the baby's cells cross the placental barrier." She explained that those cells stay alive, and though the immune systems of the mom and babe keep them suppressed, that during subsequent pregnancies the mother's immune response is suppressed to allow the new baby to safely grow. Those cells from her other children then do what cells do best; multiply. In our case, Jonah's cells were increasing and my antibody response was rising to battle the increase of positive-typed blood cells. "So every child carries the living cells of their mother in them for the rest of their lives, and every mother carries the living cells of every child they have ever carried. Their children are literally with them forever."
It was a beautiful living metaphor, and the final puzzle piece, the last unanswered question in my heart to explain why everything had gone the way it had with my pregnancy with Natalie. Well, maybe not the last, as I still may never know why I clot so easily, and if it was really blood clots that killed the four babies we lost, but I still was filled with a wave of comfort and clarity. I sat with Natalie on my lap as she ate the last of my oatmeal and nibbled my toast crusts, the sunlit room showing off the strawberry color in her fuzzy bedhead. What a little miracle.
There was also a little thrill in knowing that, in fact, each of my children are in alive in me... all ten of them; those that are with us and those that are not. I know God knows and loves His children when he places that perfect person in our path to give us a little something. To me, the evidence of God's love is in the gifts he gives us that we don't need, or in our mortal frailty could ever deserve, and have never even asked for.
Guy and I wandered the neighboring Old Town Auburn that day with that sweet baby girl, our interloper, our chaperon. Bundled against the chill 50+ degree air with frigid gusts of wind, we laughed as we passed a sign that sat in the front window of a touristy-clothing-store - the type of store where men with round bellies can find white linen pants and palm tree patterned shirts to wear golfing in some far-off tropical destination. "Maui - 78 Degrees, Sunny", it bragged. Yah, yah. I know. Hawaii is great. Thanks for the reminder.
As we headed home that evening, we decided to stop for dinner. Feeling super frugal-proud, I looked up the restaurant I had given Guy a Groupon for as an anniversary gift. Upon checking the menu online, I learned that the Groupon wasn't the great deal I thought it would be because the entrees were about $20 a piece, and it was still a few days from payday.
"Ooo, L&L is on the way home," Guy suggested, reminding me of the little take out joint with great Kalua Pig. I don't know if it was a subconscious choice that stuck with our theme of NOT being in Hawaii, but it didn't occur to us that we were eating Hawaiian food until we were seated on the orange vinyl seats, our styrofoam plates piled high with rice, BBQ and Chicken Katsu. Guy told me how he would stop here on his way to or from the hospital when he would come see me. He had even brought me some one night. We sat with the comfy glow that comes when you count your blessings.
"There dear," Guy said, pointing his white plastic fork at the poster on the wall of the tropical sunset beach scene framed with palm trees, "You can look at it and pretend you're in Hawaii."
"I'm good," I smiled.
To my Sweetie, thank you for being you. Thank you for all you do for us. The next twenty years is going to rock. I love you.