I had been packed for weeks.
Chapstick. Warm socks. A book to read in between contractions (hahaha). Hairbrush. Contact case and solution. A camera. A note that says, “Don’t forget to pack your cell phone!”
I had memorized nearly every “What to bring to the hospital” list in the Parenting Magazine. I hung the draw string bag on the door handle, even though I wasn’t due to go into labor for, oh, another 5 weeks.
But, life had a different plan for me.
I was just 27 year old when I was pregnant with Joli. I felt so old and so young. As I waddled my 8-month wide belly around the car, cleaning it out 5 weeks in advance in preparation for bringing my newborn home, I felt my water break. Of course, I had no idea that’s what it was. After all, the only reference I had was taking a piss. And, yes, that’s what I thought I had done.
My husband thought that’s what I had done. My neighbor, who had just given birth a few weeks prior, also thought that’s what I had done. And, even after grabbing the hospital bag, driving to the maternity ward, I was still afraid that I had just, simply, peed.
My daughter Joli is prepared for anything. Just now, on the eve of her birthday, she has handed me a list of the activities she would like to do tomorrow. “Joli, you know, we talked about this. We aren’t going to have a party for you because, frankly, every time we throw a party for you in the middle of July and summer vacation, only a few kids come. It’s just us. Just us.”
“Well, then, just us will have to do these activities.” She glared at me stone cold. Then smiled. “It’s weird, I know.” She then explained to me, in great detail, each of the 10 games she wanted to play. Hungry, hungry Lizard. Oh, Say, I Can’t See (a blindfold game that also has the National Anthem playing in the background). Don’t Cut the Cheese (an obstacle course with Whoopie Cushions). Wate-ver (throw a water balloon at the person who tells a lie). I may use these for my next IceBreakers and TeamBuilders edition.
Joli’s little life has always been interesting but not always easy. The threat of her spending her earliest days in a NICU, a warning given to us by her doctors, was missed by an ounce. An actual ounce. Her birth weight just made the cut off to avoid the NICU and to come home. I was thrilled when I heard the news; and even more thrilled with the 15 people in white coats could finally leave and stop staring at my recently evacuated womb. As a preemie, we had strict feeding schedules and expectations. There were four other babies born in my neighborhood within a few weeks of each other, and Joli was on a whole different developmental schedule than they were. I had to adjust, adapt, support, encourage, build endurance, and listen to both my growing heart and my waning patience.
Then, the cancer stuff. We thought that was the end; little did we know it was only the beginning. Joli’s own attitude, bravery, and mature compassion made my own surgery easy. And, I know that her struggles with chemotherapy, hair loss, and eye loss gave my sister Mary, an adult, the support she needed when it was time for her to undergo treatment. During my own loss of my breasts, it was my child who sat me down and reassured me that losing body parts meant I was saving my life. She knew from experience.
I know we are all supposed to embrace life just because. When people meet me, they tend to comment on my positive outlook. Some vibrant energy. Some glimmer of an appreciation of life. Even though there are a dozen things that indicate I shouldn’t get back up after falling down — stress, over commitment, racial battle fatigue — I do. And, I usually get up fighting harder.
It’s because each day, every day, I wake up to this little girl’s face. And, though I tend to boss her around to go and brush her teeth or comb her hair, she always comes up next to me to squeeze my arm or hug me. Even after I have yelled at her out of stress, Joli still comes up to me and says, “Mom, you need to hear this. You are doing the best you can with what you’ve got today. And, I love you for that.” When she says it, I believe it. Her face never lies. Her face reminds me that life actually does — really and truly does — change in an instant. A face that reminds me that what we have right now might actually be better than what we have 10 minutes from now. Five minutes from now.
It’s not always perfect. It’s not always awesome. And, lots of time, things that happen are just flat out weird.
But, I have no idea who I would be, what I would believe in, what I would fight for, or even know what I could do if it were not for the bravest, most kind, caring, compassionate, and yes, a little bit weird, angel in my life. She’s a little bit of me. She’s a little bit of her dad. She’s a little bit of everyone that I know.
But she’s totally who I want to be when I grow up.
Happy 10th birthday, Joli. Thank you for being the person I wish I could be.
Peace, love, and bravery,