Today* my sister had a baby. A real, live, honest-to-goodness baby with perfection in every square inch of him, and I was there. At four am this morning, when the telephone rang, I woke with the words on my heart: I am going to be an aunt today, and please God let me deliver the baby. I think I actually said, out loud, I'm ready, as if instead of my parents' old four-poster, I'd been dozing in an ER breakroom, strapped to a sparkle pager designed to summon my medical expertise, romantic entanglement notwithstanding. Sorry McDreamy, I took an oath, no I cannot make out with you.
It's funny-I have always felt, despite my lack of formal training, oddly indispensable in medical emergencies. Even as a little girl, while the rest of the slumber party busied themselves trying to levitate or watch Goonies, I'd be chilling in the La-Z-Boy with someone's mother's Reader's Digest, poring over the latest cabbage soup diet or random article on primordial dwarfism. I was fascinated with all that could befall a person, addicted to absorbing all that mysterious humanity and science-I was, in a sense, buffering myself with knowledge. Of course, this also contributed to a certain amount of childhood hypochondria, but we're not talking about me, we're talking about you. I mean, my sister. And her delicious baby, whose impending arrival was not announced electronically, but by a gush of water breaking, which prompted the phone call, then my mother beside herself and whispering up the stairs for me to hurry because the baby's coming.
Upon hearing the signal, there was barely enough time for pants, let alone hair or makeup, and this must be said-I smelled like beets. These days, my calendar has been absolutely laden with canning, and my bath replaced with daily dips in the municipal pool-a beauty regimen I cannot, in good faith, recommend to anyone. BUT- even though I looked like Wile E. Coyote in a cute top, I knew the baby wouldn't wait-so I immediately began, telepathically, to slow my sister's contractions, kind of how I use mind control to keep the plane from going down. A pilot friend of mine once explained, in his pilot way, that as long as the air keeps moving over the wings, we're good, and that I should be able to relax. Well. That may be, but mind control works too. I told him, that on most flights, I'm much too engrossed in maintaining the appropriate balance of thrust and drag to even read a magazine. Unless I'm in first class, in which case I'm busy enjoying the warm towels and beverage selection.
But anyway-baby story. Our plan was, if we got the call, to meet my sister and her husband at their home, then head to the hospital-leaving one of us to watch their younger child, who sleeps till nine-thirty, making him, indisputably, the world's most perfect child. During the three miles or so from my parents' home to hers, I called dibs on driving with them, secretly hoping we'd have a good old-fashioned side-of-the-road birth; you know, eliminate the middleman. I'm fairly certain my sister had a different birthing plan, as she was standing in the kitchen when we got there, looking organized. As if she had gathered herself. In fact, aside from the smattering of sweat on her forehead my sister was, well-my sister. She is tall with lots of room to hide a baby. I, on the other hand, when pregnant, am pregnant EVERYWHERE. You can look through a one inch-square photo frame at my nose hairs and know I'm pregnant. It's true. She looked only halfway pregnant, certainly not this-thing's-going-to-blow pregnant; furthermore, there was no bumbling idiot husband fainting or dropping things like on television, just my wonderfully competent, gentle brother-in-law waiting with the car keys. What's more, she had yet to even have a contraction, but as Pregnancy Law dictates, once your water breaks, you get thee to a hospital-so we did.
Cutting through the cool dark of her cul-de-sac, the three of us were quiet in the car. Everything inside us was waiting-and I thought, how just right then was my favorite time of day, though I usually, happily miss it: the moment when the world sleeps, even the insomniacs have cashed in their chips by 4:30. The peace is palpable-with all the hopes and expectations and dreads of the neighborhood trapped like flies in jars with the lids screwed tight, everything is right for a time. The perfect time for a baby to come.
I think that one of the reasons I was so hell-bent on being there for my nephew's birth was that I missed it the first time. When Matty was born, instead of feeding my sister ice chips in the birthing suite, I was in a Panera Cafe 400 miles away, working on a deadline-or, pretending to work. In total, I think I produced about seven good sentences that day, checking my messages, adjusting the ring-tone, demanding updates, finally begging for her to just leave the phone open on the bedside table while she pushed the baby out. I so longed to be there, but timing didn't favor my making the trip-though now I can't recall just why; some things don't make sense in reverse.
When my children were born, my sister showed up, with gloves on. Latex gloves. She is a champion among sisters, something that has translated beautifully in her life as an aunt. If ribbons were awarded for number of Valentine cards sent, for allowing one's sunglasses to be broken repeatedly by one's niece and nephew, and for procuring the best seats at Sesame Street Live, my sister would be be-ribboned. She would have ribbons in frames all over her house, with enough ribbons left over to fashion a lovely housecoat, perhaps even an afghan, entirely of ribbons. Blue ribbons. My being there wasn't about that though, really. Not about mirroring her ribbons or her greatness, which is, you should know, heartfelt. I wanted to be in that space with my sister, that moment before, right in front of the after, when everything is different forevermore. When everything changes, and there's a brand new, wonderfully made person before your very eyes, a stranger and a son all in one delicious package.