Happy Birthday Dear Colin
Today is Colin's birthday. Thirty-two years ago he was born in Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, DC at the most civilized hour of 2 PM. I was born in Sibley, as well, but the OLD one, the very old one. Actually, the one true way of determining whether someone is a true, native Washingtonian is asking them where exactly they were born. The respondent doesn't know that it's a trick question and that the answer is seared onto their permanent record. It goes like this:
Stranger: Ohmygod, you're from Washington, too? I was born and raised there!
Me: No kidding? Where were you born?
Stranger: Suburban Hospital (or Holy Cross or the Adventist or any number of other hospitals)
Me: Wow...I was born in the OLD Sibley. (thinking, you are NOT a native Washingtonian if you are born in the Maryland or Virginia suburbs UNLESS your parents lived in the City and for some weird reason their doc practiced at a suburban hospital, but this scenario is so unlikely that even mentioning it would be suspect)
So even though I was born and raised (until the age of five) in the City within walking distance of the National Zoo (and btw, you'd think that if something is going to be named the National anything that it would be the best in the nation...not the case with this zoo although I think it was pretty fantastic when I was a kid), I was moved (against my wishes I'm sure) to the suburbs during the white flight pattern of the 50s. Interestingly, my mother is now married to a black man from Jamaica. She's 80 years old but it's never too late, I guess, to let the world know that moving to the burbs was a BIG MISTAKE.
Back to October 29, 1973. It was a beautiful, fall day and as I'd walked Jane (4 yrs 5 mos) to nursery school, I felt the first crampy twinges that told me today would probably be my new baby's birthday. Kissing Jane good-bye, I hurried home to scrub the kitchen floor and clean the bathrooms. It seemed logical at the time and made me feel so together and on top of things. I honestly didn't have a clue as to how long it would take before I needed to go to the hospital, so I called my good friend, Dixie around 10:30 and told her what was going on and pretty much asked her if she could drive me to the hospital if I needed to go before Himself got home from work. Then I gave Dr. Payne a call. Unfortunately, he wasn't in his local office, but downtown and he suggested that I see him as soon as was possible. My due date had passed a week earlier and he figured this was the day. Note to reader: Even though I lived far, far, out in the burbs (where we could afford to buy our first house), I had a city doctor who only delivered in the city. My baby was going to be able to say that s/he was a native Washingtonian.
My discomfort level was growing at a pretty steady rate so my friend picked her daughter up from kindegarten and then my daughter and her son up from nursery school and then she swung on by to get me. Yep, we were all going on a ride downtown...together...with me in pretty persistent labor. But first, before we could go anywhere, we had to get gas. Fortunately for us, even though the world oil crisis began on October 17, 1973, it still hadn't really kicked in at the pumps quite yet. Here's a little background story, truly simplified, on the gas crisis.
When Arab members of OPEC announced they would no longer ship petroleum (in the midst of the Yom Kippur War) to nations that had supported Israel in its conflict with Egypt...in other words to the U.S. and its allies in Western Europe, it was pretty apparent that the days of 25 cents a gallon gas would be ending pretty quickly. OPEC decided to use their leverage over the world price-setting mechanism for oil to quadruple world oil prices.
Rationing of gas occurred in many countries with motorists facing enormous queues at gas stations. In the U.S., we had a much easier way of limiting gas consumption. If your car's license plate ended in an odd number, then you could get gas on an odd numbered day. If your car ended in an even number...well, you get the picture. This rule did not apply, though, on the 31st day of those months containing 31 days or on February 29 in leap years...fortunately, we didn't have to figure out the leap year thingie as all restrictions had been abolished by 1976.
Back to my baby's birthday. Fortunately for us, we were able to cruise into the gas station, no queues, no sweat. Dixie screamed up to a pump (this was before you filled your own tank) and this young kid ambled up. I remember her saying in her strangely clipped, slightly southern (she's from Arkansas) accent, "Fill her up and hurry, my friend's in labor!" The kid didn't look the least impressed and asked, "Do you want me to check your oil?" Dixie gave him a blank look and then said, "My friend, the one sitting just there (she pointed at me) is fixin' to have a baby, really, really soon, NOW HURRY UP!" The lightbulb went off, the color faded from his face and he started moving in double-time. "Yes M'am," he yelled and then we were on our way.
I was getting quieter and quieter, my way of handling the discomfort of labor. The kids were excited and acting whacky in the back seat...all because Dixie had promised them lunch at Roy Rogers. I had called my husband before we left and told him not to rush, that I had to pop into Dr. Payne's office before going to Sibley. After getting slightly lost trying to find an office neither of us had been to before, we pulled into the parking lot. I moved as quickly as I could and as I walked through the door, a massive contraction stopped me in my tracks. The receptionist looked up, quickly sized up the situation and ushered me quickly into an examining room. Dr. Payne came in immediately, checked me over and asked me WHY I'D WAITED SO LONG AND TO HURRY THE HELL UP AND GET OVER TO THE HOSPITAL!!!!! I'm sure he didn't say it quite like that, but that's the message I got. We called Himself at work and said hurry up and then Dixie hauled the five of us over to the hospital.
Jane, sensing the tension in the air, started crying in the backseat. Dixie couldn't leave the car in the forecourt so the three children and I made our way into the hospital lobby. I went to check-in and was getting some pretty stinky looks from other people in the lobby. I guess they thought the three children with me were mine and now I was pregnant again...what was wrong with me. I was too far gone to even respond and within ten minutes or so Dixie and Roger walked into the hospital together. By this time Jane was clinging to me, limpet-like, crying, "But I want to go upstairs with you. I don't want to go to Roy Rogers. I want to go upstairs, please Mummy, please." I remember a massive contraction rendering me speechless and then Dixie taking Jane from me and Roger and I heading for the elevator. I turned around and told Jane that if she could stop crying, I'd pop back downstairs before I had the baby and give her a hug and a kiss, a decision the upstairs' staff didn't understand one bit. I got into a hospital gown, was examined and then, much against hospital regs, got on the elevator with Roger and headed back downstairs. Jane was waiting for me and I hugged and kissed her and said we'd call her soon and that Daddy would take her to get new shoes. "At Saks?" she whispered to me. "At Saks," I replied. She left happy and Roger and I headed back upstairs.
It was now about 1:00 PM. The clock ticked towards two and the small amount of hair I have on my arms was knotted from the constant rubbing of my nervous husband. He was trying so hard to help, but I can remember screaming, "What are you doing? STOP IT!" Seconds later I was being pushed at a fast clip down the corridor, overhead lights whipping past and Roger rushing into his blue scrubs and running into the delivery room. And then...a very short few minutes later, Colin was born. It was 2:00 PM and only an hour earlier I'd given my daughter a kiss bye bye. And now we were a family of four. We had a son. The joy was indescribable and I remember so well holding him, moments after his birth. He was one of those very earnest looking, Winston Churchillian type infants...a very round face, my stoic little baby coping so valliantly with the indignities of birth.
My son is smart, handsome, funny and the joy he brings his Pa and me is indescribable. Unfortunately, he lives on the other side of the country and we only get to see each other a few times a year. That's tough, but it's also what parenting is all about...you know, giving your children the wings to fly, but cherishing the times they return to the nest.
Happy Birthday Colin!!!