Our son, Cowboy, is the epitome of joy; the world got brighter the day he was born. That sounds like a conglomeration of Hallmark and The Carpenters, but it's true. He was the most delightful baby ever born. I know you think your child was, but you'll have to settle for runner-up. When you blog, you can pretend your child took first place.
It was about 4 a.m. when my water broke. My first course of action was to wake the father.
“Flash, my water broke.”
“Whamamla,” he mumbled in a stupor.
“Wake up, my water broke. It’s time to get ready to go to the hospital.”
He jumped up out of bed like Yosemite Sam after he lands on a cactus. Then Flash got dressed and started tidying up the house. The entire house. It reminded me of the Dick Van Dyke Show episode where Rob is so shaken by pregnant Laura’s being ready to go to the hospital, he rushes to the car without her. Maybe it's a guy thing. When Mom went into labor, Dad started washing the dishes; she had to tell him there was no time for that and if he didn’t take her, she’d call a cab.
I picked up the phone and started dialing.
“What are you doing? Don’t we need to go?”
“I’m calling my people. We have time; I’m not having contractions yet.”
“You’re calling people? At 4 a.m.?”
“Flash, these are the call-right-away people,” I said as I pulled out a piece of paper the length of Santa’s list, “they expect a phone call.”
After checking off the last person on my call list, I watched my crazed husband give Mr. Clean a run for his money, then told him, “Okay, I’m going to take a shower now.”
“What? Are you serious? Can you do that?” He looked panicked as he washed the windows. I was starting to understand why males don’t have babies. Except seahorses; the males give birth to all the babies. The perfect husband of the animal kingdom, or any kingdom.
"Of course. Don't you remember what they said in the childbirth class? I have time to shower if contractions aren’t very close together." Those classes should include "birth drills," fashioned like fire drills, for the dads.
After what must have seemed like an eternity to Flash, we were ready to go. We woke our kids, my step kids, Mario and Zelda, and helped them shuffle to the car. We transported them to their respective friends’ houses to stay while Flash and I ushered their new sibling into the world. I was giddy. An adventure was beginning; our family of four would soon be a family of five.
As Flash and I approached the hospital’s valet parking, a little pain started, but nothing too bad. This childbirth thing will be a breeze, I lied to myself. I remembered the chart on the wall in our birthing class depicting the progression of labor through cartoon faces. The first face, on the far left of the chart, reminded me of the yellow smiley face from the 70s; the first stage of labor would be groovy. The next face, to the right, looked concerned. Proceeding across the chart, a straight-line mouth turned into a slight frown. The last face was no longer yellow, but red. It looked like it needed an anger management class.
When my 12-hour labor began, I was Mrs. Smiley Face, wearing my favorite maternity outfit, blue overall shorts, and my baseball-cap earrings. My hair was big and my lipstick was bright red, a power color for the occasion. My lipstick is always on. If you ever see me without it, I'm ill or dead, and the doctor or funeral director should be fired, respectively, for not reapplying. A woman without lipstick is naked, and not in a good way.
After a few hours, my pain grew fangs. The miracle of life moved at a pregnant snail’s pace, and somewhere in the midst of the precious moments, it was time for hard drugs. The nurse gave me a magical serum from heaven. It took the edge off; within one minute, I was feeling neither pain nor my gorgeous red lips.
“Can I have a refill in a to-go cup, please?”
The nurse laughed as if I’d made a joke.
I slept between contractions until a loud noise woke me. Mmh? Whawsth? I thought to my groggy self. Translation: Huh? What was that? When Florence Nightingale, in true stand-up-comedian form, said to Flash, “Well, I think she’s more relaxed now,” I knew I had passed gas. Right there in front of anyone within 50 yards. I was mortified in a too-mellow-to-sit-up kind of way. I glanced over at Flash; the shaking of his shoulders as he laughed registered a 7.9 on the Richter scale. So insensitive. So many details about this “beautiful experience” were skipped over in Birthing Babies 101, probably to prevent the extinction of the human race due to women's boycotting reproduction.
As my pain intensified, I looked at Flash, who was coaching my Lamaze-style breathing and speaking in late-night-love-songs-DJ fashion. My response to his five-star performance was, "Don't look at me, don't breathe on me, don't touch me." I had morphed into that red, gnarly face on the chart, and he acted accordingly.
My first glimpse of Cowboy was the back of his head - a head full of dark hair like his daddy’s. Yes, I married a man with great hair. My friend LaLa, a hairdresser, once asked me, "What's it like to be married to a man with hair better than yours?" She’s still my friend, but not my hairdresser.
I was overcome with joy when I saw Cowboy, and my heart exploded with, “He's so cute" even before I saw his face. The cuteness factor multiplied exponentially when the nurse turned him around, and I saw the face that would launch well over a thousand kisses. The first time I took Cowboy to church on a Sunday morning, my friend Norman said, “I’ve never seen a woman more excited to be a mom or more in love with her child than you.”
That small bundle of happiness just turned 18 years old, which means we live in a ridiculous time warp; I just put him to bed in diapers, and he woke up 5’8” tall this morning. It’s been a crazy ride with Cowboy; life with autism is a roller coaster. Sometimes we hardly had a chance to catch our breaths before the next big drop shoved our hearts into our throats again. And when grief has repeatedly engulfed us, we’ve been handed miracles to keep us going. Miracles such as Cowboy's signing “I love you” to us, or playing with a toy for the first time at the age of 6, or surprising me with spontaneous kisses, or learning to write, or saying “MaMaw” for “Grandma” when we sang happy birthday to my mom, or kissing a photograph of my dad on the day we buried him. The list goes on. In a million ways, joy has consistently showed up in some form, just in time, to rescue our hearts from the overwhelming unknowns in this life.
It is a contagious joy, often spread when Cowboy flashes his smile, showing all his teeth, and launches into his signature handshake, culminating in a fist bump, with countless people he meets. From age 2 to 92, thousands of individuals from the greater Houston area, the Texas Hill Country, and even residents of other states and countries know “the handshake.”
Last night, we tucked our young man into bed, which we will continue to do until he is 118. As he rolled over, I saw the back of his beautiful, dark-haired head, and sighed. What Norman saw reflected on my face all those years ago still burns in my heart: I’m desperately in love with a joyful wonder named Cowboy.