Friday, November 21, 2014

Laser Beams

Dear Ellie,

Yesterday we took a beleaguering trip down to the exotic, foreign country of Miami and braved suicidal motorists so that we could shoot your face with laser beams.  Okay... so maybe this adventure requires some explanation.

Back when you were in the NICU, the endo-tracheal tube and CPAPs that were helping you to breath were often attached to your face with tape.

Because preemie skin is so sensitive, that tape caused considerable irritation.  When the tape was removed, it appeared as though you had a cluster of little white pimples on the right side of your face near your mouth.  We were assured that they would go away soon, to our skepticism, and indeed they didn't go away.  It even got worse, scarring a bit, and left a nice a red spot in the shape of an eyebrow on your cheek.  It's not a big deal when you get down to it.  When all was said and done, we had expected you to have numerous scars after the ordeal of your first 4 months.  When you were first born, I would have gladly traded 10 such cosmetic scars for the health outcome you've achieved today, yet the only other real scar you have is on your forearm, from your first blood transfusion.  I suppose we should be grateful.  Still, your mother and I thought it would be hard for a little girl to grow up with a big scar on her face, so we took you to a special dermatologist in the great Latin American country of Miami.  The practice specialized in cosmetic surgery involving lasers, and while I insisted to your mother that I could probably generate similar results with my trusty laser pointer without having to spend a lot of money, she assured me that these were entirely different kinds of lasers.

Indeed, when we took you in for the procedure, the process only took a literal 3 seconds.  There were 3 or 4 fast, cartoony sounding "zaps" accompanied by intense flashes of light, followed by lots and lots of belly aching from our Ellie Belly.  It's my impression that the lasers destroy damaged tissue so that new tissue can regrow in its place, and since you are still youthful and stretchy, we're told that the scar should barely be noticeable by the end of treatment.  For now, that dull red spot has become a bright red spot for the next few days!

You still have the scar on your arm, and in a weird sort of way, I'm glad its still there.  I'd like you to always understand how fortunate you are to be alive, and that scar will always be a good reminder.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Proud Day

Dear Ellie,

This past week was quite interesting.  You went through your 6 month growth spurt.  All of that reluctance when it came to eating evaporated and you sucked down as much milk as your stomach could hold.  By the end of the growth spurt, it seemed like something clicked inside of your head.  Like you took a leap to a new stage of awareness.  I noticed it when we were taking a stroll around the neighborhood.  Previously, whenever I took you outside in the stroller, you'd just sit back and gaze out across the scenery.  However, quite suddenly this time, you sat up in the stroller and peeped your head out of the side like a dog sticking its head from a car window.  You craned your neck at each little thing on the side of the road as it passed, then looked back at me with a shocked expression that seemed to say, "Whoa, where did all this neat new stuff come from?"

Here you are, sitting up in your stroller

Evidence of your positive development was especially keen today when the early intervention physical therapist came with a team to assess your developmental progress and examine whether you are delayed, as is so often the case with micro-preemies.  Based on the various skills you present, they give you a score and then rank you compared to other babies your age.  After making rigorous scientific observations, you were determined to be a 10 out of 10 on the cuteness scale.  Good work!  But aside from cuteness, they also determined that you were presenting as a 7 month old, even though you are only 6 months adjusted!  Even when compared to 10 month old babies, you are still considered within the normal range.  Today was a proud day.       

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Halloween Parties

Dear Ellie,

Halloween has been one of my favorite holidays since before I could remember.  Just in case you take a liking to it also, I thought I'd document your very first Halloween.  Granted, from your perspective, it couldn't have been much more than an irritating, confusing hodge podge that was interrupting your naps.

The fun began at Annie and Tony's 7th birthday party, and since their birthdays landed so close to the 31st of October, it was Halloween themed!  Aunt Holly planned and arranged the party at a pavilion, your mother helped with decorations, and I vowed to make a "snake cave."  I'm sure you've heard the stories by now about the Smith Garage Haunted House Adventures when I was a kid.  About when Grandpa and our Uncle Doug turned the garage into a virtual scare-the-pee-out-of-little-kids machine.  Giant snakes and the magic mirrors and the like.  The snakes especially were frightful, to me.  I couldn't have been older than perhaps five or six, but being trapped in a corner by a giant, hissing, snapping snake that was as round as my torso was a wonderfully traumatic experience.  Even though I knew the snake was just a giant sleeve that your grandfather made (because I saw him making it), it has still to this day left a fond scar in my memory.  So what does the Smith Garage Haunted House have to do with Annie and Tony's party?  Well, some day, I'd like to leave fond scars in your memory too, and I used Annie and Tony's party as an occasion to test out the whole snake thing for future Ellie Halloweens.  

Here is the Halloween Party Pavilion

Some of your mother's "monster poofs" and her skull Jack-o-Lantern.

And the snake cave.  The best I could do in a few hours...

Sadly, it was a rather blistery day so a lot of the decorations for the party blew away into the highway (nearly causing a few traffic accidents) before anyone even showed up to admire them.  The snake cave took a beating too, partly because I wasn't thinking very hard when I used push tacks instead of nails to put the darn thing together.  Oh well, duct tape to the rescue!

As the children started showing up, the snake jumped into action.  That is to say, I scattered candy in front of the cave to lure the children over and when they were inches from the wall, the snake THEN jumped into action.

The snake guards his hard earned candy (the snake himself, courtesy of Grandpa).

As one might expect from a bunch of young kids, they were at first fearful and uncertain of the beast.  As the snake popped out from holes in the cave, they shrieked or lurched away.  Some of the children courageously darted in closer to snatch at some of the candy.  Pretty soon, though, their attitude toward the snake closely mirrored broader human tendencies when a people are faced with a terrible beast.  At first, they fear it.  Then, it fascinates them.  Then they take up arms.  Then they kill it.  Then they dance about in triumph with some part of the defeated creature's carcass.  My poor snake was no exception.     

Phase 1: Fear and Uncertainty.

Phase 2: The Humans arm themselves, using the bones of the 
snake's former victims as clubs and candy as projectiles!

Phase 3: The Humans band together and do what 
they do best... violence!  A Great Battle Ensues!

Phase 4: The Beast is Slain!  The Victors Celebrate with clenched firsts!

So there you have it, a microcosm example of why many animals go extinct (and why your father's arm gets bruised so often).  I suppose there is a last phase to the whole thing, too.  Once the snake was slain, there was great regret at no longer having a creature to do battle with.  Fortunately, the party furnished many more activities to amuse them.  From there, we moved on to numerous games that your mother and Holly prepared, with little trinkets being awarded to the winners in order to motivate them.

With the limbo, Holly and I abruptly yanked the bar down on 
the bigger kids so that the younger ones would win.

Here we have the classic potato sack race.  First one to touch 
the snake, wins!  In a momentary lapse of adult judgement 
though, I started the kids off going downhill and, well...

You can see the result for yourself.  Its a good thing kids bounce back easily...

...though I'm not sure I can say the same thing for the adults.  Look closely in
the back and you can see Sajan wiping out right out of the gate.

I'd like to think you enjoyed yourself, in so far as you can enjoy apparently random noises and movements.  A few pictures would seem to suggest that you did.

Here you are with Grandma! 

 People who didn't understand that you were dressed like a Star Trek science and medical officer thought you were a boy.  Blue is a boy color, supposedly.  Who knew?  On the upside, when we dressed you up in the same outfit for Uncle Zack and Aunt Danielle's Halloween party, there was a good bit more context, and a good bit more nerds to get the reference.

Our half Vulcan, half human baby.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

First Winter

Dear Ellie,

My favorite time of year has finally arrived: that four month stretch where the sun lumbers along in the south, too beleaguered by 8 long months of trekking up the center of the sky.  The trees cast long shadows, making it seem as though every hour were in the evening.  As though all day were the end of the day, when our worries wind down and invite moments of reflection.  Cold fronts blow in, blowing away too the mosquitoes and heat and humidity.

We've made liberal use of the cool weather, though if the stroller proves too cold, I bundle you up inside of the Ergo, close to my chest, and take you on early morning walks just the same.  You peer out all the while, looking hard at each new thing before moving on to the next.  Sometimes you'll twist around and gaze back at me, your expression shifting from wonder to familiarity, before you turn once more to the strange surroundings of your first winter.  Oddly, with you here, it feels almost like its my first winter as well.  The same way that the cold seems to add a sheen of "different" to a landscape, you've done the same for all things in my life.    

Here you are, bundled up for a morning walk.

Of course, Winter in Florida is actually quite verdant compared to other temperate climates.  So much so that we actually have a winter harvest!  The first crop of green beans just arrived from your Grandma Smith's garden.

Mmm... fresh green beans!

When I was a kid, I never had issues eating my greens.  Why would I when there were so many fresh vegetables, ready to be eaten right off the plant?  The same would appear to be true for you!

      You may not have teeth yet, but you have already shown
an enthusiasm for green beans!...

 ...And lettuce!

I'm sure that as Winter progresses, I'll start to look fondly ahead to all the things I missed about summer.  There are, after all, trips to the beach and sloshing in the pool to look forward to!  Still, our first Winter together will be one we will relish. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Curse of the Crimson Pumpkins

Your Grandmother's crop of Seminole Pumpkins, soon to be
delivered to placate the restless spirits...

Dear Ellie,

There is something dreadful and wonderful about ghost stories.  Even as someone who has never believed in super natural things of this nature, I'm still drawn to them.  I believe they tap into a fundamental, primal part of ourselves.  Something buried deep in our heads beneath folds and folds of rational gray matter.  Horror stories have a way of peeling away those folds, revealing those primal parts and opening our minds to a secret element of who we are.

These stories are ever more powerful when tethered to a place, like the Legend of Sleepy Hallow.  Ever since I read that American classic--- and ever since I knew I wanted to be a father--- I wanted to create a similar kind of mythology surrounding the place that we lived... and that's where the Curse of the Crimson Pumpkins comes in.

It's a story about mysterious red pumpkins that appear far off in the woods.  Pumpkins that inspire a sinister fear in those who behold them.  Pumpkins that come closer and closer as Halloween grows near.  By the time you've read these letters, I imagine you'll be older.  You'll have heard this story many times before, perhaps before every Halloween.  And maybe, even, you'll have seen these pumpkins yourself, shimmering far off in the forest on frigid, moonless nights...

And as a warning, in case this story somehow escaped your childhood (like, if your mother wouldn't let me read it to you!) then I suppose it should come with a warning... WARNING: This story is a little bit graphic in some areas.

So without further delay, here it is: The Curse of the Crimson Pumpkins.


When the day of the Autumn Equinox comes, should you see a faint red glow off in the shadows of the Florida flatwoods, don’t listen to that curious voice in your head.  Turn around.  Walk away.  And as you walk, should you feel the sense you are being stalked… should you feel a heat at your neck, like a candle held near… should a light be cast behind you that warps your shadow on the leaves and pine needles before you… don’t twist your head to investigate.  I did once.  Just once.  And now, the crimson pumpkins will forever haunt my dreams.           

I don’t know why the crimson pumpkins began to appear when they did.  It was the first day of Autumn when I first saw one.  I was only 10 years old.  At the time, Foxwood was still undeveloped and the three lots across the street were nothing but a tangle of vines and pine trees and underbrush.  It’s there that I saw a flicker at twilight.  A tiny speck of red light, peeking through the maze of fallen limbs.  I watched it from my bedroom window that night, wondering what it could possibly be.  Your aunt Andrea and I dared one another to go out and see what it was, but neither of us could get to the end of the driveway before our courage failed us.  We watched and watched into the night, but it was only a matter of time before our curiosity was not enough to resist the tow of sleep.

The following evening, that strange light returned.  Andrea and I walked around to the other side of Meadowlark Circle to see if our neighbors there had put up some strange lantern.  There was no such thing in their yard or near their house, but from their front lawn, too, we could see the flicker again, deep in the forest.           

We wanted to investigate, but still, our courage could not overcome our fear.  Again that night, I watched the light flicker in the woods. 

It went on like that.  Each night, the light always returned, flickering in the darkness like a beating heart.

Whenever day came, I’d cross the ditch on the other side of the road and peer into the forest, yet every time, I only saw wilderness.  After a month of watching the light, an unsettling feeling came over me.  When I first saw it, it was only the size of Venus perhaps, which hung in the night sky.  But a month later?  It had grown larger.  With each passing day, it appeared to get larger and larger... or closer.

It was two weeks before Halloween when I at last saw the source of the light in greater detail.  It was a red candle, buried inside of a tall, peculiar pumpkin.  At first, I thought it was some kind of prank.  Some Halloween Jack-o-Lantern.  When daylight came, Andrea and I walked out into the forest to investigate.  We cut through the underbrush with yard clippers toward the place we had last seen the Jack-o-Lantern, but when we arrived, we found something unexpected.  The shattered remains of a pumpkin, its surface black and sticky with something smelling foul.  When we got to within a few feet, an explosion of flies erupted as though from a carcass.  We stumbled backward, then clamored away toward the safety of the road.

We thought perhaps that that was the end of the light.  Maybe some neighborhood kid had gone out to investigate earlier in the day and stomped the pumpkin to pieces.  Yet when night fell again, the light returned.  This time, it was only forty feet from our mailbox.  We could see it clearly now, and it was like no Jack-o-Lantern we had ever seen.  There was no toothy grin, no nose, no eyes carved out.  Instead, it appeared as though the pumpkin had been hacked clumsily by some large blade, like a person brutally murdered with a butcher knife.  We squinted at the red flame inside, but we could see no candle stalk.  No wax.  It appeared as though it dangled in space.  It cast fingers of light through the slits hacked from the pumpkin’s flesh.

It was at this point that our friends and neighbors began to wonder about the pumpkin, as well.  Everyone accused everyone else of having placed the pumpkin in the forest.  For having moved it closer, each night, toward our house.  Yet no one took credit, and no one had the courage to walk into the forest, at night, to retrieve it.

When Halloween descended, the pumpkin had at last come to the edge of the forest.  Trick or treaters didn’t walk down the northern end of Meadowlark Circle that year.  They took the long way, their parents citing the lack of street lights on the northern side, where the pumpkin lay.  We all knew the real reason.

I stayed up as long as I could that night, watching the pumpkin across the street but somewhere around eleven o’clock, I finally fell asleep.  When I awoke at midnight, I peered out the window to find that the pumpkin was no longer on the other side of the street by the woods.  It was at the edge of our yard.  I shut the blinds.  Threw myself beneath the sheets.  I was having a nightmare, for sure.  I’d had them before, hadn’t I?  At some point early in the morning, I peeked out of my blankets and saw a tiny sliver of red light sneaking in through the cracks in the blinds.  It moved along the ceiling of my room, as though crawling like a spider.

Was it possible?  Was the pumpkin inching ever closer outside my window? 

I don’t know why I rolled out of bed.  Or why I wormed along the floor and over to the window.  Or why I lifted a panel of the blinds.  Or why I looked out.  Whatever the reason, I regret it to this very day.  Outside the window, down below next to the mango tree, the crimson pumpkin lay.  It was leaning backward, as though gazing up at me.  That ghastly red glow spewed from a gash in its flesh, like blood oozing from the wound on a corpse.  And then the pumpkin turned.  A ray of red light lashed at my face.  Stabbed at my eyes.  And that’s when thoughts not of my own invaded my mind.  I lurched away from the window.  Put my back to the wall.  Then came the sounds.  At first, I thought they were whispers inside my head.  Moans and groans.  But in their faintness, they were too shrill to be either.  That’s when I realized they weren’t whispers, but shrieks and wails from a distance.  And they, too, were coming closer.

But then the red light peeking through the blinds suddenly vanished, replaced instead by the first rays of light from the rising sun.  It took me nearly an hour to walk downstairs, but when I did I opened the front door.  Looked toward the mango tree.  Next to the row of pineapples was a shattered pumpkin, covered by something black and sticky.  The following night, there was no pumpkin or red light that flickered in the night.

All through the year I accused your uncle Zack and Grandfather of conspiring to frighten me.  It was easy to deny that anything deeper or sinister was afoot now that the pumpkin had disappeared.  They denied it, of course, but said that they wished they had thought of it themselves.

As Autumn passed, then Winter, the pumpkin faded from my consciousness.  That is, until the coming of the next Autumn.  That’s when, again, the crimson pumpkin appeared across the street, deep in the forest.  To my horror, however, as the days passed, more pumpkins began to appear all through the neighborhood.  Far off in the cow pastures.  Atop the old shell-hill on Hawkview Circle.  In vacant lots.  One night, I even saw one floating along in the lake at the middle of Meadowlark Circle, the red glow of its flame dancing and licking along the placid waves. With each passing day, more crimson pumpkins appeared.  Each day, they came closer to the houses of our neighbors. But there was one house that no pumpkin crept toward.  Ours.  But something else was on the march, for me.  Something far more fearful that came closer and closer with each setting of the sun.

Each night, before I drifted off to sleep... there was the faint sound of wailing and shrieking in the distance, which only I could hear.  And each night, the terrible sounds came closer and closer.  The nearer we came to Halloween, the more vivid--- the sharper--- those sounds became.  With it, came a dull thudding.  A hacking, like a butcher carving at a leg of beef.  There were women weeping.  Horses shrieking and cattle bellowing in twisted death agony.  And visions, too, that struck me at that bleary moment between wakefulness and sleep.  They were visions washed in red light, and amid that red light I saw silhouettes.  Withered bodies of women and children standing erect, heads hanging limply on their necks, mouths gaping, eyes emptied of life, but ambling along on their feet nonetheless.  I saw pumpkins shattered everywhere, and amid them all, a body dangling from a rope on a tree.

A month before Halloween, these nightmares began to invade the waking world.  I awoke one morning to find shattered pumpkins covering the road.  Our whole family came out to look, and that's when your grandmother noticed something peculiar.

"These are Seminole pumpkins," she said, looking closer.  "Just like the ones we grow in the yard."

When we went to check our pumpkin patch, none of the pumpkins were missing, yet we were the only ones in the neighborhood who grew them.  Did this have something to do with the crimson pumpkin coming to our house first, last year?  As I stood amidst the pumpkin patch, I finally began to understand.

In case your Grandmother never told you, Seminole pumpkins are a type of native Floridian pumpkin that were grown and cultured by the Seminole Indians that once lived here.  That is, before most of the Seminole Indians were rounded up and forced to march west on the Trail of Tears.

That day at school, I went to the library and read everything I could about the Seminole Indians.  I read about the Seminole Wars.  How, before the Civil War, the Seminoles resisted attempts by the U.S. Government to relocate them west.  How they refused to abandon the swamps and flatwoods of Southern Florida.  And then I read about how General William Harney launched a campaign to purge them from the land.  At the attack on Tequesta Landing, he swept into their village with 300 men.  The Seminoles vanished into the swamps before they could be captured, but to insure that they couldn't survive any longer on the land, the Harney's soldiers slaughtered all of the villager's horses and livestock, burned their fruit trees, and smashed every last one of their Seminole pumpkins, for which the Indians relied very heavily for food.  Most of the Indians gave up after that and were sent away on the Trail of Tears.  Most of them would die on the journey.  Others fled to the Everglades and slowly starved.  Only one Seminole remained to confront General Willian Harney.  It was the son of Chief Osceola, and he neither fought nor surrendered.  Instead, he whispered a curse on the conquers and their descendants.  He told Harney and his men that the spirits of his people would return to the place from which they were banished, and when they did, they would haunt those who had usurped the land.  Young Osceola was hanged on the spot, surrounded by dying horses and livestock, their blood coating the shattered pumpkins around them.

It's unknown exactly where the attack on Tequesta Landing was, but it was said to be somewhere here in Martin County.  Perhaps, even, here in this very neighborhood.

For the next week, I stayed up late racking my brain.  Trying to find an answer as what to do.  But time was running out.  

A few days before Halloween, early in the morning before the sun came up, I was looking out across the neighborhood from my bedroom window at all of the crimson pumpkins that now populated the forest.  That's when I saw something appear at the end of our driveway.  Something large.  Four legged.  It was a peculiar, shaggy horse with short legs.  Was it one of the Seminole's horses?  A marsh tackey?  It stood by the road, head slumped and body quivering.  That's when I saw the gaping wounds by its ribs.  Entire chunks hacked away from its side, as though inflicted by bayonets.  And then there was the blood.  It spewed forth from the creature, pooling on the pavement before snaking off down the road like a river.  So much blood, that it ran for yards and yards.  Some of it slushed into the swales, turning the water red.  Some of it formed lakes in potholes.  As I came closer, the creature raised its head.  It's eyes were wide.  Swollen and wild in anguish.  It opened its mouth to wail and whinny, but nothing came out.  I ran up the driveway, into the house, and slammed the door behind me.  I told your grandmother and grandfather about what happened, but as soon as the three of us came out to investigate, the horse was already gone.  Only the river of blood remained.  By late morning, the blood had clotted, turning black and sticky and foul, to which a swarm of flies came to feast.

That night, as I drifted away to sleep, I saw the horse again, in a flash.  It's mouth open, again.  Eyes bulging, again.  Nostrils flaring, again.  But this time, I heard it shriek.  It shrieked and shrieked all through my dreams until the light of the morning came and ended its misery.

I had to do something.  I had to right the wrongs of our past.  Just before dawn, I gathered up as many Seminole pumpkins as I could carry, packing them in my backpack and into my arms.  Then I set off across the street and into the woods.  There were many crimson pumpkins now, like a legion, slowly marching from the forest toward all the other houses.  As I passed them, I turned my head away.  Refused to look amid the flames.  Red light began to gather to my left.  To my right.  Behind me. Then the light was joined by sounds.  Wails of despair.  The weeping of children.  The further I went into the forest, the more intense the light became and the greater the volume of the sounds.  Still, I refused to look anywhere but forward.  I'd peered into the light once before and nearly lost my mind.  What would happen if I did again?  I pushed on ever faster in a panic, and it seemed the forest itself turned against me.  Seemed as though it wanted my blood.  The serrated stalks of the palmettos slashed at my bare legs and arms like tiny saws.  Ticks lept from the underbrush and gorged on my neck, my wrists, my ankles, my eyelids.  The red light around me grew so great, so intense, I could not tell what was sweat on my body and what was blood.  I could not tell the cries of the children from my own.

At last, I came to the center of the forest.  The place where I had seen the very first crimson pumpkin appear.  An ancient, withered slash pine teetered before me.  Amid the crimson hues, a silhouette hung from its largest limb.  It was dressed in threadbare hides, but not in flesh.  The crimson light passed through its ribs and bathed the tree behind it.  The silhouette twitched, from the wind or not,  I could not tell.  That's when I saw shadows, in vague human form, surrounding the tree.  Shadows that consumed the crimson light around me like a leech devours blood.  Each of the shadows turned, slowly, to witness me.  And then they came closer.  They moved like black clouds, blown by the wind.  I would have turned and fled at the sight, were there not a worse fate all around me.

My arms began to quake so violently that the Seminole pumpkins tumbled from my arms.  I unzipped my back pack, and one by one, I rolled them toward the shadows like bowling balls.  The shadows stopped.  Measured my deeds.  Judged them, perhaps.  I wanted to speak--- to say that I was sorry for what was done to them--- but from my mouth came only gasps, and my eyes, tears of terror.  When all of the pumpkins were delivered, I fell to the ground and buried my head in my knees.  Clenched my eyes shut.  Covered my ears.  And waited.

When I opened my eyes moments later, there was no light but the light of the moon, dripping in through the canopy.  No sound but the whistle of the wind through the pine needles, which clacked together like tiny green wind chimes.  The shadows were gone.  The silhouette was gone.  The crimson pumpkins were gone... but so, too, were the ones I'd delivered.  I stood up and slowly walked away, never turning my back to the tree until I had come to the road.

The following night, no more crimson pumpkins appeared in the woods.  I thought, perhaps, that I'd finally made amends.  That I'd proven we were not like those who came before us.  But when the Autumn Equinox came the following year, I discovered that I was somehow wrong.  On some nights, when all was still and quiet, I could hear the voices from afar.  On some nights, when the air was cold and frigid, I could see the shimmer of a crimson light far off in the distance.  Were the spirits still unsatisfied?  Conflicted?  Would they one day continue their march against those who now inhabit their lands?

I wish I knew the answer.  And so before every Halloween, I leave nothing to chance.  I confront my fears and set off again on the very same journey I had before.

 This, however, is not a journey I can make forever.  One day I will be too old.  Too tired.  Or... too fearful.  When that time comes, Ellie, it will be your turn.  I'll fill your arms with Seminole pumpkins.  Pack your backpack.  Then, you'll go forth toward the heart of the forest and, once there, confront the Curse of the Crimson Pumpkins yourself.  Stay mindful of your task, though.  Don't ever look behind you.  And should you ever find yourself face to face with a crimson pumpkin, don't ever gaze into its light... for if you do, the crimson pumpkin will also gaze into you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

It's 65 Degrees... Get Out Your Winter Clothes!

Dear Ellie,

As you know, we Floridians can never let cold weather go to waste.  If we're lucky, we'll get a few days of winter reprieve and then end up right back with sweltering temperatures and oppressive humidity.  Lucky for us, we just happened to get a bit of that reprieve this past week!  The best part?  We finally got to take you for long walks in the stroller!

With your retinopathy still present, though, your eyes are quite sensitive to direct sunlight, so trips in the stroller thus far have taken the form of old school video games.  To evade the sunlight, we bounced around through the shadows of trees, dodging the sunbeams that pierced the limbs and pine needles.  Wherever there were long stretches of exposed road, we'd kick it into high gear and sprint for the shade or turn the stroller around entirely and walk in reverse.

Our walk this morning, however, was a bit more relaxed.  The day was still young when we set out.  The sun still slept behind the horizon.  You peered around from your seat in the stroller at the sounds of the early birds as they chirped away the stillness of night.  Normally, you would have grunted or growled on occasion, but this time, you didn't make a single sound for the entire two mile walk.  I couldn't help but to wonder what was bumping around in that 5 month old brain of yours.  I've always been put at ease by the places that are between places--- Dawn and Dusk; inter-tidal zones and foothills; the summer and winter solstices--- and I wondered whether somehow you felt the same way.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Plate of Agar

Dear Ellie,

Your adjusted age is now 5 months, which means its time for another round-off of size comparison pictures!

From the looks of it, we'll have to stretch Oliver the Eel out a bit in order for you to fit inside!  Even though you've never exceeded the 10th percentile in length and your head is still up around 80th, you look conspicuously different than just 3 months ago.  We even got to compare you to some other preemies (who are still before their due dates!)  We took a visit back to St. Mary's hospital because we wanted to do a swallow study, which you passed with flying colors.  While there, we took you by the NICU.  It was the first time I'd been back to the NICU since we took you home.  

Going into it, I was a bit cavalier about the whole thing, I think.  I thought I'd cruise in with you and your mother, chat it up with the nurses, and look around fondly.  But that wasn't how I felt at all, once we got there.  I wasn't prepared for how taken aback I'd be at seeing the NICU 2 preemies.  Even though they were around 4 times bigger than you when you were born, they stilled looked miniscule compared to how you look now.  But the sights I think struck me in a rather shallow way.  Hearing the sounds--- the bleeps and blips and dainty cries of tiny babies--- stirred so many more emotions.

And again, there was another sense that struck even deeper.  The sounds were second to the smells.  It's said that smell is linked to the limbic cortex of our brains: the seat of our primal emotions, far removed from all of that thinking matter that is stacked on top of it.  Maybe that's why the smells, most keenly, brought back all of the emotions we felt during your time there.  The pervasive scent of hand sanitizer, so thick in the air that it soaks into your clothes.  The soapy smell of the washing station.  The smell... of something that shouldn't be born yet.      

Weird, huh?  I guess I never mentioned this before, but the smell that really unsettled me the most was the smell of you, a fetus.  It was an omnipresent smell early on while I stood next to you.  Faint, but unmistakable.  I remember on the very first day after you were born, you were completely enveloped in your isolette by a warm blanket of humidity that regulated your body temperature and protected your skin.  Because you baked in that isolette 24/7 for quite some time, the atmosphere inside became saturated with the smell of... you.  And you didn't smell like a baby.  You smelled like... unflavored gelatin or a plate of agar.  A sort of... fleshy, living smell.  Like what a washed, sterile, organ must smell like were it somehow kept alive on its own.  I remember pondering that smell those first few days.  How the smell of a baby was so pleasant but the smell of a fetus was so ambiguous.  I imagine our human senses never adapted to make the smell of a living fetus pleasant because we humans were never supposed to smell one to begin with.  And so when we came back to the NICU last week, I caught a whiff of that smell.  And all of those early days after your birth came spilling back into my brain.  

If you've read all of my letters to you this far, maybe it seems tedious by this point that I can't stop thinking about what happened to you this past year.  Maybe you think I should just forget it and move on.  But I want you to understand a very important thing that infuses the lives of you, your mother, and myself.  As we watch you slowly grow into a human being--- as smiles turn to laughs and swats turn to grasps--- its impossible to ignore the fact that you were almost not here at all.  

To a lot of people, I imagine parenthood might have a certain inevitability to it.  Something bland and promised to them.  But to me, after all that you've been through, having you here with me feels like I've been given some spectacular prize or won some kind of unlikely lottery.  And why shouldn't I want to feel this way, always?