Since I started this series of posts, I have had several people reach out to me, apologizing for anything insensitive they may have said to me during my time of infertility. I don’t hold grudges. I don’t remember most of who said what and it wouldn’t matter if I did. That’s over. Though there are always scars from loss and trial, I wear them with contentment and gratitude now. They are a badge of honor. A part of my fabric. Without them, I would not be me.
I have hesitated to write this post, and struggled in the
writing, because it can become a toe-stomping hoedown. I’ve had infections that
hurt less than some of the things that were said to me during the years we were
trying to find our family. I know friends that have experienced the same thing.
There was no place where I was immune from the inappropriate questions and
remarks. But there was one place where I was especially exposed. One place
worse than all the others. One place where all the questioners seemed to gather
with dry-cleaned clothes and journals full of great ideas.
It’s funny what the brain chooses to retain or cast aside as unimportant over time. Mine must have a method, but I never do know what it is. I’ve always remembered my phase of infertility as being 3.5-4 years. That’s what I have always told people. That period defined the time from my first thought of having a child in 1997 to the moment we adopted Andrew in 2001. I forgot he didn’t come out of me. And his birth did not end my infertility. It went on for almost another 3 years. Only today did I realize my math was bad.
In 1997, just after my 4th anniversary, I made a plan. It was a plan with solid foundations. It was such a good plan, that I categorized it as God’s plan and pretty much counted it as done before I had even gotten started.
Yesterday, while trying to fit laundry into a piano lesson I forgot about, a meeting with a decorator, 2 pick-ups, and the 4th dental appointment of the week, the question of fertility–and infertility–came up to me. Out of the blue. Twice.
That was oddly coincidental. Or not. Because as severely as I struggled with this issue, those struggles are so far in my rearview mirror now that I almost can’t make out shape or color anymore.
But I remember. Oh, I remember. A person doesn’t forget a thing like that.
Small things are cute. The smaller they are, the cuter they appear. There are plenty of unattractive adults that were adorable as babies. A slimy wriggly puppy, who will grow up into a smash-faced dog breed, is worth cooing over as a puppy. And a super fat baby thigh, enlarged and placed on an adult, aged 25-80, is the grossest thing ever. But we squish and croon about fat baby thighs.
As a kid, I was obsessed with small things. Tiny stuffed animals. Little action figures. And miniature 1970s wooden Christmas ornaments. When I was 8 years old, while decorating our Christmas tree, I found my best friend. It was a 2″ wooden angel, tossed into my mom’s collection of non-special ornaments. Because it was nothing special. To anyone else. But when I picked it up and made eye-contact with her black dots, she became special to me immediately.
“Can I keep this one?” I asked my mom. she agreed dismissively. Nobody cared that I was keeping her. I named her Baby. And she became my baby.
I carried Baby with me everywhere. Literally everywhere. To school. To church. On vacations. To my parents’ office. Down the street to play with my human friends. Everywhere. When she wasn’t in my hand or set up in some elaborate diorama, she was in the pocket of my jeans. There is one picture in some album somewhere that I took of Baby. It is only her right half, because I was shooting with a 110 point and shoot camera that is worse than drawing a picture with Crayons. I can’t locate the picture right now.
When the unfortunate fire of 1981 happened, we scrambled to pack our things and move out. Our insurance company sprung for a Howard Johnson’s in a bad section of town. My parents were not that excited about the hotel or our location in town; our new residence backed up to the parking lot of a honkytonk bar. I thought it was the most exciting place ever. All I had to do to enter a foreign world was to slide up in my bed ever so slightly and part the linen curtains behind my bed. The music went on all night.
One night, a couple of weeks into our stay at the HoJo, when I had seen enough and couldn’t seem to settle into sleep, I realized I didn’t have Baby. I looked for her in my covers and then in the drawers where I was keeping my clothes. She wasn’t there. In a panic, I called to my Dad.
“Dad,” I said. “I don’t have Baby.”
“It’s ok. We’ll find her in the morning,” he replied. Unlike me, he was settled in for the night. Now that I’m firmly entrenched in middle age and parenting, I get it. There’s nothing a parent wants to do less than to hike to the car for a forgotten item when you are already wearing your PJs.
“Dad, that won’t work,” I whispered across the dark hotel room. “I need her to sleep.” I paused. “And she needs me.” Now I was Grade A Crazy, but I didn’t care.
My dad swung his legs over the side of the bed and I sucked a breath of hope into my lungs. He was going to get Baby! But instead, I watched him fumble across the room to his stuff that was laying over a vinyl chair and reach into his pants pocket. Did he have Baby? He then found his way over to me and knelt beside my bed.
“Here,” he said. “Sleep with this.” I opened my hand hopefully and in it he placed a penny. A penny. Like a 1 cent dirty piece of copper. I closed my fingers over the penny as I narrowed my eyes in disgust and rolled over. The edges of the penny dug into my palm as I tried to pretend it was Baby. With my hand under my chin, I could smell the metal. This was not going to work.
“Dad,” I whispered again. “I can’t do this. I have to have Baby. Could you please go down to the car and get her?” I think people at the bar next door could hear him sigh as he stood up to face his mission. He threw on a pair of real pants and quietly slipped out of the room, along the outdoor corridor, and down the stairs to our car. A few minutes later, the door opened, letting a long shard of light into the room before it all went dark again. He padded over to my bed and placed the familiar shape of Baby into my palm. I smiled and hugged her to me and we sunk into a slumber on the faint notes of an Alabama lullaby that was drifting out from the doors of the bar behind me.
Within a couple of years, I lost Baby. I looked for her everywhere and was heartbroken when I couldn’t find her. I wondered what she was doing in her spare time. Was she missing me as much as I missed her? Had she found new friends? Would she ever show up again?
I never saw her after 1983, but there’s this lovely site called eBay, where a person who is a little off in the head can reconnect with their past in off-in-the-head kinds of ways. eBay is where I found the beach curtains of my childhood. And while it’s not where I found THE BABY, I did find A Baby. And I bought her. There is a familiar sweetness in her black dotted eyes and little round mouth that reminds me of a faithful friend I once had. A friend I like to imagine on a honkytonk stage somewhere, listening to our songs, and nestled into the palm of a kid who loves her.
There’s a strong case to be made for wearing pants, at all times and in some form, whether it be leggings or jeans or pajama pants or even something as cringy as Daisy Dukes. But nobody ever makes that case, because it seems to be a superfluous argument. The world is largely on board with the pants-wearing tradition. I’m on board, too, most of the time. But a couple of nights ago, I decided to live on the edge. It was hot. I was the only one awake in a shared bedroom with my 11-year-old daughter. I needed to take my core temperature down and I wasn’t going to need the pants.
So I thought.
I got fully settled about midnight but was only in and out of a fitful sleep when a light came through the slats of the vertical blinds that separated my bedroom from the coastline. It was enough light to make me wonder what was causing it, so I got up to check. From a thin space between slats, I saw a police SUV driving along the beach out front. I knew what he was there for. He was there to confiscate property left behind by lazy sunbathers. He was mostly there for the canopies. He pulled up to one and got out of his truck when my eye was drawn to two women just below me on the pavement. They had flashlights and were moving with purpose. I didn’t understand what that purpose could be, because by now it was past 1 a.m. but they appeared to be mildly frantic. One of the women immediately took off toward the cop on the beach.
Ah, it’s her canopy. She wants to talk him out of taking the canopy. That made sense in my mind but didn’t explain the lateness of the hour or the other woman wielding a flashlight. After a few seconds of imagined conversation about the canopy, the woman jogged back toward the paved parking area in front of our condo and the cop hopped into his vehicle and moved it closer to the women. Then they all started scrambling.
I watched the chaotic dance of the flashlights with confused fascination. At this point, I was fully awake, fully out on my balcony in the dark, and fully aware that I was mostly pantsless. I was safe in my lack of pants because it was so dark and because, with a cop and two women running willy nilly on the beach below, no one was going to be looking at me. I pressed myself up against the balcony railing, forgetting the pants entirely, and followed the flashlight beams with my eyes. Something was all over the ground. The ground was practically moving because of it. It was crabs. These were crabs. Wait a second. Those aren’t crabs. Crabs are faster than that and no one cares about crabs. Dozens of little darkened shapes were flopping around on the sand and crossing under the fence into the parking lot.
I gasped as I figured out what it was. It was a group of little hatchlings from a nearby turtle nest. These were baby sea turtles. And they were lost. Going away from the ocean instead of into it. I watched as the cop and the women scooped up turtle after turtle, turning on their heels and then running with them to the water’s edge. But the numbers were against them, so they grabbed an empty trashcan and began to set the turtle escapees into the can, one after the next.
I wish I could help them, I thought. But I’m not wearing pants. I ran back inside the condo for a moment and noticed the lights on in Brady’s and Lucy’s room. They were both still awake. So I ran down the hall to grab them out.
“Hey, come with me. I have something to show you.” They followed me back to the balcony and were just as intrigued as I was with the process going on down below. On my way back through the family room, I grabbed a blanket to serve the role of the pants. It did its job as well as it could.
Over the next half hour, we witnessed a small group of beach combers saving a larger group of tiny, helpless turtles. If the women hadn’t been out there with lights–which still baffles me because of the lateness–and the cop hadn’t showed up to take someone’s canopy, there would have been a crop of dead turtles in a parking lot the next morning.
“That cop was on the night shift, working the canopy confiscation beat. I bet this is a much more exciting night than he had planned,” I said to the kids, resting my chin on the railing as the activity began to wane.
“You know what they say,” Brady replied. “Not all heroes wear capes.” Lucy began chuckling at that and they started a whole routine as if they were turtle wrangling cops. At noon the next day, none of it would have been funny. But at 2 a.m. it doesn’t take a lot to get a punchy reaction.
I’ve been at this beach in this condo every summer for 20 years now. I’ve seen a lot of turtle nests get roped off. I’ve even seen some turtle tracks. But until Monday night, I had never seen the actual turtles. It was pretty spectacular. I do wonder how much more spectacular it might have been if I’d been wearing pants and had run down to join the rescue operation with the flashlight I had brought from home. This might have been a much different post.
Not all heroes wear capes. But they do all wear pants.