Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reponse from Dad

Dear Alexis,

I would have preferred handling this entirely in person, but your mom wanted a written response from me, and I know better than to oppose your mother in any matter other than one about which I feel extremely strongly. I'll give you my ideas on the subject, after which I recommend that we print all three posts out for posterity so that our not-yet-in-existence descendents will have hard evidence that in our family as in all others, conflict and love are inseparable. Then we'll delete the posts and go on with our lives.

You surely must know that Mom and I both love you. If you otherwise doubt our love for you, try to remember the all-nighters both of your parents pulled for you at the hospital very recently. I'm not suggesting that this makes us any kind of heroes; just loving and caring parents who could not bear the thought of leaving a living and breathing child at the hospital one night, only to come back the next morning to find the bed in which she had been sleeping empty. Whether it was superstition or an actual belief either that our presence mattered to you or that we could prevent any major medical errors by being vigilant, we gave up our comfotable bed and many hours of sleep because we love you. This isn't really addressing your major bone of contention, because we would certainly have done the same for your brother, but it wasn't your brother in that hospital bed; it was you, and you were the reason we were there.

Concerning early favoritism, I'll have to agree with you that it existed.
If I were to be truthful, I would have to say that you were my favorite twin, but you were correct in writing that I didn't try to even the score by giving you better treatment and more attention than I gave Matthew. Doing so would only have made things worse, as you acknowledged in your post. At times, your wisdom so far exceeds your years that I am dumbstruck. (At other times, your lack of the common sense that should be possessed by a child one-third your age baffles me even more, but that's a topic for another day.) By saying that Matthew was your mother's favorite, I am not conceding that either of us felt more love for the "favorite;" it was more of a case of personalities meshing more easily.

If what I tell you here reeks of excuse-making, I'm sorry, and it is not my intention. I just want you to understand where we were coming from as parents so that you will have the very slightest understanding of some of our actions. I hope with all my heart that neither you nor your brother ever go through the actual horror of losing a child. I can tell you that nothing is worse. Even though we only had a few minutes after his birth to be with Christopher before he passed,and only three days to get to know Nicholas, I can tell you that it was the greatest pain I have ever experienced; it still aches, and I'm not sure how I survived it myself. For your mother, it could only have been worse to have carried the babies inside her, feeling each little movement - even their tiny hiccups- only to have the babies removed from her eighteen weeks earlier than had been medically predicted. Watching her as she grieved was, if anything, more painful than dealing with the grief I felt myself. The only thing that I could ever imagine that would be more excruciating would be to lose either you or your brother now. Take your vitamins, eat well, look both ways before ever crossing any street, and be cautious in every aspect of your daily lives. I know both you and Matthew feel that we have been ridiculously over-protective, but someday, God willing, you'll have your own babies and will understand just how precious is the life of a child.

Nearly two years later, when Mom was expecting you and Matthew, we knew through ultrasound examinations that one of our babies was much larger than the other one. Mom was put on complete bedrest at twelve weeks for the duration of the pregnancy in order to extend every second of gestation that we could. When the time came that the pregancy could be extended no further, a decision was made to remove you first so that life-saving measures could be employed as soon as possible. When Dr. Elick took you from your mother's womb, you let out the lustiest wail I believe was ever produced by such a tiny infant. In my heart, I knew at that moment that you would grow and thrive. What your mother saw, on the other hand, was a baby girl so tiny that your entire body could be held in the palm of a hand, with tissue paper skin allowing a view of practically every vein in your body.

When Dr. Elick next removed Matthew, your mother saw a baby as large as a small doll, one that looked like he had almost 100% odds of survival. Even with her abdomen still open for the Caesarean delivery, Matthew was briefly lain upon the upper portion of Mom's chest. She had a baby - an actual baby- one that she could touch and kiss. Though things can go wrong with babies over six pounds, they're not nearly so common in occurrence. It was truly love at first sight. Anyone who does not believe in love at first sight has never seen the birth of a baby to his or her conscious mother. Had anyone attempted to harm Matthew, your mother would have jumped off the operating room table, open incision and all, and karateed the person to his death even though her only experience with karate had been what she had aeen on television.

As mom said, you were a screaming baby. If I had known then what I know now, I would have insisted that the pediatricians change or adjust your formula. I should have known it was more than just a cranky disposition (it WAS part cranky disposition, but that wasn't the entire culprit) causing your discomfort and nearly constant crying. Your growth might have come more easily as well.

With hindsight being its usual 20/15, we force-fed you as best we could, then did our very best for the remainder of the day to minimize your crying. When I was home, we at least had one adult per baby. Mom handled Natthew for the most part; since, as he was being breastfed, she had to take care of his feedings anyway. I fed you, burped you, then tried every stategy recommended to us by everyone we knew. I paced the floor while holding you, placed you in an infant carrier and put you on top of the clothes dryer, as we had been told that babies were sometimes calmed by the motion produced the dryer. I put you in your carseat and drove with you. I should have known tha this would be anything but a solution. You despised being in your carseat from the very first second you were placed in it for your drive from the hospital to home.

I'm sure mom mentioned the mind-boggling story of your announcing "SMA no!" I never tasted it, but from the sour smell of the stuff, it couldn't have been very good. It became much easier to feed you when you could tell us which formula you wanted. You rotated betweem Enfamil, Gerber's, and Similac,(SMA NO!) and seemed to have a very dinstinct preference for a particular formula at each feeding. When you began naming objects and putting words together soon after, we knew we weren't dealing with an average baby, not that there is any such thing. Matthew walked at six months, which is extremely on the early side, but when you, who must have been nearly eight weeks premature, took you first steps on your seventh-month birthday, we were again blown away. Preemies aren's supposed to talk at five months, nor should they walk at seven months. Video that we have of you walking and talking at those ages look like computer simulations. You didn't look big enough to roll over, much less to walk or talk. I believe you we just short of eleven months when you pointed to and read the name "Clinton" from a newspaper headline as you were sitting on my lap. At about the same age, you were sitting in your high chair eating Cheerios while your Aunt Colleen was playing through a piece of sheet music on our piano. She hit a chord that wasn't quite right. You hollered out, "D-flat" from your high chair. Your aunt ran in with the music to show your mother, which she need not have done because your mom already knew you were correct. I was for the most part beyond being surprised by anything out-of-the-ordinary that you knew.

There are many things I would have done differently if I'd been in possession of a crystal ball. I know your mother would say the same. This is a lame excuse, but we were both constantly exhausted. Medical residencies are pure torture, and then to have to come home and help your mother with babies the first second I walked through the door! You mom was equally tired after dealing with the two of you all day with very little assistance from anyone. The poor judgment mom showed when she held Matthew so much more than you and paid much more attention to him was the sort of thing that happens when sleep deprivation kicks in. My calling you a "terrible and selfish girl" after you told your mother that you had donated bone marrow when you had been told that it was to be a secret was equally poor judgment following a twenty-four-hour shift so that I could be home with all of you early on Christmas morning.

As young parents, we didn't really understand the desire that both of you had to to give. We didn't notice at the time that the two of you ignored that presents from Santa and others for you because you were so excited to give us what you had made at school for us. When mom didn't show much gratitutde for the precious little angel ornament you had made, but then went overboard in her enthusiam over Matthew's gift, it was probably an issue of a mother who had been awake all night assembling toys all by herself, who temporarily lost her manners and her sanity, then regained them by the time the second child presented his gift. When you chose that precise moment to announce that you had been Mom's bone marrow donor, I felt that you were being spiteful, and I totally mishandled the situation. As parents, we all have times we would like to have been able to rewind so that we could do them over again correctly. For me, that moment ranks number one.

I don't know if you remember that later that day when you finally came out of your room, you picked up the angel ornament you had made from the coffee table where it had been left since that morning. You appeared to be heading toward the fireplace, intending to throw it into the flames. I reacted without even thinking. I grabbed you with one hand and grabbed the ornament with the other. I doubt that you've ever seen it since. Did you ever wonder why it never hangs on our Christmmas tree, or what happened to it? I placed it inside a special protective envelope. It's inside our safe. If anything ever happens to mommy and me, our attorney has the combination. I take the ormanmet out and look at it very carefully each Christmas. The one time mommy saw it, she cried for so long that I made it a point never to look at it in front of her again. It does not adorn our tree because it is too priceless. It serves to me as a reminder of how a little girl's love should never be taken for granted. When I am no longer here, or when my mind has dwindled to the point that I am no longer aware of my surroundings, it will be yours. Until then, it belongs to me and is one of the most priceless possessions I will ever own.

I'm not sure how to explain my lack of presence at your athletic events.
Matthew's baseball games are social events, but that does nothing to alter the fact that you mother and I have two children, both of whom need our presence for at least some of their events. I'm not sure how we'll handle it next year. Perhaps we'll each attend one event when competitions fall on the same day, which they so frequently do, or we'll attend together but alternate whose event we attend. However we work it out, you've gotten the short end of the stick too often; it won't happen again.

I know you're concerned that your hurdling career is history. I wish I could promise you that you will run just as fast and hurdle with just as much ease as you did before, but that's a promise I cannot honestly make. I do promise you that you will receive every minute of physical therapy from which you will possibly benefit. Anything that modern medicine and physical therapy can accomplish will be done for you.

I could type on and on for hours about the mistakes I've made, and about how truly sorry I am for each and every one of them, but I think you've gotten my point by now. Let me end by referring once again to the precious little angel ornament that I have tucked away in the safest place in our home. It isn't only at Christmas that I look at it. Whenever I learn of some act of misbehavior you've committed, I try to remember to take the time to go to the safe and to look once more at your little angel face in the ornament. It helps to remind me that you are still that same little girl you were then, and that I must speak and act carefully so as not to do anything to further damage your fragile feelings.

"There will never be a father who loved his daughter more than I love you."
-Paul Simon



  1. I want to believe that a baby could speak at 5 months but beyond babbling it's just not possible. I LOVE to read this blog but some of it is so far fetched...I just don't want to read fiction. Please help me to understand.

  2. If anyone was exaggerating, it was my dad, not I.

  3. My mom says it was a little over six months when I spoke the names of formulas. I researched, and though it is exceedingly rare, babies have been known to speak in the 3-4 month range.