The Kids Stay in the Picture

Dear Michael,

That’s you in the photo right there. You might be a month old, maybe two. You’re asleep. You’re in a portable bassinet. You’re floating about five feet in the air. I’m holding the bassinet with both arms. Mom is there, too, leaning toward you. We’re both smiling. We have our own kid, and that kid is you.

I’m bearing you aloft, as if to say, Behold! See what we have wrought! We have created new beauty in the world!

You’re in the next photo, too. You’re cradled in Mom’s arms, once again sleeping. Your face is round, pale, your mouth moist, your nose just a button. Your hands touch each each other. The view is from over Mom’s shoulder. You can see only that her head is turned to look at you, your face barely visible. Her palm is flat on your belly. You’re wearing those soft, fuzzy, eggshell-blue pajamas I always liked. You’re so very asleep, as asleep as only a baby can be, safe in your mother’s arms.

Now comes a treasure of a photo. Here you are with Grandma. Look at the two of you. You’re looking at each other. Of course she’s looking at you. That’s totally to be expected. She’s at our dining room table, wearing a sleeveless white dress with polka dots – red, blue, yellow and green – and her hair is still brown. She’s leaning to her right, her whole torso shifted, with her head turned to the side, positioning herself precisely for a single purpose: to take in the sight of you. She’s holding you gingerly, as if you are a prize, a trophy just bestowed on her. Her right hand cups your little behind, a warm, firm seat, her left arm supporting you from behind. She is in profile, her face cast in shadow, but even from this angle you can make out her smile.

That alone would make this picture special. But now look at you. You’re the other end of this equation (and equation it is, for Nettie equaled Michael – and Michael, Nettie). You’re looking straight at your Grandma, right into her eyes. You’re perched in her arms, in your diaper and bare feet, your skin so pink and pure, and your head is turned to look at her, too. And your mouth is open.

It’s as if you’re saying, Oh.

It’s as if you’re saying, Wow.

Grandma is marveling at you and you’re marveling at her. Some serious mutual marveling is going on here. Maybe here’s where all that started between you two.

It’s all quite . . . marvelous.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear later this week.

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Your Opening Act

Dear Caroline,

You I worried about from the start, even before you were born.

The doctor told us you were in there in an unusual position. Transverse breach, she called it.

Somehow you were upside down and slung across sideways. It was a form of occupancy less than ideal.

It might even be dangerous, the doctor told us. The umbilical cord could get tangled up, even strangle you as you came out.

Hardly what Mom and I needed to hear.

She took it pretty well, or at least seemed to. Me, I was another story. I kept thinking about it day after day.

Please, I thought, let her be okay. We’d already had one perfect child. Was it too much for us to hope for a second perfect child, too? Go two for two?

The doctor kept close watch, of course. Mom went to see her more often than usual, as I recall, just as a precaution, just to check on your position in the womb.

Nothing changed. Transverse breach you remained. I kept thinking those words.

Please, I thought, let her be perfect.

It was sort of a prayer, but sent out to the universe at large rather than to any kind of God. I swore never to expect or ask for anything else again. I kept my concern to myself, avoiding upsetting Mom.

The doctor even showed us a sonogram of you so we could see your awkward position. It was decided that day that the safest course of action was for you to be delivered by Caesarean. And that meant I would have to stay out of the delivery room, unable to see you born, as I had Michael.

When Mom went in the operating room, I waited outside, more nervous than I had ever felt. We had a perfect boy and now we wanted a perfect girl. I needed to do something to keep my mind off my worries.

So I wrote.

I had an assignment from Omni magazine, owned by Guccione, Sr., now defunct. It had to do either with mummies or robots. Just a short piece, maybe 200 words. I tinkered away, trying to make it as perfect as I wanted you to be.

An hour went by, maybe more. I’ve forgotten so much. I should have written about all this right then and there, while it was all still fresh.

But the next part I remember fine. The doctor came out to tell me you had emerged without a hint of a problem, and now I could go see you.

Back I went where all the new babies hung out, all in those little bassinettes, or whatever. Now I stood over you, so pink, your eyes closed, your mouth puckering, your fingers squirming, your hair matted, crying.

And I felt a rush of relief almost stunning in its force. You were okay. I could see that for myself now. And then I felt my whole face wrinkle and warm and I broke down crying.

“Hello,” Caroline, I said through my tears. “I’m your Daddy. Glad you could make it.”

Labor Trouble

Dear Michael,

You took your time coming out. I think Mom was in labor for 36 hours.

Why you took so long I have no idea, nor do I figure you had any control over it. Maybe you really liked it in there – who could blame you? – and felt reluctant to leave. As we know, Mom is an excellent host.

Just the same, she probably found you an excellent house guest. And so we waited. After waiting, we then waited some more.

A nurse told us were going to have a girl, and for whatever reason, Mom and I both doubted her with all our hearts.

A pregnant woman came in and had her baby within an hour. Mom and I felt like complaining to the nurses, Hey, we got here first, how come she gets to cut in line.

I went out for breakfast at the Georgia diner, assured I had time. As I ate my eggs, I knew my life – our lives – would soon change for good. Only I had no idea how, really, much less how much. No idea, either, how much I could love someone else, a child of my own, a son.

And let me tell you, Mom really had her work cut out delivering you. She huffed and she puffed, grunting and groaning, her brow shiny with sweat, all of us urging her on, Come on, Elvira, you can do it, keep pushing, push harder. I know she just wanted all of us to shut the fuck up.

But no, you were having none of it. In there you stayed, in your little amniotic domicile, probably watching a smackdown DVD or something.

It was tough. Mom tried the breathing exercises, but still she gasped, Finally, she asked to be medicated. It was enough already. You were running late. Mom was exhausted.

I wish I could remember it all better than I do. I should have captured it in a chronicle right then, rather than all these years later. But that much I remember. That, and the sense of something new coming, of discoveries and rewards in the offing.

And then, of course, now ready at last, out you came. And I saw it all, first the head, then the rest, as you emerged, bloody, crying, beautiful, absolutely perfect.

Welcome, Michael, I thought. Stay awhile.

Welcome, One and All

Welcome to Letters to My Kids.

Let me tell you how this site came to be, and why.

For more than 10 years I promised myself I would write something exclusively for my son Michael and my daughter Caroline.  It would be a family history, deeply personal, straight from me to my kids.

After all, I’d already written for just about everyone else – newspapers, magazines and whatnot.  Surely I could manage such an assignment for my own children.

But I never got around to it.  Somehow I just never found the time, only plenty of excuses.  I had a full-time job.  I had a part-time job.  I needed to watch TV every night and play basketball on weekends.  You’ve heard the song.

But then I resolved to do it.  In 2008, I started a journal, one for each child.  Every week I took an hour or so to capture a special memory about my kids and my own life – equal parts celebration and confession, heavy on encouragement but light on advice.

That Christmas I presented the handwritten journals as gifts.  The next year I completed a second set, also given at Christmas.

My purpose was to show my kids how much they mean to me, how much I remember, how deeply I love each one.  I also intended to leave something behind — an heirloom more precious than any wedding ring, a legacy ultimately more heartfelt and tangible and valuable in its own right than any insurance policy.

Now I’m going to publish these journals – more than 100 entries in all – right here.  Anyone and everyone will be able to see every word I wrote for my kids.

It’s cool.  My kids okayed it.

I’m taking this private initiative public for another reason.  It is to urge other parents to start family history journals, too – particularly Dads, who, unlike mothers, tend to be closed books.

Maybe, even, to take a pledge to do so soon, before it’s too late.

If you do – if you so invest in your past — you’ll be in for the adventure of a lifetime.

You’ll discover new truths about yourself and your life.  You’ll also find out just how deeply you love your kids, too.

They’ll find out, too.

P.S. — My first “letter” will appear this Sunday (Father’s Day).