April 24, 2020 … It seemed like this date was SO FAR away, on April 24, 1999 … Twenty-one years, to be exact. At that moment in time, it was hard to see past the moment, never mind 21 years. You came into this world at a whopping one pound nine ounces … you heard me right … 1 pound, 9 ounces … 711 grams of pure baby bird, as I called you, since you were so itty bitty, and your skin was translucent, we could see every vein in your tiny little body.
The doctor told me that I wouldn’t hear you cry, but to not worry, your lungs were hardly developed, and it was to be expected … I didn’t listen to them … I was too busy being positive ‘ol me … I had ZERO clues how “life or death” our whole situation was. I was only twenty-three … 23!!! That is TWO YEARS older than you are right now!! Do you know how CRAZY that thought is to me?! I was literally a BABY, having my own baby … my first child … my only son … the first one to call me Mommy, but most importantly, the very first brown eyes I had ever fallen in love with. Bye the way … You cried. It was the teeniest little wah, but you cried … They said you wouldn’t, but you did. You showed them, and it was in that very moment, that I just knew you would be okay … I had NOT ONE worry, that you wouldn’t be anything. but FINE!
That being said …
I had no clue what life with a preemie would entail, but I was quick to find out. I did not hesitate to quit my job, and move back home with my mom (while your father worked), because you needed me to make sure nothing got you sick during your first year of life. You needed me to protect you … and I did, proudly. Social media was not a thing back in 1999 … I had no way to show you off to the world … my miracle son. It’s okay. I have all those memories locked in a place that no one can destroy, or can take away from me … for they are FOREVER locked in my heart of hearts, a special place only a parent can understand. I decided to write this “letter” to you, as something you can always look back on, and remember some of the things you and I have been through … together. Some I know you can’t forget, but I know there are way more, that you possibly couldn’t remember, so I’m here to tell you some of the special memories that stick out in my mind. This way, in the future, you will always have this, to remind you, how much I love you, and remember how I’ve always been there for you, in a way that only a mother could be, for their child, unconditionally. If I had to go back and do it all over again … I would, without hesitation … then maybe I could have been perfect, but please know, I really did my best … through EVERY phase of your life.
No parent ever wants the day to come when they hear that their child is sick … or worse, that they have a condition that will forever shape their future … That day for me, was August 16th 2000 …
“Your son has cerebral palsy …”
Those are five words that, although I knew was a possibility, I never wanted to hear. When a young woman finds out she is pregnant, the last thing that goes through her head, are the “what if’s” … “what if I have a miscarriage” … “what if my child is sick” … “what if this, what if that” … Well, I never “what if’ed” ANYTHING … I was young and highly optimistic. I always tried to see the glass half full, so to speak. I was super sick my entire pregnancy with you, and I still managed to smile through it all. I wanted NOTHING MORE, than to be a Mom, your mom … Thank you for choosing me. Being pregnant, was my favorite thing in the world … even though 2, out of 3, of my kids couldn’t wait to get out, and one tried, but she was tricked into staying longer. After you were born, and I had to go home, without you (you stayed 11 weeks & 2 days longer than me), I went back to work part time. Everyone in my office couldn’t believe I was there. “Why aren’t you with your baby?” … “How can you smile and be so positive?” … These were the two questions people asked me time and time again. My response … “It’s simple … I can’t be with him every minute of every day. He has to sleep to grow, and get stronger, so I choose to be somewhere, where I feel productive and useful”, while you lay in the NICU, fighting for your life. You were so strong, and still are. Don’t get me wrong .. I would wake up, shower, drive to Morristown Memorial (it’s old name) … Spend 8:00am – 11:00am, with you, drive to work in Parsippany, work from 11:30am until 3:00pm, then I would drive back to the hospital, and stay with you until the nurses kicked me out! Nurse Cindy was your special angel in the hospital. When I wasn’t there, she was, and if she was off, she made sure whoever was there in her place, that they knew to take extra special care of you. Do you remember when Marissa was born, and spent 3 weeks in the NICU at Morristown, we got to see your special angel, Nurse Cindy … She remembered who you were, and still wore the special necklace we gave her, when you were discharged from the hospital.
Nurse Cindy retired the same year that Marissa was born. A reminder that everything happens for a reason. You were meant to reconnect with her, and through Marissa, we were able to see her again, and show her how far you had come, at that point. It was right after your big surgery. Do you remember that surgery? I know you do. You were 10, and in fourth grade (umm .. Marissa’s age now). We had gone to a special place to have three hours of testing, to find out what procedures / surgeries, would help you to grow the best your little body could. You never complained, not once. You couldn’t wait to be “fixed”. You were so self-conscious of your size, but never let it get you down, and if it did, you hid it well.
A few months after that testing, we found out that your right hip was growing inward, instead of straight, among many other things. It was decided that you would have an 8 hour surgery, with 8 different manipulations of your body. They had to break your right hip, rotate it out, and put a plate there, until it fused back together, which took a little over a year, and then had to have another surgery to remove that plate. They had to stunt the growth in your left leg, so your right leg could catch up. They did that by putting an ‘8 plate’ in your left knee. I believe it took two years, for your legs to be even, and then you had to endure one last surgery, to remove the ‘8 plate’, so your leg could continue to grow. That was your last surgery, besides your tonsils getting removed.
The day of your big surgery, 9/21/2009, you were so brave. I can now tell you that I had never been so scared in my entire life, not even when you were born. I was told that my baby boy was about to endure the hardest 12 weeks of his life … HA! I literally laughed at that … 1, because you had already endured those 12 weeks, when you were in the NICU for exactly that, 12 weeks, and 2, because you’re my son, and I knew that you were already a fighter. From day 1, I have told you that CAN’T, is NOT in your vocabulary … YOU CAN do whatever you want, as long as you try your best … YOUR BEST, not everyone else’s best. You are amazing. Dr. Rieger, one of the greatest dr’s of all time, had wanted to body cast you after your surgery for a minimum of 6 weeks. He made a last minute decision, to NOT body cast you, because he said, “If I know this kid, it will only hinder his recovery” … and he was right! You had to learn how to walk again … We were told that it would be at least 12 weeks before that happened … but to our surprise, and YOUR determination, you walked SIX WEEKS before you were supposed to!! ROCK STAR!!
It nearly broke my heart to watch you go through this transition in your life, but again, in my heart of hearts, I knew you would be okay … The day you finally took your “first steps”, for the second time, in your life … I cried (I cried the first time too). My heart was so full of pride for you … YOU CAN WALK, because YOU were determined to do so. That determination isn’t something you can teach someone … it comes from within … either you have it, or you don’t, and you do.
Do you remember Field Day 2010? I do. About nine months after your big surgery, you had field day … You didn’t care how much smaller you were than everyone else … You didn’t give up, you KEPT UP … I had just given birth to Marissa like 10’ish days before field day. I was there as a volunteer, and I remember thinking how lucky I was to have you for my son. Determined to not let anything get you down. You taught me about resilience … that no matter how many times you got knocked down, you always got back up. I hope you take that with you into your adulthood. There are some things that just can’t be taught, that you were naturally gifted with … Never forget that. When you get knocked down, get right back up. YOU … can do … ANYTHING! Except the military … you CAN’T do that, but that’s not your fault. LOL
When I started to write this, I had very different intentions of what I wanted to write, but once I started, this is where it took me. I want to share one more, very special memory that I have, that I know you cannot remember. Before your father and I divorced for good, we separated. We stayed with Grandma in Hopatcong. Morgan was just a little itty bitty baby, and you were 2 1/2, but still super tiny. You loved to dance with Mommy, and it was seriously the highlight of my day … No matter how sad and empty I felt, you were there to make me smile over and over again … Our favorite song to dance to was, ‘God must have spent a little more time on you’, by NSync … I’ve been listening to that song all week … crying. Not because I’m sad, but because back then, it was so hard to see past each day, being that every moment, every breath you breathed, every ounce you gained, was a sign that you were REALLY going to be okay, and now that we have gotten through all those surgeries, all those therapies, botox injections, casting on both legs, the list is endless … I’M SO DAMN PROUD OF YOU, and the only way for me to show you, is to write to you. There is so much more I want to say, but if I’ve done my job, as your mother, you already know.
Happy 21st Birthday, kiddo … I hope you know how much I love you, and how I will always be here for you, no matter what … THIS I PROMISE YOU! PS … It was 21 years ago, today, that I fell in love with the biggest brown eyes, I’d every seen!! Cheers!!