A photo of Alex with our dog, Luna, last Christmas. As a tradition, we read the following story, which Kristin, Alex's oldest sister wrote almost 12 years ago when Alex was a child. In less than a month, this young man will turn 22. He has, like many a young adult, amazed and appalled us but he has always cemented our family in a way that may not have occured if he had not been born.
Kristin's version of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" written just before Christmas, 1999
As we sit around the fir tree, reading the traditional, “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” I look around at my family with wonder. All of them bring to mind special feelings. My mother, who has been through several surgeries in the past few months, is smiling and sipping a small glass of white wine. My stepfather, Richard, still fairly new to the family after a mere 11 years of marriage to my mother, is oblivious to the goings on and is watching whatever sports program happens to be on at the moment. My sister, Heidi, her red hair flying, is chasing her two children around the room, trying to get them to listen to the story. And, my brother, Alex 10 years old, just a few days earlier, is listening intently as I finish the book that has been a staple for our Christmas Eves since I was a little girl. Alex has always held a special place in my heart and as I look at him this Christmas Eve night, I am in awe at the impact he has had on my life since even before he was born.
If I remember correctly, my Mom told us she was going to try and have another baby on a Thursday afternoon. I had come over to visit after work and Heidi had just gotten home from school. We were sitting in the kitchen drinking a pop and she blurted it out like she had been holding this decision inside for weeks.
“Girls, Richard and I have been thinking a lot about this and we have decided that we are going to pursue having another child.”
“You are kidding, right?” I said.
“No, I’m not. I’ve talked to a few doctors at the University of Michigan and it is possible to have my tubes untied so we can try and conceive a baby.”
“I cannot believe this,” said Heidi. “I’m probably going to end up babysitting this kid all the time.” She was 16 at the time and not too sensitive about other people’s feelings.
My Mom didn’t get upset about that comment, but just continued with her explanation of how the surgery was going to work. “The doctors have to do an ultrasound first. Then, they will determine whether or not they can even reconnect my tubes. If they do the surgery, there is only a 25% chance that it will work. So, don’t get upset about anything, yet, OK?”
I am the worry wart in the family, so I had to ask, “Are you sure this is safe? You are 38 years old.”
“Well, it is fairly safe. You know, there’s always a risk when it comes to surgery. But, I don’t think it is going to be a very big deal. I just won’t be able to do anything really strenuous for a couple of weeks.”
My mother did end up having the surgery. She was right. She didn’t move around much for a few weeks, but she did go right back to work. She did eventually start feeling better, though. In mid-April, which, if we didn’t live in Michigan, should be about the time the trees are budding and the flowers blooming, my mother asked me to go to with her to Meijer, a huge Walmart like store. I agreed. The day didn’t seem any different thn any other, but that soon changed.
We were walking through the Health & Beauty Aid section when my mother said, “Maybe we should pick up a test.”
“What kind of....oh my God!!!!” I screamed and gave my mother a hug. “I thought you were supposed to wait a few more weeks before you started trying to conceive?”
“I was feeling pretty good, so we tried a couple of weeks ago. And, now I need a pregnancy test, OK?”
“I can’t believe it. I thought there was a really small chance that this would work,” I said.
“It’s not positive yet,” my Mom said.
We got to the checkout lane and my mother started acting strange. “What is wrong, Mom?” “Could you buy the test? No one will believe it is for me anyway?”
I bought the test and we went to my mother’s house in Laingsburg. She took the test and it was positive. I joked, “Fertile Myrtle can only get pregnant one month out of the entire year!!! And you did it three times!!” My sister and I were January babies and it was apparent, that , by our calculations, this baby would be born in January also.
My mother’s pregnancy went fairly smooth until her fourth or fifth month. She did have some strange cravings, though. I don’t think I had ever seen my mother eat peanut butter in my entire 19 years, but when she was pregnant, she couldn’t get enough of the stuff. My stepfather started shopping at Sam’s Wholesale Club because he couldn’t keep enough peanut butter in the house. Upon reaching the beginning of her second trimester, she started having trouble. She had amniocentesis since she was over 35 and had a whole bunch of other tests to determine if the baby was healthy or not. I was at work when my mother called me into her office (she was my boss at The Lansing State Journal) to let me know the results of her testing. My mother was being very calm and it scared me.
“Mom? What’s wrong? Is something wrong with the baby?”
She said, “The doctors think the baby has ‘water on the brain.’”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“That means the baby could have brain damage. Things started going wrong when I had the amnio. The puncture hold that the doctor made with the needle never closed up; so, amniotic fluid has been leaking for the past few weeks.”
“Is the baby going to die?” I asked as tears were flowing down my face.
“They don’t know yet. They are going to do more tests and we should know something by the end of the week. But, honey, there is something else you need to know.”
“We are having a boy.”
At that point, we both burst into tears. No one in the family had ever wanted a baby boy. Girls are so much cuter and prettier and you can dress them up in frilly little dresses. We cried for about ten minutes and as we were holding each other, we started laughing. Little giggles at first. Followed by some tittering and, then, out loud laughs punctured by guffaws. We couldn’t stop. We went from one extreme of emotions to another in 30 seconds flat. At that moment, we both knew that everything would be OK, even if the baby did turn out to be a boy.
Everything did end up being OK. My mother was prescribed complete bed rest by her doctor for the remaining four months. This was unbelievably difficult for my mother because she is a workaholic and a perfectionist rolled into one mere mortal. She became more domestic than I had ever seen before. She baked, did crafts, prepared the baby’s room and did a multitude of other things that were not typical of her personality. Oh, she still went to work every day!!
I had just received a promotion at work and was starting my first day on my new job. As I was walking into the building from the extremely icy parking lot, my previous supervisor stopped me and told me that my mother had gone into labor. This was quite a shock considering that she was not due for another month yet. I felt like pending fatherhood was upon me. I became a babbling, klutzy, frantic person that neither I nor my co-workers recognized.
“What do you mean she is in labor?” I exclaimed.
“Calm down, Kristin. Your Mom called and all she said was that we needed to let you know that her water had broke and for you to go to work and she would call when anything more happened.” What mom hadn’t told anyone was that her water broke at work and her boss was crazy worried.
“Krstin, I told you all that she told me, “said my colleague. “You know your mother. She will let you know what is going on when it suits her needs.”
Knowing exactly what my co-worker meant, I decided I had better go to work, considering it is not a good practice to call in sick on your first day. I told my boss that I may have to leave, depending on what was happening at home. They understood, which I was very grateful for, because my mother had been working at her current job for the past seven years and everyone knew her.
I called my sister, Heidi, at approximately noon to find out what the status on the baby’s arrival was currently. “Hi, Heidi. How is mom?”
“She is fine. She is at Meijer right now. Why?”
“Why?! Because she is in labor, that is why!!”
Heidi then told me the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard. “That’s not even the worst of it, Kristin. This morning at 7 a.m. she called Richard and told him that her water had broken. Richard started freaking out and wanted to call the doctor. She told him she had some things to do because Christmas wasn’t going to not come just because she was having a kid.”
“What did she mean by that?” I asked.
“She meant that she needed to get some last minute Christmas gifts and then, she needed to finish the grocery shopping for Christmas dinner.”
“She IS nuts, isn’t she?”
“That’s not even the worst of it,” said Heidi. “I asked her how she thought she was going to get around with having contractions and all, and she said, “No problem, you’re going to help me.’ Kristin, Mom made me help her get ready and drive her to the mall.”
I started laughing hysterically. “You mean, Mom was walking around the amll having contractions?!”
“Stop laughing at me!! She was so embarrassing. We would walk about 20 feet and then, she would have to stop so she could ‘do her breathing.’ People kept coming up to us and asking if there was anything they could do to help. I was mortified!”
“I feel so bad for you, Heidi. How long were you at the mall?”
“Thank God, we were only there for about an hour and a half. Then, she wanted to go to Meijer, but I told her she better have Richard go with her. Richard came to the mall to pick her up and he found her sitting inside the doors, on the floor, breathing deeply.”
“Well, I have to go back to work, but let me know if anything happens.”
I ended up working a full day. No one ever called me to tell me how my mom was doing. At 5:30 p.m., as I was getting home, the phone began ringing. I grabbed the phone and it was my mother, acting very calm, almost too calm.
“Hi, honey. How was your first day at work?”
“Fine. Why aren’t you at the hospital yet?” I yelled.
My mother very calmly said, “I’ve had two other kids and this one is not going to mess up my Christmas schedule any more than he already has. I had shopping to do and now, it is done. I was calling to let you know I am on my way to the hospital right now.”
My mother and stepfather arrived at the hospital around 6 p.m. My best friend, Amy and I arrived shortly thereafter. My mom acted as if she was there for some allergy shots. This was not a big deal to her. Just another birth, kind of at an inconvenient time and day.
We waited, talked and visited with my mom for about three and a half hours. Then, Amy and I decided to go to the cafeteria to get some food. As we were walking down the starkly lit hallway in the basement, a wonderful location for a cafeteria, we were discussing the wonder of my mother at 39 giving birth. We were giggling about all the things I could buy for him and do with him, when all of a sudden, a huge figure jumped out in front of us. It was my stepfather, Richard, all out of breath and looking extremely frantic.
“Your mother....wants....you to come...upstairs....right now.”
“Why? Is something wrong?”
“No. You know how we had decided that it would just be us in the delivery room? Well, your mother has decided just now that it would be a wonderful experience for you to see your brother’s birth.”
“Wow! OK, let’s go!”
Amy said she would wait in the waiting room, but Richard, who is not a very outgoing fellow, told her to come along also. He said one more person in the room at this point wasn’t going to make much of a difference and besides, Amy was planning to be a nurse.
We all followed Richard into the delivery room, where, just as we walked in, I saw my brother’s head emerging from my mother’s body. I gasped.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! OH!”
“Shut up, Kristin, I’m trying to concentrate,” came my mother’s response to my wonder and awe.
My mother pushed for about 10 minutes and at 10:08 p.m. my baby brother, weighing 4 lbs. 15 oz., was born on December 22, 1989. He was very little. In fact, he was too little to take home.
My mother came home on the 23rd in the late afternoon. It was kind of weird talking about Alex and not having him there to hold or coo over. We had a surprise on Christmas Eve, though. Mom had gone to the hospital to see Alex and the doctor said he had gained enough ground to go home. Imagine our surprise when my mom walked into the house carrying Alex in her arms. We all started crying and hugging and thanking God for letting us all be together on this special holiday.
So, as I sit here looking around at my whole family, I have to thank my brother. Before Alex, we were a family, but we didn’t have cohesion. My mom, sister and I were a family and Richard was an addition that Heidi and I could have done without. After Alex, however, is a whole different story. He has allowed our family to become a unit. He is my half brother biologically, but emotionally, he is my whole brother: heart and soul. Although he is only 10 as I write this and my little brother, he is also my friend, confidante and spiritual advisor. I don’t even think he knows how pivotal he has been to our family. Maybe someone should tell him.