Thursday, March 5, 2015

Gumdrop Toes

Happy Full Moon Day!  Today's also a very special day for a young woman I've loved since before she was born.  Last night I had a dream in which I re-lived the first moment we met.  Tonight I thought I'd share a snapshot from a chapter in Open Road: a life worth waiting for which reveals a little magic that happened twenty-three years ago on a Thursday in early March.
Happy Birthday, sweet Elise...your heart is as big as the full moon that's shining down on your birthday celebration.

"Gumdrop Toes"

It’s nearly eight o’clock in the evening and I’m dressed in a long, flannel nightgown, reading Little Critter books to dozens of kids at Greenwood.  To celebrate Right to Read Week we’re having a Pajama Night in which all of the students and their families came back to school dressed in their jammies for an evening of storytelling.  On the primary level they can choose from Clifford and Berenstain Bears and Little Critter.  Older kids can choose from ghost stories or chapters read from Road Dahl's novels.  It’s a wonderful night and the kids are having a great time.
But all I want to do is go home.
My sister is in labor.  Mom and Dad called this afternoon and told me that Patricia was being admitted to the hospital.  They were already on their way down to Columbus so they could be there for the birth.  It’s been a long, trying pregnancy, not only for my sister, but for those of us who have had to listen the incessant complaints about her sore feet, heartburn, and backache. 
Still, I can’t wait to meet my new little niece or nephew.  A few months ago Greta and I hosted a baby shower for Patricia at my house.  I’d only lived there since September and worried about how I was going to pay for all the food, decorations, and beverages as well as a shower gift.  Last Christmas Eve I had sat at the dining room table in tears with a $350.00 gas bill, a $750.00 credit card bill, a looming mortgage payment, and only $9.00 in my checking account.  God knows I've been barely making ends meet as it is.
Mom helped out and that was a blessing.  All the ladies from Eastwick came and I was happy to see them again.  Friends of Patricia’s were there as well, and she received some wonderful gifts.  I’ve seen pictures of the farm-themed nursery and it’s really adorable. 
I can’t wait to decorate a baby’s room of my own. 
I can’t wait for my real life to begin.
In-between storytelling sessions, I dart to the office and call Greta to see if there’s been any progress.  There hasn’t. 
“Mom says she’s going to have to push for a while,” Greta tells me. 
“Can you still go down tomorrow after work?” I ask her.
“Yep…we can drive together.”
She and I both want to see the baby as soon as possible…this newest generation of our family.
I come home around nine and, too keyed up to go to bed, watch a little television. At the end of “LA Law,” the phone rings. 
“She’s here…Elise Anne!” Mom chimes.  She gives me the details…length, weight, birth time, etc.
I ask questions about the delivery, about my new niece, about the directions to the hospital.  Mom gives me detailed instructions and reminds me not to speed, that Elise will still be there when we arrive.
I don’t sleep well that night, anticipating holding Elise in my arms.  I’ve held countless babies before, but she’s different.
Elise is ours.

The next afternoon Greta and I make the trip to Columbus in record time, arriving at the hospital around eight.  It’s after dark though, so we have a hard time finding a parking spot.  Still, we’re both giddy with expectancy.
As we hurry into Patricia’s room, I hear the tiny cooing sounds of a baby.  I didn't know newborns mewed like kittens.  We say our hellos, but Greta and I are anxious to hold our little niece.  I sit in one of the empty chairs and Mom hands her to me.
Elise’s skin is rosy.  Her eyes are cobalt blue, her little head, hairless.  Her fingernails are milky white and translucent.  As I kiss her cheek, I notice the slight blush of color.  Wrapped in a light cotton blanket, Elise wiggles and worms her feet out from their constraints.  It’s then that I notice the flex and curl of her tiny, gumdrop toes.
Instantly, I fall in love with this incredible miracle.  A piece of heaven brought down to earth.  A little angel for all of us to cherish.

***
When Elise was born and I held her for the first time, something profound shifted inside of me.  The reality of life became more primal as I cradled her in my arms.  Even though she wasn't my own daughter, I instantly loved her as if she were.
A few months later when Elise was christened, I remember lying on the pullout couch in Patricia’s basement, long after the party had ended, wondering what she would be like at three, at five, at seven, at nine, or even at nineteen.  I wondered what her personality would be like, who she would resemble, where the future would take her.
The summer after Elise's second birthday, I traveled to Columbus to visit her and do some school shopping.  While there, Patricia, Elise, and I went to a toy store and I bought a new Snow White lunch box, complete with a plastic thermos.  Elise had fun uncapping and capping the little cup, opening and closing the latch on the box.  For hours we would play tea party and pretend to eat our lunch on her bedroom floor, sharing pink-frosted animal crackers.
“These are my favorites,” I told her.  “Yum, yum, yum!”
“Aunt Tee-tee like tookies?” Elise asked. “Want more?”
I shook my head.  “I’ve had enough for now…maybe later.”  
Elise nodded and pretended to feed her doll a cup of tea.  “Later,” she murmured.
The next day, while packing to leave, I put the lunch box into my suitcase and heard something rattle.  Confused, I opened the box and saw nothing.  Then I picked up the thermos and unscrewed the lid.  As a surprise, Elise had filled it with animal crackers.
“You like ‘em?” Elise smiled in the doorway.
I gave her a big hug.  “I love ‘em…and you, too!”
“Me, too!” she beamed.
 Elise was a magical little girl who won the Tender Heart Award in preschool for always thinking of others.  When I took her on long twilight walks in my mother’s neighborhood, she loved for me to lift her up so that she could better see the moon.
“Why can I not touch it, Aunt Tee-tee?” she asked.
“It’s very far away…way too high to touch,” I replied.
When I set her down, she clutched my fingers.  “Maybe one day you and I will be bigger and we can fly up there and touch the moon.”
I smiled down at her.  “Maybe...someday.”

Whenever I think of Elise now, I remember our tea parties and our afternoons playing in the sun.  I remember the animal crackers she gave me, the cross-stitched sampler I made for her when she was born.  I remember her Lion King birthday party and the children’s book we wrote together.  I remember Elise’s liveliness and her sense of humor, her sensitivity, and her grace. 
But most of all, I remember holding Elise the day after she was born when time seemed to stop.  When the flex and curl of her little gumdrop toes, the cobalt blue of her eyes, and the softness of her rosy skin were in that moment...my whole world.