Hey awesome readers: My friend who has taken me under his wing and is helping me with my book gave me some homework last fall. He said, "You've written stories about all of your kids and their birth stories..except for your youngest, William. You need to write one for him." Now, this was a few months ago, and I can't tell you how many times I've hunkered down in front of the laptop and started a "Happy Birthday William" post..only to either give up in blocked frustration or to be distracted by something shiny or a t.v. show. Today, I forced myself to do it, in between episodes of Castle (damn you, Nathan Fillion). Here's what I came up with. I'm PMSing, and I have a thing for Nathan Fillion, so I caught myself getting weepy. Let me know what you think. P.S. William's real birthday is in May. So you'll see this again.
To some extent, I blame Ben Affleck.
You see, back in the late 90's, I had what some people call "a little crush" on Mr. Affleck. Of course, those in the legal profession sometimes call it "stalker-like" and "obsessive", but for this story we're gonna stick with crush.
So I was into Affleck. He just so happened to be in a little movie called "Shakespeare in Love" which came out on DVD in the summer of 1999. This was around the time that I was feeling that little itch. No, it wasn't chlamydia, it was that "oooh I think I'd like another baby" itch. There is no antibiotic for that.
We got the three kids to bed one hot August night (Charlie was 5, Molly was 3 1/2 and Henry was almost 2, so you know bedtime was a freaking blast, right?), opened a bottle of wine and sat down to watch some sexy Shakespeare.
When it was over, the bottle of wine was empty and the small cluster of dividing cells that would become my fourth child was implanting itself in my gently used baby oven. Because wine + sleeping kids + Affleck speaking all Shakespeary = baby making math.
This wasn't a spur of the moment thing. I'd been thinking about having another baby, in the 2 or 3 minutes of clear thought time I had every day. I'd felt the same thing after each of the kids were born: I wasn't done...my set wasn't complete. There was a piece missing. I remember bringing it up to Big Daddy and he did his shrug thing he always did, saying, "I don't care. If you want another one I guess it's okay." I know, right? WHY DIDN'T I HAVE 12 KIDS WITH HIM?
Probably not the best time to procreate, now that I look back on it. This was smack dab in the middle of Big Daddy's Willy Loman career phase. He had decided to take a stab at being a financial adviser. A financial adviser who was paid commission-only. It was, without a doubt, the most stressful phase of our marriage (good thing I had no idea how much more stressful it was eventually going to become). We had to beg my dad to pay the mortgage, we charged groceries on a handful of credit cards...so yeah, why not make another mouth to feed?
Things began turning around shortly before William was born: Big Daddy decided that the financial advising field wasn't awesome and thanks to a friend-of-a-friend, he landed a fabulous job with an equally fabulous salary. I sometimes look back on this short chapter of our marriage, and wonder if that's when things started falling apart. Big Daddy needed a cheerleader at that time, a supportive spouse. I wasn't either one of those things. I was pregnant, with three little kids. I was out waddling into garage sales every weekend, trying to find things that I could sell to Once Upon A Child for a little extra cash. I can still remember, as if it just happened last night, the humiliating experience of a credit card being declined and having to leave a full cart of much needed groceries at the register while I high-tailed it out of the store before anyone could see the tears. I didn't understand why this was happening...I didn't know anything about the whole male pride thing and how you're supposed to believe in your husband even when he made really stupid decisions. And yes, I'm painfully aware of the fact that I made a few not-so-bright choices, too.
Sadly, there's nothing that can be done about the past..so we file these things under "Lessons Learned" and get on with it, right? Right. Now back to my boy William:
We decided that with this baby, the gender would remain a secret...to us, and to everyone else. This leads me to wax on for a moment about what is my biggest regret regarding my pregnancies: I wish I hadn't know any of their genders before they were born. The beauty of the unknown made this, my last pregnancy, the most magical. Despite the uneven keel of our lives at the time, when I went to bed at night I'd cradle my belly and tried to imagine what this little mystery was going to look like. I tossed about names all the live-long day: We liked Julia and Lucy and Grace and Jane for a girl, for a boy I thought about Walter (yes, yes I did. It was shot down though..go figure). We liked Philip and George. Mitchell was a front-runner for a while. And then one night, while I stood in front of a shelf of movies at the video store, my eyes stopped at Shakespeare In Love and I knew that if this baby was a boy, his name was going to be William.
William was, and still is, my most "serious" child. He was born with a worried look on his face, and I always felt bad for allowing him to gestate in what must have been anxiety-ridden waters. As far as babies go, he was an awful lot like his older brother Charlie was as an infant: he cried. A lot. My former BFF, Big Red, had her fourth child just six weeks after William was born, and of course she was an angel baby. I recall going to PTA meetings with our babies in tow, and how hard it was to focus on what was being said because I was silently counting the seconds until William's eyes would open and the screaming would begin.
But it wasn't so bad...after all, this was my fourth kid. I was no rookie. I became an expert baby-wearer, and had that kid strapped to me for most of his first year of life. You haven't lived until you've perched upon a toilet while wearing a Baby Bjorn filled with baby.
William mellowed out after a while, and his soft-spoken, serious personality began to emerge. Not to say that life with him was always quiet: He was my first child to break a bone (playing horsey on the back of the couch when he was two), he has a nice Harry Potter scar on his forehead from the stitches he got after cracking his head open on a wall (yes, a wall. Long story.), and he's the child who got to meet the nice paramedics after mommy called 911 to report that her curious toddler swallowed a coin while she was changing his diaper (he turned blue but it went down sometime after my shrieking phone call).
William was only four years old when his father left us for the first time. His memories of our family, the one that is no longer, are few and according to him, very fuzzy. I used to console myself with the thought that he made it through this mess with the fewest scars, due to his age. But lately, I've begun worrying that he does have scars, they've just taken longer to show themselves. I see him struggling with his feelings, see him mentally wrestle over things that have to do with Dad and Mom and the brokenness. He was the littlest victim of our divorce, the smallest and quietest member of our clan. It fills me with fresh anger and grief when I think of the normalcy he missed out on, how he only had four real Christmases with all of his relatives together, how he loved to have me push him on the swingset in the backyard of our old, lost house.
Then, I'll watch him saunter up to home plate during baseball season, how calm he is and how confidently he swings his bat. I'll remember our seemingly endless conversations we have, just me and him, where we talk about whatever is going on in our worlds. There are tiny moments during his hockey games, where he'll look up from the ice and find me in the stands..our eyes will lock and I'll see his smile.
My sweet William. I see him smile and I know he's all right.
Happy Birthday to you, my serious fourth child. You completed my set.