“The best thing about being nine is riding the four wheeler,” he tells me. He is eating a chocolate donut on his birthday morning. His eyes are red from swimming and a late-night bedtime wrangling. He is sitting at a quiet table with Matt and me before the others are up. He loves the four wheeler. It’s become Noah’s quickest route to escape. I think he likes the sound, and the vibrations. The get-away-from-things-ness about it. When he is upset, he tears off to the barn, jams the helmet on his head, and starts the motor. Then he circles the yard at the 6 mile an hour approved pace until he calms down.
But today, on his birthday, I can’t reach him. And we aren’t near the four wheeler. His face is blank. I am worried I have disappointed him somehow with the birthday plans I’ve articulated. He is particularly Aspergian today, and I’m desperate for reassurance, so I keep talking. A nervous habit of mine. How funny that the Lord sees my nervous habits and his neurological ones as a perfect fit for one another.
“Oh also, I like being nine because you can go places you couldn’t go when you were eight.”
“Well, sometimes you’re taller, so you can do other rides at the carnival. You can go into higher groups at camps, if there are groups.”
Where do you want to go in this, your ninth year?
“I want to see the Grand Canyon. Because I hear it’s really amazing.”
He is not looking at me. He is looking straight ahead. Like there is something beyond the kitchen that is holding his interest better than I can.
But then daddy starts talking about Noah’s ethnic heritage – Noah had asked a question of how much, by percentages he was of this or that – and his wisecracks get Noah snorting with laughter.
Noah cannot finish his chocolate donut and pushes it over to me. I am happy to oblige and eat the rest of it for him.
Where was I, nine years ago to this day?
In the maternity ward of a hospital north of Baltimore, a four and a half hour extrication marathon had just begun. At approximately 9:00 am, they told me I could start. Tidy, generalized, non-threatening language. “You can start, Sarah.” Smiley face. Pats on hand. No one anticipated it would be such a harrowing experience. They kept me in the dark. Me, half covered under a sheet, hair plastered to my head. I was too tired to listen to the whispers about “forceps” and “emergency C-section” and “shoulder dystocia” and “double nuchal cord.” Translation: “he is nearly too big to get out on his own, but we’ve committed and now he’s stuck in the birth canal, and we need a resident to lay across her stomach, and wait, now that he’s finally out, we see the cord is wrapped twice around his neck. Uh oh.” They snatched Noah from me like he was a football in a playoff game. I reached for him, but he was already under the lamp, being pushed and scrubbed and wiped. There was no crying. I was yelling at Matt, “WHY IS HE QUIET? WHY IS HE NOT CRYING?” And then suddenly he was crying. And I got him, wrapped like a baby burrito in hospital white. I sobbed for relief, and pure happiness. He was mine. Finally.
Looking back, there may have been something in the events of that day that contributed to the static encephalopathy diagnosis we would get some six years later. But I cannot – I do not – wish things would have been different. If those events made my Noah the way he is, then I offer my gratitude to the Lord for a difficult birth and all that came with it. I would take it all again a thousand-fold. I would not change his flapping, his gagging at candles and doll hair, his torture of his siblings. (Wait. I take that last part back. I would change that very, very much.) I would not change his squinty faced tic, his mile-wide grin and the way that I know that when the house is loud, I will most likely find him hiding from the cacophony in a corner of his bedroom. I would even keep his stinky little boy (medium boy? Pubescent boy?) aroma. He is the alchemy of wisdom and innocence, grass stains and ice cream, duckweed on his neck when he gets into the pond, and the thick animal pelt of hair on his head that is never free of sweat.
He is pure magic, this birthday boy. The parts we wished for – and those we never even knew we wanted.