You were the “presenting baby.” That’s what they told us about my “Baby A” during a scheduled ultrasound. I imagined you emerging with a glossy satin ribbon, my little naked present. You were always awake during those routine visits. “The wild child” I called you as you waved and kicked on camera. And we giggled like new parents. “Did it just smile?” Um, no, that’s its abdomen you’re looking at there. “Oh. Well, still, it’s just like I am,” I insisted. You, my first-born son, fought your way out and insisted on presenting yourself to the world before it was ready for you. And I can already tell, you’re just like I am.
Once you were out, beneath bili lights, tanning your sweet self, you turned beet red. Sunburn, I joked for a moment trying to bring levity to the situation. “An abundance of red blood cells,” the nurses corrected. And I came closer, taking small steps toward you, frightened I might hurt you. I felt your hot back and began to tremble with you. You cry like a small lamb. I held my breath. “You get angry,” I whispered into your red swollen face, choking down my own sobs along with your cries. “And you fight, and get pissed off. And enter the red zone. Just stay.” Then I cried, heaving tears, summoning my grandfather Popoo for his spirit and energy. “Please, make sure he has our spunk,” I said aloud. And you calmed down. You are my spunky spirited son, and I love you deeply and won’t ever try to stifle you.
Yours is the first photograph I have as a mother. Jenny, the nurse who stayed with me when you were born, took a Polaroid of us, and it is my most favorite photo. Other people coo over your small fingers wrapped around mine, but the Polaroid is my favorite. It will allays remind me how damn joyous I was the moment the doctor pulled you from me. A son. I know you will be my friend, that we’ll share the same sense of humor, that we’ll roll our eyes at the rest of our family, together. A mother knows these things, this mother does. They pulled you away after you were born, but I held onto our photo all night and traced your body with my finger. “I have a son, a small perfect son.” And I love you so big.
Lucas Beckett, I’m sorry I named you after a girl, but she was extraordinary, just as you’ll be. Just as you are. You are named after your great grandmother Beatrice, whose engagement ring I wear and polish often. I caught you staring at it the other day. Your eyes got really big, and I looked at it with you. “No kidding,” I said, “All she wanted in life was a mink coat, a Cadillac, and a diamond walnut.” And if she were alive, she’d live for you, her great grandson. I wish she were here to meet you. I talk to her sometimes, at times like these, when I need strength or reassurance that everything will be okay. It’s comforting that you’re named after her; it will keep you brave and strong.
If you were born a girl, there’d be way too much fighting in the house, over clothes and makeup and the bathroom. I understand that you might grow to want to destroy things and pee in my garden plants. And you know what? That’s just fine by me because you’re here, and your mine. And I suspect you’ll be mischievous which will make me angry and make me laugh. And I’ll threaten to hit you with a wooden spoon from the kitchen, but I won’t, and the two of us will laugh at me for even suggesting it. Then I’ll make us rice pudding.
If you had been a girl, you’d have been named Gabrielle or Gabriella. At first your father found the name off-putting because of the “Gabe” in my book. “Hello, that wasn’t his real name,” I had to remind him. So eventually, we settled on Gabriella. But since we didn’t want an Abby and a Gabby, we’d call you Ella for short. “Lucas,” we knew, always, before coming up with any other names, would be your name. It was the only name your father and I agreed upon right from the start. It is up to you if you want to be a Luke, but as your mother, you’ll always be my Lucas. Though sometimes I might call you Linus by mistake.
I’ve never been around small boys, so a few days after you were born, I insisted on changing your diaper. I had to come face to face with your parts, particularly your male parts. It’s kind of strange being your mother and not seeing your penis yet. So I’ve seen it, once, and I imagine I’ll see quite a bit more of it. And I apologize in advance for the circumcision you have coming. But I’ll buy you nice clothes–boy clothes, without ruffles, I promise—and I’ll teach you to draw, and your primary and complementary colors, and to harmonize. I’ll show you how to blow bubbles out of your nose when you’re swimming, how to render bacon, all the names of the different muppets, where Orion is and how to find the Big Dipper. You’ll learn all the uses for Morton’s salt, how to make a buttered raisin rum sauce for bread pudding, how to trace your hand and read your own palm. We’ll play Scrabble and I’ll be the one to help you with your math homework. I will teach you to drive but not to parallel park. No, forget this. Your father will teach you to drive, and according to him, I’ll be the one to teach you all about sex and vaginas and boobies. But I’ll do it in private, not over a steak dinner at Scotch & Sirloin as my parents did. My mother will have to teach you how to skip stones. She grew up in the boonies and knows things like that. Someone else will have to teach you how to balance a checkbook, do manual labor, and pee standing up. But I’ll show you how to ride a wave, stick a firefly to your forehead, and all the words to the song “Lola.” I’ll teach you to not be a momma’s boy, and I promise I’ll always know you love me, especially when you find someone special to love.
I won’t teach you to throw—that’s a big favor, believe me. But I’ll teach you to dance, despite having no rhythm. Actually, we’ll have Auntie Lea teach you to dance, or your first cousin once removed, Nicholas. Your father dances like your mother, I’m afraid. He’ll make up for it though, in so many ways. He’s a wonderful nurturing man, and he surprises me every day in the ways he teaches me about life and love and myself. I love that you’re part of this family of ours, and I can’t wait to see this world through your eyes, to learn from you, to watch you grow and change. To hear your lamb cries turn into a laugh that sounds like little golden bells.
Today you were bottle-fed. Yeah, you didn’t like that so much. You devoured it, then spit it up. I’m learning your little “stop” signs, when you raise your sprawled fingers near your face, letting me know you’ve had enough. I’ll learn the way you breathe, when you need a rest, and the ways you like to be positioned. As small as you are, I’m not afraid of you anymore. You’re my sweet bean, and you and I are going to do just fine together. I love you so much, already, the way we have our nuzzles, and the way you cry and hiccup. But you quiet down each time I put my face against yours. And even if it’s only hot gas, you’ve got a killer smile, and I suspect you’ll know exactly when to unleash it, my son.
* In this photo, the moment you were born, you weighed in at 2 lbs. 11 oz. "But they always lose weight after they’re born," they warned me. You now weigh 3 lbs. 15 oz. and today you’re coming out of your isolette and being co-bed with your sister. It’s just a matter of weeks before you’re home. The way it works with preemies is you start off with tubes and monitors, given sodium and caffeine, and then you’re slowly stripped from these things. Right now you’re off the caffeine, though damn, it’s all I want. You breast feed best in the football position, though sometimes it doesn’t work, and then I get frustrated and want to hit someone. A lactation consultant came by and without warning GRABBED HOLD AND SQUEEZED, PINCHING VIOLENTLY at my nipple, making a bead of milk appear. I wanted TO PUNCH HER IN THE HEAD, but you grabbed on and sucked for twenty minutes. "This is so wonderful," I said to her, and she shook her head in agreement, as if it gave her permission to raid me.