Friday, November 27, 2009

Some years, Thanksgiving has a very special meaning

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  The family arrived safely; the turkey was almost perfect (I need to "tweak" the recipe - too salty); my sister only drove me half crazy; and the grandchildren had a great time searching for colorful leaves, riding a tricycle on the patio, and just being children.  My daughter actually took time to eat dinner!

For me, however, what made this Thanksgiving extra special was that we welcomed a brand new life into our extended family.  My daughter's closest friend gave birth on Wednesday night (at 11:13 p.m.) to her first child, Joel William.  Joel was just a little late in his arrival (eight days), but we'll forgive him his tardiness because he represents a joyful addition to our lives.

When I became pregnant with our second child in the 70s, Doug and I signed up for Lamaze classes.  Our first child, Matthew, was born using the Lamaze method and, since all had gone well, we decided to go that route once again.  We met a really nice couple during our series of classes, Bill and Judi, and shared notes on practicing breathing exercises, raising our almost-two-year-old sons, and life in general.  We had no idea that our lives would forever be linked - our daughters were born on the very same day in the very same hospital in the very same delivery room!  In fact, I went into labor when my husband was out of town on a business trip and Bill ended up serving as labor coach to both Judi and to me - an almost-stranger from Lamaze class!  Sara, our daughter, was born at 1:52 a.m. and Natalie Laura followed later that day around 8 a.m.  I remember hearing Natalie's first cries as I was eating my very soggy eggs.

Our families became fast friends.  Our sons met while standing tiptoe on stepstools to look through the glass window at their new baby sisters.  Judi and I spoke daily on the phone sharing the ups and downs of being young mothers with infants and toddlers -- were the toddlers gifted or just incorrigible?  How fast could we go back to work without being labeled unfit mothers?  (Remember - this was the 70s!)  We talked ourselves through childhood illnesses, the challenges of marriage, economic woes - in short, we supplied a lifeline to one another via the telephone.

We had cherished traditions.  Together, we trimmed Christmas trees and sang carols.  Together, we made latkes and lit the Channukah candles.  Judi's mom became "Grandma Esther" to my children.  We always, without fail, celebrated the girls' birthday together and and listened as Bill retold the story of the night they were born.  The girls became closer and closer friends as they grew up.

Sara and Natalie went to high school together, graduated on the same night, selected the same college, and became college roommates.  Together, we moved the girls into that tiny, tiny room at Humboldt State College and tearfully left them alone.

Shortly after they started their second year of college, Sara noticed a lump on Natalie's neck and urged her to get it checked out.  Natalie was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease; Judi and Bill brought her home for her surgery and treatment.  Part of Natalie's treatment involved removing her spleen and undergoing radiation.  In order to increase the chances that she would be able to conceive children, the surgeons somehow protected her ovaries from the dangers of radiation.

Natalie came through her treatment with flying colors; the girls completed college and both became elementary school teachers.

Sadly, shockingly, unexpectedly, we lost Bill to a massive heart attack in his mid-50s.  We hugged, we cried, we grieved.  I remember Sara asking me, "Mom, what do I say?  How do I talk to Natalie?"  Just hug her, I said.  Just tell her you love her.

Happily, the girls each met the loves of their lives.  Natalie was Sara's maid of honor in 2003 when she married Brian; Sara, at 7 months pregnant, was a beaming bridesmaid when Natalie married her Percy a few years later.

I watched Natalie lovingly hold each of Sara's three babies.  We celebrated joyfully when we learned that Natalie and Percy were going to become parents.  And, on the eve of this Thanksgiving, we welcomed Joel William into this crazy world.  I can't quite get the smile off of my face.  I can hardly wait to hold him and tell him I love him.  There are 32 years of family stories that I want to share with him!

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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