The Source of Magic
She was born a yellow girl, and the doctors furrowed their brows. Before her breath had even found its way to her mother’s breast, the yellow girl was whisked away by people in green clothes who placed her on a metal table under a lamp to cook the yellow away. We stared at her as she cooked under the lamp, mostly naked, all tinyness and sudden distance and we yearned for her with wide eyes and open arms, and when the lamp did not do its job, we stared at her from behind the glass of a tiny box where she lay sleeping, splayed and exposed and bathed in the cobalt glow of blue electro-light that came not from the sun, but from the circuits of cut wires and curved lenses designed specifically to turn yellow babies back to pink. Hers was just one box among countless others in an over-lit room; a hangar for broken babies and the frightened people who were trying to love them. For days we watched her, hoping for a chance to place skin upon skin for more than 3 minutes at a time, but the yellow was persistent. For days, she sucked on tiny bottles stuck through arm-sized gaps in the glass and the green people pricked her perfect heels and thieved her brand new blood and stowed it away in tiny glass vials. The yellow did not want to leave her. And when it did leave her, it took its time; several more days in that room of lightboxes and tired people and flickering fluorescents that never clicked off, and finally a hesitant agreement by the green people to send her home with us, but only with the understanding that we take part of the hangar into our home; a space blanket with a thick tangle of cords and wires that led to a small box of circuits that weighed as much as a barrel of rain. The blanket was really just a cloth-covered piece of wired plastic that we had to tape to her baby skin, which was to remain plugged into the wall at all times and which emitted the same cobalt electro-blue light, so that when we placed her in her bassinet at night and clicked off the lights and lay in our adjacent bed, she became nothing but a glowing outline in a shady haze of blue. She was our little glowing girl. She was a beacon in the night. She began her life under the glow of electric light, kept at a distance from the arms that wanted to embrace her, facing the staggering newness of life one step removed from the people who brought her into it.
The above picture flashed across my screen saver yesterday, serving as a reminder of the disorienting particulars of our now three year old daughter’s first week or so in our lives. As I laid my eyes on my little glowing girl and her struggles with a hard labor and severe jaundice, I realized that I had never written a word about it. Not a single word. Not even in a private journal. So I sat down to write a small narrative about it before the details and emotions faded further back into the fog of memories made hazy by the quick accumulation of busy years.
But, as I wrote, I began to realize that my failure to write about my daughter’s birth was actually a small part of a larger truth. I haven’t written much at all — not in this blog, not in a journal or poetry notebook — about our daughter. She is notably absent from my writings.
I have written much, both publicly and privately, about my oldest son. I have written almost nothing about his little sister.
What’s worse is this: if I am being totally honest with myself, I will admit that there are long gaps in my daughter’s babyhood that I simply do not remember, while I can almost give a play-by play of every developmental moment in my son’s life
Son’s first word? “Duck.”
So, I quietly rearranged the guilt inside of me so that it sat at a more observable distance, and I examined the roots of it. It didn’t take long for me to figure at least some of the reasons for this seeming imbalance. Firstly, during the first 3 years of my girl’s life, I was working at home as the Artistic Director of a small theatre company. This work demanded much time and effort, and took up whatever was left of my daily attention that wasn’t being consumed by the routines of taking care of two children at home. After working from home all day while taking care of two growing children, I often had to go to rehearsals late into the night. I was exhausted and pulled in too many directions at once. It finally caught up with me. I resigned a few months ago, but … my life doesn’t feel any less busy. I cannot imagine how I managed this position in the midst of full-time parenting. This no doubt accounts for many of the gaps in my memory of my daughter’s early years. Many, but not all.
Children are a continual source of all kinds of complex magic. But when a household has multiple children, that source is not always equal. The oldest is the trailblazer; my son, four years older than his sister, has the unfair advantage of simply being the first. In everything. He is the original source of magic. Every experience he has is new. New for him as a child and new for us as parents. As he makes his way in the world, the details left in that wake of his way-making are vivid and crystallized. His little sister, four years later, simply gets to walk the path he’s already worn through the wilderness of childhood, hoping to see or do something along the way that her older brother may have missed.
In this new year I wonder how I, as a father of two remarkable children, might equalize this source of magic. Or . . . do I need to? Do my imbalanced memories mean I love my daughter any less than my son? Heavens no. But the experience of the second child is . . . different. Less defined. If she is not the trailblazer or the original source of magic … then what is her role?
As a very young child, she can hardly blaze her own path. Not yet. So much of what we do as families involve establishing habits and routines that spring from the gifts and limitations of the parents themselves, as well as the personality of the child. So for much of our daughter’s life, we are mostly going to do things they way we learned to do them when our son was doing them for the first time. She is going to be expected to walk at least some of the path that was blazed by the one who came before her.
Here is my resolution. I must remain aware of the fact that my daughter has her own narrative, and while there are similarities between her and her brother’s stories, she is at the forefront of her own. The path she walks may be worn, but I must give her space and courage to stray from that path, and to acknowledge the magic when she does . . . and to find some way to hold onto it.