The first time I held my son, I was terrified he would break. It took the help of a nurse to collect all the wires and place him curled and snuggled into my chest. What if I accidentally pulled on a tube or did something to inadvertently hurt him? I imagined the tsk tsk sound the nurse would make as she took my tiny newborn away with a disapproving glare.
At barely three pounds, he was not the smallest baby in that high-level NICU. Born at 31 weeks he wasn’t considered particularly fragile in a world that cared for micro preemies and babies with life-threatening conditions. But compared to his full-term sister, he felt like a porcelain doll held together with school glue.
When he was a month old he ripped the feeding tube out of his nose and threw it across his tiny plastic crib. We laughed that he wanted his food the old-fashioned way. Watching your baby grow is always bittersweet, but those days in the hospital it was also the path towards home. The nurses and I would project any number of big emotions to prove what a fighter he was, how strong, how opinionated.
Rowan is three now and though he is lucky to have left prematurity in the dust, part of me still waits for the other shoe to drop — for learning delays, illnesses, or asthma flairs. I cannot directly place the blame on prematurity anymore, but it still looms large in the background of my life.
The foreground is made up of regular parenting challenges and the day-to-day life with two small children. Piles of laundry made larger by the ever-increasing clothing sizes, toothpaste splatters on the mirror, and dirty socks stuffed between cushions.
One night early this month, I was feeling beaten down by life. Rowan fights sleep and my daughter fights mornings so on weekdays my entire existence with the kids feels like swimming through angry molasses.
Lying beside Rowan as he asked for water, insisted on reading another book, and needing specific toys, I felt my blood pressure rising. His sister was waiting in the other room, just wanting a few minutes of mommy time.
“If you cannot settle down, I’m going to leave this room.”
“I want to read book!!!” he screamed while kicking me in my c-section scar.
I stood up and walked out of the room, closing the door behind me. The doorknob cover prevented him from following.
Snuggled next to his sister we listened to his anger at failing to get all that he wanted. He screamed and rattled the knob and kicked the door. Finally, as he showed no sign of letting up, and I worried he might hurt himself, I walked back to his room to check on him.
What in the world?
He had thrown the books from his tiny bookshelf and turned the whole thing over. His pillows were lying in a corner, their cases sitting limply next to them. Bins of toys were overturned. As I surveyed the disaster, he handed me his star-shaped lamp — the one that was, until moments before, screwed into the wall.
“Mommy. I need to snuggle you.”
I no longer have to worry about breaking him as he curls his long body against mine. He has been rebuilt with superglue. At that moment, I thought about the three-pound version of himself, throwing his ng tube across his bed and I laughed. That had taken so much strength and power from a baby who should not have been born yet. When I was living inside the nightmare of prematurity, I could never have imagined this three-year-old capable of destroying his entire bedroom in ten minutes.
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