Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Not Born on the Fourth of July, 1976.

Fittingly, moments after turning 30, Benjamin thought back over the story of his own birth.

(Well, um, Benjamin actually thought over his mother's version of the story, told to him several times throughout his childhood. His father respectfully disagreed with this version, which is one of the many reasons why his parents are now divorced.)

"You were due on July 4, my perfect Bicentennial baby," his mother would narrate. "But, at the end of May or beginning of June, I had these contractions and told your dad that I was in labor. So he freaked out, put me in the Firebird and sped me to the hospital, and we got there and waited and waited and waited. For hours. But you never came, and the contractions never got any worse. And eventually, the doctor came to see us, and he told me that it was too early for me to be in labor."

"Way too early," Benjamin's father would interrupt if he were there to hear her tell this story. But she would ignore him and continue her version.

"Anyway, the doctor said that false labor was common, particularly with first-time mothers, and we shouldn't just head to the hospital every time I felt a little pain," she said sweetly to her boy. "He called it 'a little pain.' That's a typical male chauvinist response, son. When you get older, you should never say anything like that to your wife."

After the dramatic pause for his father's scoffing ended, Benjamin's mother told the story of his actual labor.

"So about three weeks after the first trip to the hospital, I start feeling these contractions again, and they keep coming and coming," his mother said. "So, of course, I told your father that I thought we needed to go to the hospital."

At this point in the story, she would glare at Benjamin's father.

"And you know what your father did, Benjie?" his mom asked.

No matter how often he heard this story, Benjamin never dared answer this question, for it was the best part of the whole story.

"Unlike most men willing to listen to their wives and eager to see their firstborn son for the first time, your father told me that I was just having another false labor, that it was still too soon!" she said dramatically. "Then you know what he did, Benjie??? You know what he did while I was in horrible, horrible pain???"

Benjamin often knew the answer to this one but didn't dare interrupt his mother as she mustered indignance.


At this, Benjamin's father would usually mutter under his breath, "Well, the baby didn't come for eight hours. I had time."

"When I FINALLY got your father to come back into the house and convinced him that I was serious, we went to the hospital in Marietta," Benjamin's mother continued. "And, as soon as we got there, your father started to fill out the paperwork, while I had to go to the bathroom. So, ever the genius, he told me to go ahead and kept filling out forms."

At this, Benjamin's father would start telling the story.

"So I'm filling out forms when the orderly and nurse come rushing up to me with this wheelchair, asking me in this frenzy where my wife was," his dad said. "So I told them she went to the bathroom. AND THEIR EYES GOT HUGE!"

And his mother resumed telling the story from there.

"And this shocked nurse comes running into the bathroom to get me, telling me that I'm not allowed to go. I end up in this wheelchair while people are yelling these questions at me about my water breaking," his mother said.

* * * * * * *

The baby wasn't born perfect.

The remainder of this story, surrounded in some family legend at this point, is unusual. Benjamin, two weeks' premature and underweight at 4 pounds and 11 ounces, was taken from his mother before she got to look at him. He was immediately placed in an incubator. He wasn't expected to live. The soft spot on his head was severe, for touching the baby on the head for just a moment would result in a handprint lingering for a moment on his. The baby bumped his head on his mom's thigh bone on the way out of the birth canal, which caused a birthmark on his forehead. (Originally, his mother told him that the birthmark was caused by Benjamin's giant brain, but his father eventually told her to stop saying that to the child.) Photos suggest that Baby Benjamin's left arm was shorter than an adult index finger.

Over the next couple days, Benjamin's mother was told that it would be a miracle if her newborn son survived at all. She was told that, if the baby lived, he would suffer from severe disabilities and mental retardation, his quality-of-life non-existent. They gave her little hope.

She thought her son was special. She took Benjamin home when they let her, cuddled and sang to him. She took him to the Methodist Church and had him baptized. Members of the congregation liked to hold him, for he smiled a lot.

And, on a random day some months after he was born, while his mother was singing "Old McDonald Had a Farm" to him, Benjamin sang "Ee-I-Ee-I-O" back to her.

If you ask her, Benjamin's mother will tell you that her baby sang it perfectly. (Of course, before having the baby in 1976, she was a music teacher, so this was a point of pride for her.) She sang him a verse, and he sang the vowels back in perfect pitch. She did it again, and he did it again.

And if she had to pinpoint it, that was the moment she most believed in miracles.

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