Friday, March 05, 2004

Five years ago today I was getting ready for my opening night (and my big-theater choreography debut) in a huge song-and-dance extravaganza in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. My last grandparent (my dad’s mom) had died just over a month earlier, and I was a month away from becoming an uncle for the first time -- in plenty of time for me to finish the run of the show and drive 12 hours to be there for the next momentous event in our family’s circle of life.

My sister and her husband had finally overcome some stubborn fertility issues and gotten pregnant eight months earlier, and my little fetus of a nephew had already given us a good Trisomy 18 false-alarm scare, but everything was OK and looking great for an early April birth.

But these rotten kids have a way of disrupting your lives even before they’re born.

The nephew decided to make his appearance a whole month early -- after a routine checkup revealed that my sister was a few quarts low on amniotic fluid and had to have a Caesarean section right now. And that was just the beginning of our family’s birthing adventure.

My sister had been living alone and pregnant in Detroit since January, finishing up as much of her teaching contract as she could while her husband started their new life (and his new job) in Cincinnati. When we learned the nephew was coming early, Mom, Dad and Steve all made beelines for Detroit from their respective locations in Iowa and Ohio. And I bought a last-minute full-fare ticket and flew to Detroit (first class, which was kind of a disappointment) immediately after our opening-weekend Sunday matinee. But the fun didn’t stop there. The nephew arrived four days before the sister and her husband were scheduled to close on their house and actually move. So my little sister, the first-time mother recovering from the pains of invasive surgery, brought her new baby home the day the packers arrived to cram her entire house into boxes. The next day, the movers arrived to cram her boxed-up house into a truck. So our newly expanded family holed up in a back bedroom trying to keep the new baby warm and Loki, the emotionally overwhelmed cat, from bolting out the front door.

The plan that day was to caravan to Cincinnati around 5:00 pm, just as soon as we finished up the final inspection and the closing on the house. But once again, that would have been too easy. A freak snowstorm, which had hit Cedar Rapids soon after my plane left the ground, followed me east, arriving in Detroit a few hours before the abovementioned closing. So newly homeless, we headed to the nearest Holiday Inn where the entire family (including a baby, a new mommy and a thoroughly confused cat) could bond over pizza, shared exhaustion and The Weather Channel. Thankfully, our trip to Cincinnati the next morning was both sunny and uneventful – though the cat escaped from its crate and spent the trip exploring the constantly shifting contents of the boxes in my folks’ minivan.

Anyway, we survived, and the nephew has been an endless source of amazement and amusement ever since. I’ve never felt a love as strong and pure and achingly beautiful as the love I feel for our little guy. A lifelong stoic, I now tear up at the slightest emotional provocation -- like watching him sleep or hearing his little voice on the phone or seeing him play patiently with his younger sister ... or even encountering a parent and a young child together here in Chicago. And I now totally understand what I used to see as the annoying way my parents have always doted over me -- bringing me food when I wasn’t hungry and blankets when I wasn’t cold and constantly pestering me with questions and finding other ways to keep being involved in my life. The nephew is surrounded by so much love that it’s almost heartbreaking, and he doesn’t even realize it. Lucky little kid.

So happy fifth birthday, little buddy. And thanks for changing our lives so completely. I’ll see you tomorrow night -- and I can’t wait!

Uncle Jake