I realize I've written very little about my middle guy, Mayhem. (So I'm going to make up for that by writing, like, the world's longest post.) To tell you a little bit about Mayhem, I should start out by saying he is SUCH my middle child. You know how astrological people say things like they're a double Virgo with the Big Dipper rising or some such? Well Mayhem is my double middle child with a giggle rising. He is the second of the three I gave birth to and in our blended family, he's the pivotal third of five. And he's usually about this close to a giggle or outright belly laugh.
He's cute, isn't he? He's the one who loves swords. And axes. And wants to grow up to be a dwarf. He's created enough D & D characters to populate the China of the D & D universe. I love him dearly. He is sweet and funny and easy going and smart. He is the one who coined our favorite family phrase by describing a kid at school as a "pain in the potatoes".
I've learned deep and powerful mommy (and life) lessons from being Mayhem's mama. You see, he's my 'special' kid. When he was born, he was a meconium baby so there were about 50 people in the delivery room all whispering in code and fiddling loudly with medical equipment behind a big, billowing curtain. (My OB literally said the phrase, "Ignore the people behind the curtain." Hello Wizard of Oz!) My OB told me he wanted the birth to go slowly. He told me he didn't want my baby to breathe and that my baby would be blue. (Umm, scary! Go slowly? "Push half way then stop"?!!! Are you crazy? I've done this pushing thing before and I don't know if Mother Nature remembered to give me a "stop" button! And I, for one, am all about my baby breathing! Whaddya mean he'll be blue? As in BLUE? Like Cookie Monster?!)
My sweet boy was so quintessentially himself at the moment of birth that it still cracks me up to think about it. First, he peed on the OB. Swish, swish, swish. Not normally a polite thing to do, but excusable in a wee one (<--ha ha ha). My boy got style points because he made a perfect letter "Z" on Dr. Zimmerman's scrubs. His Zorro move would have gotten more attention if it hadn't been for the second thing he did. The second thing Mayhem did in life was to do what they didn't want him to do. He took a great big breath and cried and refused to be completely blue, which was startling but ultimately not a problem at all. In fact, what the doctor wanted and expected of my child all turned out to be beside the point. But I wasn't wise enough to know it at that moment. WHISK! My baby was gone - disappeared behind the blue curtain. My husband was torn - stay with me, go see baby, hold my hand, hold his son's hand. I sent him to go see baby and to slide that pesky curtain out of the way so I could see too! The techs were calling out good news (the need for code apparently over). No aspiration, lungs clear, good appearance, healthy boy! My heart was singing. When can I hold him? My husband snuck kisses and touches in to our baby between the techs' ministrations and then came back over to me. He knelt down beside me and looked me in the eyes. Then he took my hand (the one with the IV in it - and he gripped it hard) and he said, "Baby Mayhem is fine except....." He SWEARS he didn't pause, but I think he waited a month to finish his sentence. I noticed everything about that moment. I remember the smell of all those powdery gloves. I remember the beeps and hisses of the machines and the echo-y-ness of the cold/warm clean room. I remember the carefully neutral look on my husband's face. There was enough time in that pause for my mind to come up with 192 things that could be wrong with my baby (all of them from that forbidden last section of What To Expect When You're Expecting that you can't help reading even though you read it with one eye squinting shut like THAT'S going to magically keep all those possiblities from happening) before my husband said, "he only has three fingers on one hand." Even though that possibility wasn't even MENTIONED in WTEWYE, my brain somehow came up with questions quickly and calmly. "Which hand? Which finger is he missing? Oh no, is he missing a thumb too?"
My OB's head popped up. (He'd been effeciently sewing and doing all that other stuff OB's do to you while you're usually too wrapped up in your baby to notice. He sat straight up and his eyes BLINKED and there was silence for a moment. I must have had seen waaay too many muppet movies during that pregnancy because I swear Dr. Z looked EXACTLY like Animal in that scene where they say, "Not Eat drums. BEAT drums." Blink, blink. Pause with WIDE OPEN EYES.)
I guess doctors are supposed to be the ones to discover that kind of thing and break it to you gently. But baby fingers curl up and all those techs were busy sucking stray, tarry black poop atoms out of my infant's lungs. All my husband could reach and hold was our baby's hands. And it turned out that one of these things was not like the other. OB and New Dad rushed over (both probably hoping New Dad had been mistaken) and there was a veritable gaggle of people way over on the other side of the room. And then there was me on this side of the room. Alone. Alone and trying not to wonder if Dr. Z had left a needle and thread dangling from my nether regions brightly lit by that hot spotlight they focus between your legs when you deliver a baby. Alone and trying not to wonder if there was anything else wrong with my baby that they hadn't discovered yet (or WOSRE had discovered and just hadn't told ME about yet). Alone and trying not to wonder if I'd be able to be a good mom to a baby that was different. Alone and trying not to wonder if I'd be able to love this baby as much as I loved the two-year old son I already had. But I'd been trying not to wonder that one for months so that one was easier to squash there in the delivery room with so many NEW things to try not to wonder about.
I got fed up with being alone with all that not wondering. I managed to get someone's attention and demanded someone bring me my baby! (Actually, I'm sure I was very polite and mousy about it. I wish I'd been all strong and dramatic. The reality is that I was tired and scared. And tired of being scared because I'd been scared for hours over something that turned out to be nothing and now here was something entirely different to be scared of and I just don't switch gears that fast, people! I probably cried and held out my empty arms until some nurse figured out what I needed most.)
Whatever the case, I FINALLY got to hold my boy. And he was perfect. Really perfect. I saw his hand and it was fine. It wasn't what I expected but he was in my arms and I knew he was ok no matter what else they discovered, no matter what else happened. And I realized I had already fallen in love. Hard. It was a done deal that I recognized in that moment. I don't know when it actually happened. But somewhere along the way I fell as deeply and suddenly in love with my second child as I had fallen with my first. But it was so different. It wasn't expansive and awakening the way that first moment of motherhood was for me. The first moments of my second motherhood were challenging and deepening. The birth of my second child deepened my connection to the world which had expanded with the birth of my first child. Becoming Mayhem's mama was like diving down deeper into the ocean without coming up for air first and realizing that I could breathe in a whole new way now and it was a good thing because the water was sooooo much deeper than I imagined it could be.
Being Mayhem's mama has taught me about living with things as they are. Aren't middle children traditionally labeled "Peacemakers"? I've learned there's an element of making peace with circumstances you can't control as well as an element of finding outright joy in situations you can't quite understand. There's nothing to be done about his left hand. It is very functional and beautifully formed. It was just formed without the littlest finger (and the musclature to support that finger). It is somewhat smaller, as is his whole arm. Nothing else was found to be 'wrong' with him (thank heavens) and none of the doctors who have seen him over the years have ever seen anything like his case. Usually "digital anomalies" happen in conjunction with other birth defects. One doctor said he thought the odds of having a baby like Mayhem were somewhere on the order of ten billion to one. It made me feel like I'd won the cosmic lottery jackpot.
Being Mayhem's mama has taught me about dealing with other people and their expectations. Right out of the gate we got the question, "Checked all his fingers and toes?" Elbow nudge and pat on the back stop mid-motion when your reply is, "Yeah funny that. Seems he's missing one." Who really thinks about how common that question is? We do now. Later, Mayhem inevitably started fending for himself. In Sunday school when Mayhem was five, a little boy said, "Somebody sure must've not liked you to cut off your finger." Mayhem firmly and pityingly replied with a snort, "EVERBODY likes me. That's my special hand. And you don't have one." I cheered silently from the sidelines. You go boy!
Being Mayhem's mama has taught me to recognize and push back at marginalizing situations. When Mayhem was six and in Kindergarten he got really squirmy and tender before the class program. I tried to talk to him but respected his quietness when he didn't want to talk. The program was cute and he was energetic and fully into it until the last number. I watched my child shrink into himself. I thought he was sick and I was half way out of my seat in the bleachers. Before I could get there, my brave Kindergartener picked his head up and pasted on a fakey smile and held up his arms. I clued into the song. It was a counting song. With hand motions. My husband clenched my arm and I dug my nails into his leg. I had loved Mayhem's teacher all year but at that moment I wanted her head on a platter. I knew this was different from the Sunday school moment. It wasn't about clueless kids and name calling. We (= the teacher and Mayhem and I) had already dealt (beautifully!) with the kids at recess saying insensitive things like "Hey your hand is like Mickey Mouse's" and we'd even dealt with a few kids saying purposefully mean things like "What are you, a mutant?" "Hey Mayhem, are you an alien?" But this was different. Mayhem's facade held until the final moment. Ten. "Just stick your hands out there, just stick your hands out there," I prayed in vain. It still makes me cry mad, sad tears to this day (five years later) to remember how he hung his head and slipped his hands behind his back. Thank God it was the last song and the parents all swarmed down to the gym floor. I scooped him up and probably hugged him too tight and kissed him too many times. I praised his singing and his remembering his line and his dancing. He gave me a weak smile and sort of clucked and said he hadn't liked the last song a lot. (I was going to wait until we were home, but since he brought it up....) I asked why he hadn't just put his hands out and had fun with the song. He looked at me like I was crazy. "Mom, it was TEN. I only have NINE." Oh we talked and talked and talked about all the ways it was okay to do things differently when you needed to. We talked about problem solving and thinking outside the box and changing the world sometimes and changing your actions sometimes when things didn't 'fit'. And then we tickled him and took him out for ice cream.
Being Mayhem's mama has taught me about finding and making new communities. The day after the program, at the post office in the tiny town we lived in at the time, we saw a man in line that was missing his two middle fingers on each hand. Mayhem looked at me and practically shouted "SIX!" before he pulled away from me and ran up to a complete stranger. I had no idea what was going on until I saw my boy hold up his hands and saw the stranger hold up his own. The stranger told us he was a professional studio musician from out of state passing through and that his hands had never kept him from doing what he loved most: making music. He rumpled Mayhem's hair and said, "Find a way, man. Don't let 'em keep you from your true self." (I, myself, think he was an angel. A scruffy, mis-shapen, smelling like smoke angel. If it had been Disney, he would have been a handsome, tidy, angel in a profession that did not require staying up all night and going to bars - but hey, it's not Disney.)
Although, speaking of Disney or Pixar or whoever they are now...being Mayhem's mama has taught me about holding on too tight and about letting go. We went to see "Finding Nemo" with all the kids (plus a friend each) on the day it came out. Yeah, I know, when you do the math, that's ten kids we took to the movies. I mentioned we're nuts, right? We do have a strategy though. We always put the kids in the row in front of us so we can thump them on the head or lean in to settle disputes about popcorn when we have to. Long about the time Nemo and his friends on screen were daring each other to touch the 'butt', Havoc turned around and waved at me with his left hand while whispering "Hey Marlin, I mean Mom, look! It's my special fin!" And he giggled like a fiend and blew me a kiss. I laughed and thumped him on the head (gently) and squeezed Sweet Hubby's hand. Yes, I'm sooooo Marlin. Aren't we all ? At least a little bit?
Lately, being Mayhem's mama has been teaching me how to deal with frustration. I'm getting practice in restraint. I'm learning how to refrain from pinching the heads off of the 11-year old's in the house. Last week, his karate instructor said, "Ok. I want you to do a leg-sweep-take-down-to-a-full-mount-then-cross-mount-to-a-pushover-armbar-NOT- a-pullover-armbar. Got it?!" Mayhem screamed "Yes Ma'am!" with all the others and then looked his grappling partner in the eye and proceeded to do exactly what the instructor had said. Perfectly. Thoroughly. In order. The first time.
This morning I said, "Mayhem, make your bed."
One instruction, three little words, forty-five minutes in which to achieve results. He even said, "Yes ma'am."
Wouldn't you want to pinch his head off too if you walked into his room and saw this?
He can be a real pain in the potatoes. (But I'm pretty glad he's my pain in the potatoes.)