Happy Birthday to a Party Crasher

It’s the first of August. For most people it means school will begin in just a few short weeks. For our family, August 1, 1987 should have announced itself with a large banner emblazoned with the words: Buckle Up! Your heart is about to embark on the most thrill and fear-filled emotional roller coaster ride of your life! It’s Ellen’s Birthday!

Ellen was the baby we waited for the longest. There was a quite a stretch of years between Betsy, our oldest, and Ellen. When Betsy was two and a half, I made the very difficult decision to attend nursing school. It was a total commitment to 12 straight months of full days, five days a week. Time not spent studying included laundering and ironing uniforms, putting a spit shine on white shoes, meal planning for the week, and packing lunches. I was used to being able to let the day unfold, playing with Betsy, going for walks, visiting the library, reading stories . . . my stay at home mom schedule. Every night I almost cried, well some nights I did cry, thinking about the early morning routine of dropping a sleepy little girl off at a friend’s and heading for school. It took a lot of hard work, newly developed self-discipline and Tim’s unwavering support to get me through. 

My interest in obstetrics was the reason I wanted to become an LPN, however, just as my class was about to graduate, area hospitals implemented an initiative to eliminate LPNs in labor and delivery. I was truly crushed. I accepted a third shift job on the med-surg floor and although I did my very best, with few and far between shifts in OB, my heart ached that I couldn’t work in the area of nursing that I felt so passionately about. Somewhere between earning my cap and the pinning ceremony, Tim and I realized we were ready for another baby. Making that decision and having it unfold as we planned just didn’t happen.

I found another job a little closer to home with a more family friendly schedule. I picked up my work with HOPE – Helping Other Parents Experiencing Grief – having been offered the job of coordinator of the program. It was a good fit. All the while, month after month, no signs of a baby on the way.

Eventually, I was put on a fertility drug that, among other passion dashing tasks, included the fun job of basal temp charting. Eventually, we got pregnant, but it ended in a very early miscarriage. I was crushed emotionally in way that only a woman who can’t get pregnant when she wants to can understand.

Since Ellen is here, it’s obvious that after almost three years of infertility, we had our baby. The pregnancy was fairly uneventful, excepting her arrival time. She was over two weeks late. We were in the midst of a sidewalk sizzling heat wave and our old house only had AC in the bedrooms. I literally thought my abdomen was going to split like an overripe melon. I was miserable. July 31 was my birthday and Tim took my pouting, wretched self out to dinner with friends, saying that I was going to have a good time on my birthday no matter what. And I did! I laughed, enjoyed the restaurant’s air conditioning, ate a lot, followed it up with cake and ice cream . . . and of course . . . we all know how it turned out. Later in the evening, a weird wave of nausea washed over me and promptly dissipated. Then it happened again, quite different than when Betsy was born. But, it turned out pretty much the same. Labor, waiting, working hard. She was finally born, a little bigger than her sister at 8 pounds, 5 ounces, and so blonde!

We didn’t know it, but she was going to face a couple of real challenges before her umbilical cord dried, and even bigger ones before she was three. But, she recovered well from her early illnesses and we had on our hands the complete and ornery opposite of her older sister. We all just sat back and watched with a combination of astonishment, amusement and trepidation, because we just never knew when and what kind of trouble she would foment. We constantly felt like the beleaguered Mr. Wilson of “Dennis the Menace” fame. I was a pill as a kid, but my childhood antics didn’t begin measure up to the things Ellen managed to get into. 

So, now, today, she is turning 30, actually as I write this, it's almost to the minute she was born. She has become quite a person who sparkles with personality and intelligence. Everyone knows Ellen because people rarely forget her. Green-eyed with her signature scarlet red hair, she has an awesome offbeat sense of style that is reflected in her home décor down to her pedicured toes. She is a beautiful reflection of her favorite flower, the sunflower. 

Because of her musical, mellow voice, her words lilt up and down as she speaks. She is hilarious with a knife-edged wit. Her sense of humor is comprehensive as she wends through slapstick and dips into dark sarcasm. She is an amazing mimic, from her Minnesota accent to some of the crustier characters she meets at her job. Her wheezy laugh is contagious and to laugh with her until tears pour down my cheeks and I am forced to cross my legs is one of my chief joys in life. 

Now she is a mom, too. And she really needs that sense of humor of hers most days, as Ellen and Jared also have a little pill on their hands - Teddy. Being a first time mom is a huge task, full of triumphs and milestones and pocked with mistakes and missteps. There is no set course to parenting a child. There is no GPS (Grandparent Policy System) for us either – we are all new at this job! Ellen sometimes listens to my endless stream of advice, sometimes not. I appreciate that she even asks my opinion, from toddler food options to binky elimination tactics – it makes me feel needed.

It feels like yesterday that she crashed my birthday party, but Ellen really is the best birthday gift ever I received. 

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