I first spotted Max lying in an incubator in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit of the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. He weighed less than three pounds, was bald and slightly jaundiced, but he was the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen — and my first grandchild.
That was 14 years ago this week and that tiny preemie is now a freckle-faced red head doing weight training for lacrosse who also happens to play a mean sax in the school band when he’s not building a motorized something-or-other in Lego Robotics Club or earning yet another Boy Scout badge.
Like most grandparents, I’m astounded he’s now 14 years old. Just yesterday I was pulling him in a wagon down Oak Street to Mother’s Beach, then watching him make drizzle castles in the sand. I cheered his first soccer goal, gasped with pretend fear at his scary Darth Vader Halloween costume and knitted a “requested” navy blue sweater with a hood (“Cool, Grandma,”).
One warm September afternoon not so long ago, I stood at the end of a paved driveway with his mom when he leapt off the school bus, grinning from ear to ear, after his first day in kindergarten. Only a year and a half ago, I felt salty tears well listening to him sing “I Think I’ve Found a Friend” for his Grandpa Bob’s musical ebook, “Murfy Finds A Home.” This week when we spoke on his 14th birthday, that sweet voice had dropped an octave or two.
Because of Max, I’ve always especially enjoyed the first week in April. It’s Spring, a season of renewal when everything comes to life again, and a reminder that a beloved premature infant beat the odds.
Two days after Max’s birthday, however, April showers pelted our home. I woke up at 3 a.m. and realized something was wrong with my husband. Bob was dizzy, he had double vision and his arm was slightly numb. We talked, I posed several questions, and then agreed it was probably just middle of the night old-age fogginess. (That was not smart.)
When we awoke several hours later, we both recognized something was definitely wrong. I drove him to the Martin Memorial ER, with a strangle-hold on the steering wheel, both of us speechless during the seemingly-endless ride. (We should have called 911.)
Over the next several hours and after a slew of tests, it became evident my Mr. Wonderful had suffered a stroke. Fortunately not a debilitating one, luckily he has no lasting physical issues, happily he is walking and talking with ease and assurance, but a stroke nonetheless and a reminder that, just like Max, we too are growing older.
And as we grow older, bad stuff can happen. We have dear friends and relatives suffering with cancer, fighting the good fight but not always able to beat it. We watch others cope with their partner’s memory issues or physical disabilities brought on by crippling arthritis. We’ve attended too many funerals. But that is life, especially life in our 70s decade.
April showers be damned! We can’t put up a permanent umbrella but we will embrace the life we have, infirmities et al. We will look forward to celebrating Max’s April birthdays in the years ahead. It’s the only choice we have and we welcome it.