she’s here: a falling-in-love story
i oughtn’t say a word today: just let you drink her in, gulp after gulp; she’s more than plenty, really.
behold those long, long fingers. check out the little feets. and what of the face so round? and the perfect pink of her complexion? i’m certain she feels like velvet, rare and pricey, the finest bolt there ever was; a creamy smooth you’d not forget.
alas, i’m too far away to let her wrap my finger tight, not just yet anyway. and i ache to kiss those lips. and press her to my heart. so while i wait to flap my wings, and swoop down beside her, i’ll just ramble on a while, tell the story of the girl who came at last.
this is ella’s story, a falling-in-love story. the first of oh-so-many.
* * *
what you need to know, my little love, is i’ve been waiting for you for a very, very long time.
hmm. let’s see. maybe half a century.
and, mind you, i’m that plus two. what i’m thinking, though, is it must have been right around when i was two, maybe before, when i started to wish for a little girl all my own. or even one that i could share.
i was, i am told, a girly-girl from the get-go. i know i carried a purse wherever i went. even into a lake, once. and, always, i clutched a dolly. wrapped her in a blanket, never forgot to feed her from the wee plastic bottle, one with make-believe milk sloshing around inside. dunked her right in the sink, too, whenever she needed it, scrubbed her itsy-bitsy plastic toes.
i was, am, ever will be, a dolly girl.
there are girls who like trucks. and mud. and high-hoppin’ frogs.
and there are dolly girls.
i like mud, all right. and don’t squirm (not too much, anyway) when i pick up a frog. or even a worm.
but give me a baby, put me within yards of a baby, and i, like the mud, get mushy. all oozy-goozy mushy.
i imagine, even though i cannot recall, that growing up i made my babies be the girl kind. all around me, you see, were the boy kinds. one after the other, except for me, my mama kept poppin’ out boys. four in all. your papa is one of them. no. 3 of them, as a matter of fact.
oh, i liked them just fine. climbed trees with them. stayed up late in the night listening to ballgames, there in the dark, curled on the edge of one of their beds, the score and the crowds squawking from the radio.
on occasion, we rescued each other from peas we couldn’t bear to swallow, or tuna casserole. we giggled clear across the country, more than once, stuffed back in the back of the station wagon, bumping all the way. especially across indiana, the state that would never end.
but, oh, how i longed for a girl. ached, even.
at last, when i was 11, and one final time my mama went off to the hospital deep in the night, i lay there holding my breath. i was sure this round my prayer of prayers would be answered, and i’d at last have my very own girl.
i still remember my papa tiptoeing to my bedroom door that early dawn in the winter of 1968. the only one in the house yet awake, i’d been listening for his footsteps, awaiting the good news.
“you have a baby brother,” he told me, beaming, ruffling my hair. i tried hard not to cry, not to let on that, somehow, that wasn’t the something i’d been telling my guardian angel i wanted, the baby sister i swore was due me.
and then i grew up. got told myself, five times, that i was having a baby. once, it was a girl. but she didn’t live to be big enough, and i only held her one time, before we buried her, right atop my papa’s chest in a cemetery where neither one, now, is alone.
i have two boys. and with all my heart i love them. even though, alas and indeed, they’re not girls.
i wasn’t too deterred. bought a dollhouse anyway. collected tea sets. rolled out cookie dough. taught them all the things that make for tender hearts.
but i’ve not had a girl to dress in ruffly underpants. not had a girl to shower in dollies. nor even to plan elaborate teas. (don’t know if anyone’s tried, but a teaparty with boys is mostly about spilling the tea, and gobbling teeny cakes fast as you can, and then, poof, it’s over, and you’re left alone to sop up the mess.)
and, so, when months ago, word came that this blessed child (yup, that would be you) was–at long last–a she who was on her way, well, i was beside myself, tickled pink as pink could be.
so many picture frames clicked in my head: the hand i would hold as we walked through an orchard, the pies we might bake, the frilly skirts i would buy. and the overalls. the baby dolls i’d wrap and send you for christmas–or just because it was, oh, a monday.
utter truth be told, and of course i swear i know this: in a million different ways, it makes no difference that you are a she. not really, anyway. not at all.
you see, long, long ago, your papa and i made a promise, launched a kite of a dream: we would be for each other’s children, every thing we could ever imagine–and then some. we’d hoped to raise you all side-by-side, in a yard with trees without end.
life, though, rewrote passages of that plot.
my babies came first, by years and years.
but, boy oh boy, your papa’s kept up his end of the promise. quite beyond description: he’s built hot-air balloons with my firstborn, trekked to his second-grade classroom to help sculpt a flock of larger-than-life monarch butterflies, baked a saturn cake with spun-sugar rings and sparklers. he’s taught him of plato, and how to ride the “el” all around town.
my littler one, he’s adorned with, among other marvels, a papier-mache elephant head named omar (sculpted out of old clothes, believe it or not). your papa and my little one used to scoot side-by-side, for many blocks, to dine on hot dogs and green river sodas, plopping in the grass when they couldn’t scoot any longer, to watch the clouds change shapes. and your mama one summer spent every wednesday teaching my little one most important things, like how to roll up in aluminum foil, or build cities out of purple-heart scraps from your papa’s woodshop.
when they moved off to maine, your papa and mama, they left behind a glass prism to hang in my little one’s window, so every morning, still, he awakes to rainbows, scattered like thistle seeds, on every wall of his bedroom.
i tell you truly, in the end, girl or boy, it didn’t really matter.
but, well, for a girl who’d always dreamed in shades of pink, this girl news was something to behold. after all these years. i was more than swooning as we counted down the days.
the call came just the other afternoon.
your mama cried when she left the message. her voice cracked as she reported the news, “things are progressing along. and we’re very excited.”
from that moment on, i was suspended. moving through space here, but wholly transported to there. i shopped at the grocery store, but couldn’t tell you what i bought. instead, in my head, i was far off in maine, at your mama’s and papa’s side, putting cool cloths to her brow, holding hands, waiting.
i couldn’t go to bed that night, knowing you were all, at last, at the hospital; knowing you might or might not be coming before the morning. last i’d heard, all had stopped, and you might have paused for a last-minute nap. i knelt down beside my bed, stayed there for a long, long while.
and then, at last, at 1:34 in the morning, the phone rang, woke me from a dream. it was my mama. “she’s here,” she reported, at which, of course, i started to cry.
shaking, and bumping into walls in the dark, i ran down the stairs, dialing.
your papa answered, wrapped me in the story of how you arrived. told me that, at last, when your dark, dark eyes locked in a gaze with his, he was thunderstruck. lost in deep unending love, the kind that hits you with a thud.
and then, yesterday afternoon, i heard what i’d been waiting for, for months and months and 50 years: the undulating coos coming from your lungs and lips, the sound of your most holy gurgles.
i wept, no surprise. keep weeping at the fact that at long last we’ve got our girl. my girl, i try hard not to say. for you are not mine, but ours, no matter how fierce and deep i love you already.
i imagine a lifetime with my b’ella ella. i intend to be the auntie babs of any girl’s dreams. i’ve already written you once, on the day you were born, told you to call anytime. i am ready and listening. standing at attention.
i know already that you’re blessed beyond words with the mama and the papa in whose arms you’ve just landed.
but should i have any little bit to add to your growing up, your becoming, i promise you this: i will be for you what i’ve tried to be for my very own, a source of love unending. a pair of ears, deeply listening. i will take you by the hand, teach you of the garden and the birds and the bumblebees, things your papa and your grandma surely will teach you too.
i will roll out cookie dough by your side, stand you on the stepping stool, let you lick the spoon. teach you the art of the doily, something your great grandma lucille would have wanted you to know. i will read you storybooks. maybe even write you one. i will fly you on a plane, bring you here for days on end. i will tuck you in at night, whisper love songs in your ear. spoil you silly.
we will bite into strawberries at breakfast. go out for lunch. take picnics to the beach. i will kiss your toes. and run the brush through your maybe-curly hair, beautiful like your mother’s.
i will grow old with you. and you will always know that you’re my girl.
the one i waited for, forever.
and now that you’re here, at last, i’m not letting go. not ever. not a chance.
elena benham mahany was born at 1:25, eastern standard time, on the 14th day of april, 2009, in mercy hospital in portland, maine. she is tuesday’s child, full of grace.
her mama–becca, who i love so much–is over-the-moon, and radiant. and so’s her papa, too.
my brother david–furniture maker, master gardener, latin scholar–now adds father to his many gifts.
i am hoping he’ll pen below a few fine words. he writes like no one else.
please welcome her–miss EBM–with words of wisdom, prayers of grace. i rambled on too, too much, but i am spilling over on this perfect april day.
and happy birthday, too, to the mama of the man i love, ginny dearest, who i love so much.