The birthday girl


Early this morning, I got a phone call from my mother. “Right at this moment, twenty-six years ago, I was getting ready to meet the most important person in my life…”

It’s pretty much the same story every year, but I let her tell it anyway.

“Your father had been in Perth for two weeks, while I’d been there for a month…”

I should back up a little.

My parents met while my American mother was on vacation in Australia. My Australian father was in between degrees–as in, he’d just gotten his first and was getting ready to go back for his second. They fell in love and after two years of EXTREME long distance, got married. My mum was 30. My dad was 23.

My father got his first masters degree in mining engineering right before he got married. And I don’t know if you know this, but mining engineers work in mines, and mines are not usually in very populous places. My dad was lucky and got a great job right out of university in a tiny town called Laverton. My mother had been living in Los Angeles since she was 19 and was totally, utterly unprepared for the realities of outback Australian life.

“When I stepped off the plane in Laverton, I cried,” says my mother. “It was red dirt and nothing else for miles. It was like being on Mars. I hated it.”

They started trying to have a family almost immediately because, as my dad says, what else was there to do in a town of under a thousand? They suffered through a late-term miscarriage before I showed up in the guise of stomach flu.

“I had to stop drinking coffee,” says my mother in a slightly accusatory tone. “I drank a lot of chamomile tea because you gave me morning sickness well into my second trimester. And I was so big that your father was sure we were having twins. Oranges and Sporanges, he said he was going to call you.”

There was a tiny hospital in Laverton, but at the time it was good for stitching up cuts and that was about it. They didn’t even have an ultrasound machine. A month before my due date, my mother and I (in utero) were flown six hours to the capital city of Perth where my father would join us when his job allowed.

“You didn’t wiggle much my entire pregnancy,” says my mother. “Except for those last weeks. You’d spin around and kick so hard I couldn’t sleep. You’d stop for meals, though. I ate at Pizza Hut every day. What? It was across the street!”

Dad joined her. They whiled away the time playing scrabble. My due date of September 3 came and went. Mum went into false labour, was checked out and sent back to the hotel. Again on the seventh. Again, no dice.

“You were so stubborn,” she says.

My dad read Jane Austen out loud to me through Mum’s belly. I like to think that was one of the first things I heard; his deep voice, reading Emma to lull me to sleep. I have that same copy; there’s a list in the back of things he needed to bring to the hospital: Shoes. Shirt. Camera. FILM.

After enough spinning heel-kicks and dropped elbows to send a prize fighter running, a full week past my due date, Mum went into labour for real. I’m a little unsure as to how long that lasted; it varies depending on how mad she is at me. All that I know is that it lasted somewhere between twelve and 48 hours, and that it was completely natural.

No drugs. That still makes me shiver.

“I knew better the next time,” Mum says.

Anyway. After an unspecified amount of time, I was born. My father and his parents were in the delivery room for my grand entrance.

“The nurses cleaned you up and measured you, and then they pinched your feet to get you to cry. Nothing. They slapped your back. Couldn’t get you to do it. And then you opened your big blue eyes and looked around,” my mother says.

“You looked straight at everyone,” says my Dad. “With a very curious regard.”

“We could tell right away that you were very wise,” says my Nana.

Those baby blue eyes eventually turned green, and I don’t know how wise I’ve turned out to be. And I’m not actually sure if my stubbornness or my love of pizza & Austen was evident before I was born. But I love listening to this story because I love the people who tell it.

September 11 is my birthday and I’m going to be 26. It’s incredibly strange, this whole getting older thing, because it doesn’t really feel like it’s happening until I look around me. And then I’m like, my cousin is graduating? I was at her baptism! Princess P is HOW old now? She’s going to dances? Wasn’t she just chewing her way through her crib?

Very peculiar. I wonder how I’ll feel when the people I remember as babies start having babies. Probably really confused, though maybe that’ll be the early onset dementia talking.

Just kidding. Mostly. Kinda. Sorta.

Loves you!

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