Labor Day

Image by Infiniteblue

Labor Day 2007.  Big Brother was born.  As was my identity as a mother.

Four years.

High school.  College.  A president’s term.

A son.

I was never supposed to go into labor.

I have a uterine anomaly that was identified early in my first pregnancy that meant that I would have to deliver by c-section.  Going into labor could be dangerous for me and for my baby, my doctor said.  So Big Brother was scheduled to arrive by c-section on September 7, 2007.

But, like his little sister after him, he had other plans.  Maybe somewhere in his tiny brain inside his tiny body inside his increasingly tiny home, he knew that Labor Day would be an auspicious day to make his arrival.

And arrive he did, six pounds, fifteen ounces of wrinkly pink wonder.  A baby who became a boy who loves books and Legos and dinosaurs and knights.  Who was a brother twice by age four.  Who is happy eating peanut butter and jelly and popsicles.  Every single day.  Who thrives on routine and struggles with change.  Whose favorite color is orange.  Whose curls were cut into his first big boy haircut last week.  Who routinely stumps me with questions about death and souls and the stars.

This Labor Day he asked me: “Mommy, do you know anything about history?”

An innocent question, in every sense.  He is an innocent.  He knows countless facts about history, but is missing the conjunctions and the filler that give it its weight and its horror.  And he doesn’t intend the question with the heaviness with which it hits me, right in the sweet spot where the gulf between who I was and who I am seems bigger every year.

He doesn’t know the me I was before there was a he.  He doesn’t know that I was a student of history for years and a teacher of it for longer.  That I spent years writing a master’s thesis on it.  That I could tell him all about the French Wars of Religion or the Missouri Compromise.  About Great Zimbabwe or the desegregation of the Boston city schools.

He doesn’t know what I know – or what I knew.  And I wonder: do I even remember that history anymore?  Do I remember the historical me?

I’m not sure, but I give him an answer anyway:

“Yes, baby.  Yes, I do.”

Happy birthday, Big Brother.  Happy, happy day to the boy who taught me how to be a mother.  Through several hours of labor and four years of a labor of love.


40 responses to “Labor Day

  1. Happy, Happy Birthday to the one who changed the course of your personal history. An auspicious arrival, indeed.

  2. Happy birthday to big brother, and to you, Mama. I always think of that on Grace’s birthday – we knew having a kid was a big deal, surely, but I at least had NO idea of the ways it would totally disassemble the scaffolding of who I am. And then of course build it back. But wow. Just, wow. xox

  3. the sweet spot where the gulf between who I was…

    Oh, I know that spot. Sometimes it aches and sometimes it sings. Have you read him the book Before I was your Mother? I think that’s the title. I always liked it, though my kids didn’t. They couldn’t quite get why anyone would want to be anything other than ‘mommy’.

    • I don’t know that book, Amy, but it sounds like one I should check out. It kind of reminds me of a book I loved when I was teaching. I can’t think of the title, but it was about a teacher who actually slept in her classroom at night because – as we all know – teachers don’t have any life outside of school, just like we moms don’t have any life outside of mommyhood. 🙂

  4. Happy birthday to you both!

    There are moments when I wonder if the same person truly spans the two parts of my history – before and after I gave birth. The contrasts are sharp. But, it’s kind of nice knowing I have a mysterious side that will slowly be revealed to my girls. I know there are things I learn about my mom that are fabulously earth shifting.

  5. Happy Birthday to him, and to you, happy anniversary of the day you became a mother. My four-year marker of that is coming up in November; it just doesn’t seem possible.

  6. Happy Birthday to your big boy. Won’t be long before you get to talk to him about history in context of school homework. It is kind of fun.

  7. Happy birthday, Big Boy!! What a sweet story.

  8. I fell in love with your son as you listed his interests. Could it have anything to do with how common those interests were to my children (daughter: dinosaurs, son: knights, both: legos)? And the color orange! I have found that color only in the past few years. Wow, what a color.

    I am so grateful you know his question had no heavy import. It was just a question. How very evolved of you. And this pondering? This is how new histories get written, eh? You approach the life of a mother as a historian. This is a unique gift.

  9. I love what Lindsey said about the scaffolding. That’s just how I felt: torn down, then re-erected.

  10. Happy birthday Mama! This is lovely. What a tribute! xoxo

  11. That “historical” you is still there, don’t worry! What I’m finding, having come full circle and watched my sons grow up and leave home, is that we give birth all over again at midlife — to new selves comprised of long-lost parts, reclaimed bits, surprising new additions. The transformation continues — for our kids, for our ourselves. Happy birthday to your dear boy.

    • I’m definitely starting to see this, Katrina. And I feel very lucky to have these years at home to try to piece together which parts of the old me I want to keep and which are best left behind as scraps.

  12. Your little baby is getting big. Happy 4th birthday!

  13. Happy Birthday big brother and to you his mama. What a sweet tribute to the one that changed your life in such a sweet wonderful way that no one else could. Enjoy him today and always.xoxo.

  14. That question about history was…so poignant. So honest. The very thought of where you would even begin explaining history to him is overwhelming to me.

    Here’s to an age where he still looks at the world as a place where everything is immediate and crystal clear. Happy birthday Big Brother! To another happy, healthy year!

  15. Happy birthday to a very important little boy. History? Indeed. Of many kinds, right?

  16. When I put my son to bed, after the story is ended, he always asks a history question, usually open-ended, as in, “Tell me about the Civil War.” I thought I had a budding historian on my hands, until my wife pointed out that my long-winded answers were extending lights out by half an hour. Which was, for him, the point.

  17. Happy birthday to your big boy on his special day! Ah, what a sweet history you will revisit again and again as he grows older and can remember his own story. After all, the moments of today will provide a rich environment for his own recollections, his own history…Hugs to you all!

  18. Happy Birthday! Love the braiding of what was and is. All important and essential. History, indeed.

  19. Oh my this is lovely! I have a Labor Day little guy, too. Much love to you and yours!

  20. “missing the conjunctions and the filler that give it its weight and its horror.”

    This brought to mind my older son being five or so and becoming very interested in Nazis… the Nazis he saw in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” He particularly found the uniform intriguing and had endless questions, oblivious to the poignant way in which he could hit that “sweet spot” with his innocence. We started to play a game of a pretend radio show in the car which always began, “Good evening and welcome to Nazi Talk, what is your question.” And he never ran out of them until the show had to end for that car ride.

    Wishing much wonderfulness for all you guys—a great future crafted of a great presence which will in turn be added to a great history. XO

  21. I really wanted to write a comment that was as poignant and well written as your post, but I realized I couldn’t do it. Happy birthday to your little man (and happy anniversary to you, birthday, how do we talk about the transformation of our own lives on this day?)! I tried to imagine what little man could ask me that would be the same for me as yours asking if you know about history. It doesn’t work for me… But I am grateful that he won’t look at me first through the lens of my career as most adults do. “That’s my mommy. She’s not very interesting because she’s an accountant.”

    • Thanks so much for your nice words. (By the way, I kind of want to be an accountant. I find something very comforting about the orderliness of numbers. I’m sure a therapist could have a field day with that one…) 🙂

  22. This is a really lovely post. As you know, my daughter was born on your son’s due date and was a Labor Day baby, too (technically the day after, but I labored all day on Labor Day, and I think that counts for something). I am truly amazed by how many people I know who have Labor Day babies. Could it be more poetic? Sometimes I think about the me that my daughter will know. How my life before her will seem mystical and old and far away. Definitely ancient history! By the way, I am so looking forward to our weekend at Kripalu in just two short weeks. Can you believe it’s nearly here? I can’t wait to meet you in person and talk about life!

    • I can’t wait! I just finished Dani’s first memoir and am about to reread Devotion – as if I needed anything else to get me excited for our weekend.

      Happy first birthday to Abra – and happy Labor Day to you, Mama. xo

  23. This is very beautiful, and filled with history in what isn’t said as much as what is.

    Happy birthday to all of you.

  24. Happy birthday to the boy – good writing – labor, labor day, labor of love….most especially.

  25. I love this post. I didn’t know you were a student of history. We need to chat. I have a big idea (I think you would love) that requires a lot of insight about history. Would you be up for a skype sometime or maybe I could just get your email?

  26. I just wrote a comment that sounded like spam when I re-read it (it contained the word “elucidated”). It made me giggle.

    Great post though. That is quite a punch in the gut, asking so innocently if you know anything about history.

  27. Lovely tribute to a boy and his Mama.
    As your kids grow, you will recover lost parts of yourself, trust me.

  28. His birthday’s around my youngest’s birthday – she’s August 27, 2007!

  29. Happy Birthday to the big brother! The next day after the big brother was born, my older son was born 🙂 My older son’s was born on 8 september 2007 🙂

    I just wrote a post about his birthday too 🙂

    If you don’t mind please visit my blog and I would be more than happy if you are willing to share your thought there 🙂


  30. I love this piece! I especially appreciate how you connected the history of the world with the history of our own lives. The us before kids and the us after – sometimes I can hardly recognize myself. Just like what happens to certain places after a historical event, like 9/11.

    I know I’m late but Happy Birthday Big Boy!

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