Tuesday, June 10, 2008

An open letter to my First Born

Dear First Born,

Well, we made it.
You made it.
Talk about taking it to the wire ...
Until literally the very last minute when you climbed the stairs onto the bimah, we didn't know what, if anything, you would be able to do.

Let's rewind a bit now that we have time to sit back and reflect on this amazing journey of yours.

In fact let's go back a year to here.
(I notice at that point you were half an inch shorter than me - you're now 2" taller than I am ...)
At every stage, we all felt that the portion that coincided with your Hebrew birthday was meant to be.
It's called Naso and the Sedra begins by dealing with the sons of Gershon.
Gershon is, of course, your dad's Hebrew name.
And the Haftorah?

Yes, my big, strong, long-haired son. How could we doubt this was meant to be?

Now let's fast forward to a couple of months ago.
When we arrived home carless from Cornwall, that was the point at which we realised you were struggling with your massive haftorah portion.
We told you that it would be fine if you only learned the first and last sentences.
That, along with the maftir and blessings, would be a huge achievement as far as we were concerned.

In typical FB fashion, it was at that point that something must have clicked in your brain and within a fortnight you had learned the whole thing!

So now let's fast forward to here.
LG got sick.
And then here - measles.

We had a few precious days, when LG was better and G and I had our bed back.
I kept looking at you.
You were so well - fit and strong - though we knew it was almost inevitable that the virus was lurking inside you, biding its time.

During the days we drank every positive drop and celebrated your English birthday in style.
There was no point in panicking - it was out of our hands.
I lay in bed each night though, calculating which days would be the worst for you to fall ill and what the consequences would be.
If it happened by x, you should have recovered sufficiently.
If it happened by y, you wouldn't have fallen ill yet.
If it happened by z, it would depend which day the rash came out ...

We needed to take into account, not just your own health, but also the period you would be contagious.
On the other hand, a point would arrive at which it would be too late to cancel ...

Then, exactly a week before the big day, you were prostrated by a crashing headache and dizziness.
More calculations - this time focusing on when the rash would break out.

On Sunday and Monday mornings, you woke up (in our bed - poor G had been relegated back to the bunk bed again) saying you felt better, but then felt ill again in the afternoons.

Monday pm the rash appeared, but not on your face as is the norm, but on your chest and legs.
Though poorly, you weren't nearly as ill as LG had been.
'Triumph!' we shouted. 'The homeopathy worked! The contagious period will be over by Saturday and though we've no doubt you won't be feeling your best, you should be well enough ...'

Poor deluded saps, eh?
On Wednesday, the rash exploded onto your face and spread across your body.
The fever raged.
Your headache was blinding, you were so dizzy you couldn't raise your head from the pillow.
Your eyes were streaming and bloodshot and your lips cracked and dry.
You had pains in your stomach reminiscent of the awful time a few years ago when you were diagnosed with Henoch Schonlein Purpura.

Meanwhile, this was the day after the last day it would have been possible to cancel.
The Health Authority were adamant that we should count the 5 day contagious period from the Monday, which meant that that wouldn't be an issue, but you were so ill ...

You couldn't be left of course, so G and I had to work out a system for the next few days.
He delivered everything in the car to the school where the party would be held and then came home.
I then walked there and worked to produce the food for the 150 guests.
I couldn't have done it without the help of the Amazing Grace at the school.
She was only supposed to show me round and make sure I had access to cookers, fridges, freezers etc, but in the event, she worked alongside me for hours at a time.

Back home, I spent every moment with you, sponging you down and trying to soothe you.

On the Wed and Thurs you could hardly speak, except to croak,
'Why me? Why is this happening to me?'
I told you I couldn't answer that question.
I said that you can plan and plan and plan, but that ultimately we can't control what life may throw at us.
All we can control is the way we respond.
I said that maybe you had been given this ordeal to handle, precisely because you're so special.

We gave you the option of postponing.
But you knew that would mean you wouldn't be able to do the portion you had struggled so hard to learn, as it only comes round once a year.
'It was meant to be that I would have that portion,' you rasped.
'If you believe that, then you must also believe that it's meant to be that you've become ill,' I told you.

On Thursday night, I took you to the toilet.
When you got up, you nearly passed out and G and I helped you back to bed where you fell prostrate.
But something had changed.
Your skin was no longer burning.
Your breathing was more regular and deeper.
I could see that you had just scaled the peak.
But would there be enough time to recover sufficiently for Saturday?

The next day, you were indeed a little better.
You could raise your head and speak a bit more.
Your sense of humour returned and with the easing of the illness, there was a teensy space for your determination to kick in, even though you hadn't eaten and had barely slept for 5 days.

In the evening, Minx and the Feckers arrived which was wonderful for the rest of us but to be honest probably didn't make that much difference to you as you were still in bed with the curtains closed.
'I hope I get a good night's sleep tonight,' you murmured.
'Me too, poppet,' I replied.

It wasn't though, was it?
Your skin reacted in its usual way and you were almost clawing it off with irritation.
Your eyes were so red and sore, you looked like I'd imagine Gollum would after a couple of millennia chain smoking and drinking.

And you were scared.
So scared that you were hallucinating.
I didn't panic - I could see this wasn't fever.
All I could do was use every trick I knew to try to calm you and help you relax.
In the event, I reckon we managed a maximum of a couple of hours twitchy sleep.

In the morning, G and I dressed you.
Your hair was matted and I pulled it back into a pony tail.
Even with your poor sore eyes, you looked stunning to me.

Your legs were buckling with exhaustion, weakness and dizziness.
We told you that whatever you managed to do would be an incredible triumph and not to feel you had to do more than you could physically handle.

And what did you do?
Every single part, that's what.
You didn't hold the Sefer Torah, which would have been far too heavy.
And you sat with the Rev's arm round you, rather than standing.
And your voice was so quiet.
But the synagogue was so silent I swear I could have heard your heartbeat.

Remember when I said earlier that we can't control what life may throw at us, only the way we respond?
Well, you responded with such strength of character, determination and maturity that every one of the 180+ people who watched you was overwhelmed.

Remember too when I said that maybe this had happened because you're special?
I really do think that.
Your achievement in learning and reciting your portion would have been amazing enough.
For you to do it in spite of those odds and in the face of such adversity takes you and your achievement onto a whole other level.

I'm not going to talk here about the party in the evening.
It deserves another whole letter on its own and I'll share it with everyone later with photos.

Meanwhile you're still unwell and lying on the settee complaining that I'm not with you.
I'll finish now and come and join you to watch some junk daytime tv.
You've certainly earned it!

Love and kisses from your very proud Mamma.


Sue Guiney said...

Oh, Debi! This is just so beautiful! I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes. You know, I grew up in a society where bar mitzvahs were a dime a dozen (or rather a million dimes a dozen); where they were taken for granted because everyone did them and everyone did the same things. As a response, I tried to make it meaningful and special for my own kids, and I think we were all pretty successful in that. But your son's story is extraordinary and something that will truly stay in his heart forever. A real man-making experience. You are justifiably proud as, I'm sure he is. Thank you so much for sharing it all with us! xo

Unknown said...

Aw. Sniff. Wipe. Sniff. Aw :)

Unknown said...

Crying again.

Anonymous said...

Mazal Tov!!!
Mazal Tov!!!
(and I am laughing at the iron fishballs reference!)

John said...

A man, certainly. And a mensch.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding, homelesschicken xx

fatboysblogg said...

I consider myself a bit of a tough sod but I have a very large lump in my throat right now.

Jan said...

Very very lovely.

Caroline said...


Sharon J said...

"I said that you can plan and plan and plan, but that ultimately we can't control what life may throw at us. All we can control is the way we respond."

You're such a wise woman, Debi. With a mother like you, it's not at all surprising that FB has such strength.