Sixteen years later, that assignment remains a sweet memory in my brain filed under 'college stresses that now seem silly'. Sixteen years later, Pat is still on the faculty, perhaps still teaching that same assignment, I am now thirty-four and have a child of my own, and my mother, if she ever reads this Blog, would get a kick out of it and say something like, "Elizabeth, you are ridiculous".
If I had to write that essay today, my approach would be entirely different, and I don’t mean to imply I would have adopted Angie’s sensational, over-the-top, graphically-detailed essay. In hindsight, both our essays were missing the same element. Writing about one’s own beginning is not so much an exercise in mechanics – we all know how babies are made (two adults pop open a bottle of champagne - or several bottles of lemoncello - and one thing leads to another and lo and behold the stork receives a text message requesting an infant). No, the mechanics of conception, whether presented in a graphic or subdued manner, are quite basic. Both our stories, and all the stories of the childless students in that classroom, were missing the why. All the stories of the childless students in that classroom were missing that seminal moment where one (or both) of the parents-to-be realize they are willing to take on the biggest responsibility of their lives. These stories, written by nineteen and twenty year-olds, as clever as they may have been, could not possibly capture the emotions behind wanting to bring a new life into this world. It’s easy to send a drunk text to the stork. It’s not so easy to articulate how you know that you are ready to send that text.
Now that I have my own little bundle from the stork, I imagine what story line my son would concoct, should he ever be asked to recreate his own conception. Oh, let’s cut to the chase, why wait for the assignment? I’m going to be a bad mother here and just give him (you) the answers.
Dear Baby, it went like this….
Picture it: March 2011, Dad and I have been married a few months now and are settling into Seventh Borough life just fine. Things are very busy at work for the both of us, Dad is off to Asia for a fairly long business trip, he’s got projects in Taiwan, Singapore and Jakarta. I’m up against a deadline at work myself, for what is basically a series of quarterly internal audit reviews, and have to prepare reports on the internal control failures of my own department without losing any friends. So Daddy’s jet lagged and Mommy’s walking a very fine line. To accommodate this crazy schedule, we set up a plan, Dad will call home at 5:30 AM, Seventh Borough Time, to check in and assure me he hasn’t been kidnapped for a corporate ransom. I promise Dad I will take out the garbage and the recycling and clean out the litter box in his absence, even if waste removal is my most loathed set of household tasks. Dad lets me know he’s not feeling well but cannot read the labels of any of the medicines in Taiwan and no one seems to speak enough English to help him out. I decide that as payment for taking out the trash, and because I am working very late these days, I will drive to work and skip the train. Besides, Dad can’t use the car when he’s on the other side of the globe and is focused on not mistaking cat food for Pepto.
One morning I wake up and turn on the TV to break the silence in the house with the AM news. To my horror, Japan was just hit with an earthquake, which created a Tsunami that’s ricocheting all over the Pacific Rim. Oh my God, I think to myself, Daddy can’t swim! Speaking of Daddy, where is my 5:30 AM Phone call?
As I nervously watch the news unfold, thousands upon thousands of Japanese have already perished, I start talking to the TV in my loneliness. The news reports that the effects of the Tsunami are moving mostly towards Hawaii and the Western Hemisphere. I think to myself, thank God, Tsunami, you need to go away from Taiwan, or Singapore or wherever my husband is. And where is my 5:30 phone call???? In an early-morning-can-not-believe-my-eyes kind of trance, I talk to the television: “How could this happen? How is everyone doing? How close is Japan to Taiwan? I’m sure Hawaii is much better equipped for this kind of thing (based on nothing), right? Rob can’t swim and no one is there to talk to him in English!” Apparently I convinced myself the only thing you needed to overcome a Tsunami is swimming skills.
I was freaking out and I couldn’t even call anyone in the Seventh Borough Time Zone, it wasn’t even six in the morning. Finally, the phone starts to ring and it’s Dad, he’s having a few drinks at a bar in Singapore with some of his coworkers, watching the news, in English, just the same. As casual as could be he asks me, “Did you hear about this Tsunami thing?”
The day went on. I drove to work, Dad had left Taiwan for Singapore just a handful of hours ago, he was safe and had met up with familiar colleagues in Singapore, who were kind enough to interpret the labels on pet food and Pepto, should he still need to differentiate. It was a foggy March day and all seven boroughs were expecting a deluge of rain in the evening. I worked on my reports until 8 or 9PM. I was tired and I was running from the fierce downpour to the garage to get the car and drive home.
It was not the best conditions for driving. I was exhausted, up early, worrying about your dad, worrying about the crisis in Japan, worrying about the world, really. The rain was incredible, so bad that I had the windshield wipers on full speed and still could barely see where I was going. All the lights from the third and fourth borough city lights bled red, yellow, and green onto the pavement, like pools of paint, through the swish-swish-swish of my wipers. Rain was coming down quickly, gutters were filling up and creating small lakes at each intersection. I changed the channel on the radio from something pop-rockish and up-beat to 1010 Wins just to hear the regular traffic updates. Surely this downpour would be shutting down some roads.
I made it across the Tri-Borough Bridge (aka the RFK Bridge, aka the bridge I had long been afraid of), I made it to the Bronx River Parkway, unfortunately, though expectedly, located next to the Bronx River, and prone to flooding. I drove slowly, almost in anticipation of finding the highway to be closed. The rain pounded the roof of the car and I had to raise the volume on the radio just to hear the quick-talking traffic reporters over the gunfire-like sound of rain on a metal roof.
I just about made it into the Sixth Borough, when the water on the highway seemed to be getting deeper and I decided to get off that road on my own volition. I was driving around, pelted by rain, exhausted, and flat out lost. I tried to follow the service road near the train tracks, I thought I recognized a street name here and there, but it was all too much and I just pulled over, shut off my lights, and let the rain take over.
I had a good cry and then I pulled it together and found my way home. The next few days were more of the same: 5:30 AM phone calls, lots of audit report writing, a little bit of taking out the trash, watching the news, thinking, praying, hoping, and figuring out my own how-to-out-swim-a-tsunami strategy. I was overcome with a tremendous sense of the fragility of life. I thought to myself, I am not going to be on this Earth forever, I need to start a family and spend as much time with them as I can.
Dear Baby, that’s kind of how it went, but feel free to ‘choose your own adventure’ as you will. Dad flew in to Newark. Mom mobilized the lemoncello. And the Stork got a text.