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Rejoice! Rejoice!
Tobeleh Shapiro

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Spirits -- by James McNelisTo all my dear sons and daughters of mothers,

The descriptions friends give me of my trials in seeking respite from a house full of two active children are sometimes amusing to me. Yes, they certainly keep my hopping. But you know that I love every moment of them. And as someone once said, "I honor their every step." You cannot have an inkling of the joy that your children can give you until you have gone through the nine months of labor, borne them, and raised them. (Yes, I know labor doesn't last nine months, but pregnancy, especially in my case, was very hard work.) They were overdue. Twins are usually expected early. We could tell when one was moving, and they were constantly rearranging themselves inside the womb. Finally, after dozens of flip-flops toward the end of the long, nine month vigil, Meyshe decided to try a new position. The last ultrasound revealed that he had maneuvered himself sideways and was lying on top of Feyna, while Feyna was upside down looking up at the stars. Their arms and legs were all entangled. That is not a good position for a safe birth.

David took a picture of me the night before I went in for the C-section. The entire picture is taken up by my enormous belly, which was crisscrossed with veins. Well, that's not unusual for me. My veins are rather close to the surface, and my skin is quite translucent in places. When I look at that picture, I am astounded that skin can do that...stretch that much and then return to its former shape. When I got pregnant, I weighed 98 pounds (44.5 kilos), and by the time I gave birth I weighed (or, rather, WE weighed) 153 pounds (69.4 kilos). It was cumbersome. And that isn't really the word.

When Feyna and Meyshe were born, I had not had one moment's experience with infants. I hadn't the slightest idea of what to do, how to change a diaper, how to nurse, how to raise a child. My own childhood came to greet me in the most barren and frightening ways. I had not been prepared for motherhood. My own upbringing was a struggle, a war between my parents where (as far as my father was concerned) I was the turf, and my mother was the prize.

So I was terrified of having children. I was deathly afraid that I would turn into a monster. When I asked my mother about the early days of their marriage, she would tell me that everything was fine until the children were born. It seemed to trigger a bizarre, nasty response in my father. I was afraid that my children would hate me. Hate me as much as I hated my father...with the intensity and ferocity of a wounded and cornered animal. I couldn't bear that thought. Your children come to know you very, very well. And my fear was that beneath the surface of pretense, there was a shameful, worthless, pathetic half creature who thought far too much of herself.

What would become of my children?

At this moment, Feyna is in the living room having a cello lesson. Her kind and curious cello teacher is Serge Riabtchenko, a Russian immigrant with a classic Russian face, pale blue eyes, and blond hair, who carries himself like casual royalty. He is sweet to her. She responds spontaneously and ecstatically to affection. In fact, she is secure in the affections lavished upon her. She understands the language of gleeful love, that explosive joy that gets me up from my bed at 3:00 a.m. to listen to her tell me a dream.

She is overprotective of me and my wimpy little ailments: the deteriorating cervical spine, the kidney infections, and lately the teeth (#'s 19 and #30), and strangely undiagnosable seizures that flit through my body, removing me from the universe for one split second and returning me with a gasp. I fear that she will somehow find some glamour in illnesses. (Glamour is a wonderful word when one considers its origins. It comes from the Scottish, and means apparent beauty where no beauty actually exists.)

Her twin has his disability which reaps a harvest of impenetrable attention requiring such intense and urgent care that his sister can be entirely eclipsed at any moment. I know. I tell her. She knows that I understand, but still the lesson is loud and verified by endless testing: Whoever is having a crisis owns the parents. She is just beginning to appreciate the reality that her twin brother is truly handicapped. Whereas she was inexhaustibly disppointed and furious at him for his dogged inadequacies as her closest companion, she is now more curious and observant, empathetic and puzzled, freer to love him. She has known about Meyshe's handicap as long as we have known because we explain it to her over and over again. But it is one of those invisible deformities, hidden completely and cleverly inside Meyshe's ample brains. A mystery is my boy. He can be charming or appalling to strangers. I watch my father, still at it, trying to shape Meyshe into predictable social responses so that he can formulate a relationship. My beautiful green-eyed boy has stumped the master, who is uncomfortably in awe of him. But it shows itself as the annoyance and resentment of a three-year-old who can't get the new baby brother to play ball with him.

"You will have to be patient." He will grow up.

The twins both are plastered, but not drunk, with love. Transcending one moment after another, taking on quirks and delights, capacity within.

The other night, I ws standing in the kitchen (as usual), doing something to some asparagus. Meyshe wandered in, bumping into walls, making himself dizzy just to see the world spin for him. He helped me break off a few stems, then hit the road again. But before he left to join his sister, he came close to me and tilted his head, looking at me upside down. And while his eyes remained fixed on me, his body began to leave the room. He gave a heartfelt little sigh and said,

"You love me SOOOOOOO much!"

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Love from all of me to all of you, Tobie.

Feyna and Meyshe's mom, Tobie Helene Shapiro, lives and loves in
Berkeley.

e-mail Tobie at
tobie@quake.net

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