Sixteen Sweet, Sweet Years

Sixteen years ago this morning, my lovely daughter Katelin was born at the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland . . . on my lovely wife Marcia’s own birthday.

I was still an active duty Naval Supply Officer at the time, and Marcia had just left the Navy a few months before Katelin was born. We lived in Alexandria (in Northern Virginia), but since we were dependent on the Navy for health care, we had to go where they offered it: which was on the complete other side of the Beltway from our home. There were two ways to get from here to there: straight across the City (shorter, but with lots of bumps in the road and start/stop situations), or around the Beltway itself (longer, smoother, faster . . . except during rush-hour, when gridlock prevailed). We decided to play it situationally when the time came.

Marcia was almost two weeks overdue as March began, and plans were being discussed to induce labor when nature, in her always mischievous way, got the proverbial ball rolling late in the evening before Marcia’s birthday. Given the hour, we opted for the Beltway run to Bethesda . . . and it felt like the longest, most white-knuckled drive of my life.

We did, ultimately, make it to the Naval Hospital without me having to play amateur field obstetrician in the back seat of our car, and Marcia was whisked into delivery, for what turned out to be a very long, hard labor. It wasn’t made any easier by the fact that Bethesda is a teaching hospital, meaning that Marcia endured a long line of Doctors-in-the-Making passing through her room, practicing their bedside manner, picking up charts and looking at machines and sagely nodding “mmm HMMM,” and asking the same questions over and over again through the evening.

In the end, of course, all worked out as it was meant to, and we found ourselves holding this amazing little wriggling pink person, as our heretofore binary relationship expanded to be a trinity. I wept in the delivery room, literally struck down and overcome with an overwhelming sense of awe, relief and love. I still get trembly-chinned when I think about it, and it absolutely boggles my mind to think that it was 16 years ago, and that the little pink wriggler is now a tall, smart, personable and beautiful young lady.

What changes the three of us have been through during that time! We moved cross country to Idaho when Katelin was but three months old, driving the whole way. We drove back East two years later when my job required me to go to Schenectady. Marcia got her law degree at Albany Law, graduating very near the top of her class, no mean feat while also mothering a toddler. I left the government and began working in the nonprofit sector. We bought a house (our third, and the first one that has proven to be a smart investment). Marcia started working at one law firm, moved to her current firm a couple of years later, made partner several years after that. I switched jobs once. Twice. Three times. Hosted a TV show. Wrote for a newspaper. Katelin went to a private school for kindergarten and first grade, then shifted to public school for eight years, then went back to private school this year . . . as a boarding student, a whole new level of independence.

There are still but the three of us in the family, and with two of us having the same birthday, March 8 is always a big day on the Smith family calendar of events. In general, marking two birthdays on the same day leads to the nice sort of flowing, week-long celebration necessary to ensure that special attention is meted out to all deserving parties: today we have your birthday dinner, tomorrow we will open everybody’s presents, the next day we will have your birthday dinner, etc.

The birthday mechanics this year are different since Katelin is away at school today and won’t be home until Saturday, so Marcia and I get to enjoy her special day in our two-person relationship mode, which grows richer and deeper and more profound as time passes. (Next month marks the 20th anniversary of our first meeting, another amazing milestone). I’ve spent most of those years periodically trying to capture just how important she is to me in words, but as glib and poetically-minded as I am, the English language ultimately fails in this regard.

Suffice to say that I bask in her presence, which I have always been able to feel in palpable, tangible, sensory ways. She moves and it moves me. She illuminates me. She’s the smartest, wisest person I know, and I remain blissfully tickled that I get to share so many binding moments with her . . . some profound (the birth of a child, the death of a parent), and some not (sitting on the couch last night laughing so hard at the Borat movie that we could barely breathe).

I’ve always said (and believed) that the two greatest days of my life were the day I married Marcia and the day that Katelin was born. Everything since flows from and is shaped by those two days, and I couldn’t be happier about that. So happy birthday to both my loves today. They mean the world to me.

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