In the middle of June six years ago, my first child arrived into the world. There were some very minor complications that resulted in major implications, and we ended up in the NICU. After a week of hushed voices, kind nurses, beeping machines, and more tubes and cords than we could count, we got to take our little man home. I cried a lot during the drive, but when we reached the cool quiet of our house, the only sound was the wind in the trees and the voices of birds. I was the happiest I’ve ever been. Our baby was home and healthy.
The cool quiet didn’t last long, however. We’d barely settled in, our hospital suitcase still sitting by the door, when the weather took a sudden turn, as it often does here on the prairie, and my husband hustled us all into the basement. “I don’t like the look of that sky,” he said.
We waited the storm out in the basement, but it never seemed to amount to much. A little rain, a lot of wind, and then the sun returned and we headed back upstairs.
A few days later, a friend posted a video on social media from a storm chaser who had been in our area that afternoon and had pulled over to film a swirling cloud. The cloud roiled with a sickly greenish hue, ready to funnel down to the ground at any moment, the wind from the clouds already whipping the tattered prairie grasses around in circles. Off to the side of the shot stood a simple wrought iron sign. The sign trembled and quaked in the wind, too, looking like it might get pulled from the ground by the gale at any moment. I lifted my hand to my mouth in horror as I watched — it was the sign for our ranch.
Looking back, the sign might as well have said: ‘Welcome to Parenthood.’ The ups, the downs, the dangers miraculously avoided, the dangers faced head on — it can all feel relentless and daunting. And I was told, but could not really understand before my son was born, that once I became a mother my heart would live outside my chest forevermore. Who I am no longer stops at my flesh and bones, but extends beyond the boundaries of my body. In our six years together, I have already experienced the beauty and the terror of this reality many times.
Our boy is named Wesley Jude. Wesley means the ‘west lea’ — a western meadow or grove of trees. We have just such a lea of elms to the west of our house, a windbreak planted a century ago by my husband’s great-grandparents. Wesley is named for the wind and the trees and the birds in that lea, and the dappled sunlight that passes through the branches.
Jude is for St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, because neither my husband nor I thought we’d get the chance to be parents. Yet, here he is, growing straight and tall like a sturdy young sapling. What a wonder. After six years the miracle that he is has not lessened, but has grown exponentially.
I still think often of those first days. Much of the time I should have spent sleeping I spent watching him sleep instead, his tiny feet curved inward, his tiny fist pressed snug beside his smooth cheek. Sometimes he’d cry out in his sleep — a sharp sound, full of terror — and I’d think about the week in the NICU when I wasn’t allowed to hold him while he slept. I made up for it by barely putting him down the whole first year.
That ended after he started walking. Now, he’ll briefly sit in my lap for a little comfort after a bike wreck, or slow down long enough for a short hug every once in a while, but mostly he is in motion, running through the green prairie grass, greeting the world with every step. My arms are no longer his home, and that is as it should be.
But I still like to watch him sleep. In those quiet moments, I can see the baby he was and the man he will become, and I am so thankful — so very, very thankful — for every moment of this journey.
Eliza Blue lives on a ranch in the northwest part of South Dakota. She’s a musician, mom, author, and shepherd. She writes a column for newspapers in her region and produces audio commentary for South Dakota Public Radio. You can learn more about Eliza on her website.