Five Hundred Million

My sweet, sweet Madelyne,
Today you turned five years old. I don’t really need to tell you this since the second you picked up the phone this morning you said, “It’s my birthday Aunt Steph. I am five.”

{October 4} Five-year-old

I honestly don’t know how this happened. In fact, I remember when Mommy & Daddy and I were boozing it up in Nicaragua & Costa Rica, mere moments before you were conceived. See, Mommy and Daddy spent almost two weeks sharing a room with me & Mary Lee. In the glow of my 30th birthday, they took leave to Managua and got right to business at the Los Feliz. It was a very magical place, I want you to know. We’d spent Christmas Eve there a week earlier, skinnydipping in the pool under starry skies and the thunder of midnight firecrackers.

I trust that in the future, when you skinnydip with your friends, you will be fully clothed.

I remember, also, when I started getting the phone calls from Honduras. And emails about a possible “medical evacuation”. And the moment it occurred to me, “Heidi’s pregnant. That’s what’s happening here.” I lived in a cottage on the ocean in Lanesville with no cell phone service and had to run up the street to check my messages. I stood on the top of that hill, freezing and shivering, jumping up and down and cheering into the wind.

You and I were connected from the moment I first put my hands on the bump in Mommy’s stomach. I am not a doctor or a mystic or anything with a fancy title, but of that one thing I am certain. I had never in my life wanted to meet someone as much as I wanted to meet you. I sang to you and I talked to you and like a small child that doesn’t understand biology, I asked you repeatedly to come out.


The year you were born was without a doubt the most difficult year of my life, for reasons I hope & pray you will never have to live through. Everything was crumbling around me with a velocity that was numbing, and just when it got really bad, it got awful. At the end of August, my grandfather drove himself to the hospital that he would not check out of, the place we would spend the next month watching the cancer spread to his brain. I was hollow and carved out, intensely awake and intensely asleep at all times.

To deal with the stress, I took an interest in knitting and grinding my teeth. I knit the same scarf a hundred times and ripped it out a hundred times more. I became obsessed with my dental plan, all the things we could do to my teeth in one month and the endless amounts of free stuff retrieved at each visit. I drove aimlessly every single day. Everywhere and nowhere. There were not enough showers in a day to clean me sufficiently and wash it all away.

And then there you were. The day before we buried Grampy, there you were. I had cried the entire 3000-hour commute from Brooklyn to northern New Jersey and walked into the arms of my family, into the house I never wanted to leave again. I ate roast beef sandwiches and my sister’s birthday cake, neither of which tasted like anything. I sat on the floor reading Grampy’s love letters to Grammy and found the first letter he wrote to my dad, when he was stuck on a ship in the South Pacific and had missed the birth of his first son. And then my phone rang.

A few days later, I packed my car with every possible thing from that house that would allow me to hold onto my grandparents for one half-second longer, and I drove straight to you. You were in your car seat on the kitchen table and you turned as soon as you heard my voice. I knew it then, like I know it now: you and me, we like each other. You were so tiny. Can you believe you were ever that tiny? I can’t. Because now you are so big and so bright you fill up an entire room, sometimes to the chagrin of one’s ears and one’s sleep patterns.

But I want you to know this, Madelyne, because it is important that you always know these things: you healed my heart that year. I was broken in a million places and you came along like a very tiny medicine man. You were so little and so simple and so impossibly perfect, and very slowly, I began to be put back together. Sitting in my arms, you were like superglue. Epoxy. Epoxy Baby, that’s what you were.


And now you are five and I wonder if you are not, in fact, one hundred. Because it does seem like a hundred, maybe a million, years ago. And you are really smart now. Like crazy genius smart. Even if you are starting to insert “like” into every sentence. I dread the day you use OMG or LOL or some crazy internet-acronym of The Future. More troubling is the fact that you are also developing what is best called the Masshole accent. It is slight, it is subtle…but it is there. Don’t worry. It will be short-lived. Your father will see to that.

On the plus side, your parents’ passion for sarcasm has not been lost on you, as you tried it out on me tonight. Some snarky remark about hoping your birthday present arrives by next year. When I retorted with my own dry wit and sarcastic quip at your naïvety, you immediately enlightened me with, “I was joking, Aunt Steph.” Ah, so you’re onto me already.

But the cutest thing you said tonight was about the webcam. “You know what will be really exciting, Aunt Steph? When we get to talk on the webcam.” I sighed, trying to explain the very exhausting issue of Apple computers and $300 iSights and useless drivers and money wasted. You paused, exasperated, and shouted, “I’ve been talking about this all year long!”

Me too, Madelyne. Me too.

Happy Birthday, my best girl. I am sorry I am not there to make your cake in the image of your cats, and I am sorry that I always live so far away and will probably always live so far away. It breaks my heart every time you say “I cannot wait until you come back,” knowing what I know regarding that subject. You may not understand this now, but you will be very grateful I live so far away in about 15 years when you want to backpack around the globe with your boyfriend or leave college to become a rock star. You will know where to find me and I promise to be patient & hold back your hair when you are barfing up that pitcher of sangria. And while we may not be family in the traditional sense, you will always be my family and I will always be Aunt Steph.

Mil besos, mi amor.
I miss you like the moon misses the stars.

7 Responses to “Five Hundred Million”

  1. Ann-Kathrin says:

    Happy Birthday, Madelyne!

    This is very beautiful, Steph. Very.

  2. mom says:

    Aunt Steph is very special

  3. hannah says:

    happy birthday madelyne, five is big time. steph, perhaps i can adopt you as aunt to the huffsters as well? this is so good in a million ways that i feel a little weepy.

  4. Meera says:

    Oh, Steph.

    There’s no need to say that Madelyne is as lucky to have you as you are to have her. You are something special indeed, my dear. No wonder she liked you from the first.

    love love,

  5. Mathias says:

    That’s gotta be one of the best things I’ve read since, well your last post. Happy birthday Madelyne.

  6. heidi says:

    dear, dear, dearest… thanks for the gift, steph! every moment of memories evoked came so clearly back to mind. as i have always said, miss madelyne wouldn’t be here, were it not for you. you’re the sister that mommy never got, the capricorn cohort that daddy fit right in with, and the finest fairy godmother-in-waiting that any child – but most of all, mine – could have ever dreamed of. you two were in cohoots from the start, really, and whether it was she who called to you, or you to her first, i’ll never know. but some invisible line of communication stretched and vibrated and set things in motion. yes, a lucky vessel am i… i love you!

  7. tina miely says:

    Oh Steph-
    Why oh why am I not saying this to my own niece? Where is this for me to feel? So eloquent I would love to hear these things from my own auntie!!

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