But here I was, eleven years old, on the verge of becoming a big sister, and I had blown all my chances to learn about taking care of a baby.
What if I dropped her? What if I tripped and fell while I was carrying her? What if I took her for a walk in her stroller and … I don’t know … wrecked the stroller?
These were the thoughts that tormented me as we arrived in San Francisco. These are the thoughts that kept me awake the night of December 16 … Baby Lift Eve.
Right after breakfast on December 17, we went to the airport and found the waiting room where all the new parents were supposed to wait. The plane had just landed, and now a doctor and a nurse were checking the babies to make sure they were all healthy. Some of the babies were just getting over the chicken pox.
There were about fifty or sixty people in that room waiting to meet their new babies. All grownups, except for Mary and me. Most of them had driven a lot further than we had, and if they had other kids at home only one parent had come to meet the Baby Lift. It was standing room only. From my eleven year old vantage point, I looked up into a landscape of shoulders and earlobes.
I was reading one of my dad’s Zane Grey paperback westerns, and I took it out of my coat pocket and tried to distract myself with cowboys and bad guys. I didn’t work. I read the same sentence twenty-five times.
Finally, a man with a clipboard stepped into the room through a door marked “no admittance,” followed by a nurse. She carried a white flannel bundle. Everybody got really, really still. The man called out somebody’s last name. Someone in back of the room said, “Oh! That’s us.” And they made their way forward to claim their baby, whom they were seeing for the first time.
The new mom took that white bundle in her arms like a pro. Her smile shone down at that little face looking back up at her. The new dad put an arm around them and led them back to the back of the room. And so it went, one baby after another into the arms of a smiling parent.
I stood there worrying. What if they forgot to put our baby on the plane? What if they lost our adoption papers and won’t let us take her? Somebody has to be the last name called. It’ll probably be us.
The guy with the clipboard called out, “Hicks!”
That particular white flannel bundle was my baby sister!
I don’t know what came over me in that instant. Something took charge of my feet. Something filled my heart with a sense of … what? … confidence? Authority? I didn’t ask if it was okay, I didn’t even look back at where Mom and Dad were making their way through the crowd. Suddenly I was as tall as I needed to be. I plowed through that landscape of grownup shoulders and earlobes and held out my arms.
“She’s ours,” I told the nurse.
All those grownups behind me chuckled and nudged each other, as if to say, “Isn’t that cute?” But I didn’t care.
The nurse handed me that bundle, and I can still feel the memory of my baby sister coming to rest in the crook of my elbow – solid, safe. In that moment I felt rooted and steady. No way would I fall or drop or break this baby.
I lifted the blanket from her face, and there she lay, sleeping through all this excitement. Tiny, skinny, still a little bit scabby from the chicken pox. I remembered Raggedy Ann, after three months in a snow drift… My Ginny Doll after I ruined her hair… How cold and miserable it felt when Betsy Wetsy peed on me, and how awful Tiny Tears smelled after the milk fiasco…
And I thought, This is not a pretty baby. And she smells funny. She’s going to pee on me, sometime. And spit up. It’s what babies do.
Mom and Dad and Mary were gathered close now. I looked up at them and said, “Look! She’s perfect!”