KURT VONNEGUT ON THE DEATH OF KURT VONNEGUT Writer Kurt…
Flowers for My Family On the “Big Day”
Dear Second-Born Child,
Hello! Welcome to the world!
We have not yet met, and, indeed, as I write this you are gestating in your mother’s womb: a quick online search describes you as the “size of a sesame seed” and “resembling more a tadpole than a baby.” (It also tells me next week you will start developing your heart and circulatory system! Hurrah!) But even though you are still in an incipient stage, your DNA is as complete as ever it will be: you are yourself, though less so than in the future. Your mother and I expectantly await you.
In fact, I have been thinking about you often over this past year or so. I was not thinking about some vague child to come – no, I was thinking about you specifically. You did not exist yet, but I could sense your presence – in my imagination, I could “feel” you in the same way I “feel” the presence of my mother, dead now 12 ½ years. My father claimed he “felt” the same way about me (his first-born) as he sat around the campfire at night in the jungles of Vietnam, and then I was conceived in August 1966 on almost the exact day he returned home from overseas to the embraces of his wife. “Dad, it was a happy homecoming, eh?” I joke with him. He smiles in the affirmative. And so some 8 months from, child of mine, you will emerge into our world in a hospital delivery room — breathing oxygen into your lungs, objecting loudly to being manhandled, and greeting not only your parents but your big sister, Julia, for the first time. The time will pass quickly and (we hope) without problems.
I start to write to you on the Web for much the same reason as I did with your sister: as a gift to you in later life. Some fifteen years from now I will show you these words and deliver to you sovereignty of your Internet domain. In the way Jews have a Bar or Mat Mizhvah, the Mexicans give their daughters a Quinceañera celebration, or the Spartans sent their teenaged sons alone into the wilderness to kill a wolf, this will be a rite of initiation into “adulthood.” When you turn 15 or 16 I will give to you all the passwords, files, photos, videos that I have collected of you and you can manage them as you please – they will be yours, and you can create and manage your online persona. You will also be able to read many of the intimate thoughts and recollections of your father about your earliest days, and you will be mature enough to understand them. I have little idea how my parents felt when I was an infant or how they reacted at the time, and my father cannot discern much detail about events from forty years ago – and my mother took her experiences to the grave, leaving almost no written record. What I would not give to sit down and ask my mother what it was like to be a new mother with me in her arms! This will be different.
What you – and your sister – will have here are my recollections set down in writing about this intense, demanding, and absolutely critical time of our family life. The writing will be raw and real, and hopefully you will be able to gain a glimpse in the words here through my eyes of an era of your life you were too young to remember. As you get older and can remember more, I will write less and let you write more. Eventually, you will be able to do all I can do and then the job falls on you. The only way any of us can make much sense of our lives is through the hard, rewarding discipline of seeking to set down in words what has happened to us as cleanly and clearly as possible. You will notice this, this, and this I have up on the wall of my classroom, and this give you insight into your father and his value system – and into the larger family you are born into. In many critical ways I am not dissimilar to my father as blood calls out to blood, and you inherit so much in your DNA and family culture that will only become apparent with time and experience. As I am a “Geib,” for better or for worse, so you are. You shall see.
So, to start with, you were conceived on Sunday June 5th, 2009 with much love and passion. After two year’s negotiation, your mother and I decided it was time: she went off the birth control pill and you were created almost immediately – literally on the first try (the same as with your big sister!). Your mother and I knew she was pregnant well before the tests came back “positive.”
and we were elated, as were friends and family. Your birthday and your big sister’s birthday will come at the end of February and beginning of April, but the more important days I will remember will be the buoyant, blissful end of the school year in early June when you were both conceived. Summer is right around the corner, the work year is almost over, and everybody is happy. Every June should always be remembered this way.
You will be just a tad under three years younger than your big sister and that is exactly as we have tried to plan it: distant enough in age not to be too competitive, yet close enough to be in same stage of life. We did not want Julia to be in high school with you in elementary, but we also did not want you competing in the same academic classes and sports teams. We wanted three years difference. And it would appear we have it. Almost exactly.
I have – and have had – this vision of our family in five years: two children nicely clothed, carefully groomed, and (relatively) well-behaved sitting at a table in a restaurant for Sunday brunch. All is in order. The scene is harmonious. Everyone is loved, valued, and secure in that knowledge. We are well on our way to realizing that vision, my second child! You will almost surely be our last child. I shall have two children, and those two will have my very best efforts to get the best possible start in life – and I shall do everything in my power to make it so. Then in later you and your sister shall be allies in life and a support to each other as your mother and I fade. As I explained over and over to your mother (who was an only child), “Let’s give Julia the gift of a sibling!” And so we are.
It is ironic that I can feel your presence so manifestly but don’t yet know your sex and hence cannot call you by name. Much talk has revolved around whether you will be a girl or a boy, and although that has already been determined we will have to wait two more months to find out. Frankly, I would prefer to go the old-fashioned route and not know until you are born. But your mother wants to know and she gets the final say, as she is carrying you under her heart. So in a few months I will stand next to your mother, hold her hand, and look into her eyes before we both look at the ultrasound monitor and look for telltale signs of your sex through the ghostly gray imagery. Many have opined that, since you already have an older sister, a boy would be ideal in this pregnancy. My first overwhelming hope is for a healthy child – male or female. A healthy child! Especially since so much is beyond our control, we are sensitive to your healthy and successful gestation over the next eight months. We hope to greet a healthy child when it comes time for delivery in late February 2009 – all else is of secondary concern.
That being said, we hope for a boy. In such a case, we shall name you “Richard David Geib.” You will be the third in a line of “Richards” without adding that burdensome, pretentious appellation of “Jr.” There was Richard John and then Richard James and now Richard David. You will be like father, grandfather – but your own self. You will shame most our name but will always be your own “Richard.” Your grandfather Geib takes much note of this possibility. Your mother asked me to call your grandfather when she found out she was pregnant and to tell him the good news. He hopes for a boy (a “Richard,” in particular.
But if you turn out to be female, I will only be the slightest bit disappointed. One has so little control of such things, and I am honored and privileged to have the luck to become a parent again and be the best father I can be – the sex of the child is of relatively little concern in this context.
Even in early pregnancy, I have placed my head to your mother’s belly and spoken to you. I offered you a hearty “welcome” when we found out about you, and a “good night” before we slept each night. (Your big sister has often joined us in talking to you by placing her mouth to mommy’s stomach and speaking.) I will continue to talk with you all throughout pregnancy as I did with your sister. Also, I will have the same week-by-week pregnancy calendar and study the development of organs, start of a heart-beat, “quickening”, viability, etc. as you undergo them. I will write to you and develop your Internet presence, as I did with your sister. Partly I will do this to keep relatives in the loop of photos and news, but mostly I will write, photograph, and shoot video for you. From where do I come? How did I get here? What happened? What did people think and feel at the time? All these important questions will have partial answers in this historical record.
After I told him of my online plans with Julia my good friend Francisco told me I would never find the time to complete such an ambitious task. The seemingly unending demands of parenthood would overtake and consume me, he warned. I have proved him wrong. A huge fear of mine is that I would devote more time and energy to a firstborn than to later children. I recently read this quote by Ayelet Waldman from her book, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace:
I produced six complete, beautifully organized photo albums of Sophie’s first year, the kind with the individual photo corners and the tissue-paper dividers. Stored on my computer are hundreds of files of digital images of her every smile, step, and bowel movement. Hanging on our walls are not one but two series of framed black and whites taken by professional photographers whose services cost more than my first car. I have a plastic storage bin full of videotapes with hour upon hour of Sophie playing with her toes or spinning the beads on her ExerSaucer or sleeping. We videotaped her sleeping, because, my God, no baby has ever looked so beautiful when she slept.
There are exactly twelve decent photographs of Abe’s first year (and a bunch of digital images I will someday get around to downloading). The twelve photographs were taken only because we started this thing when Sophie was a baby of taking a picture every month with a sign that said, “1 month,” “2 months,” and so on and then at the end of the year framing all twelve of them together and hanging the poster-sized picture on the wall. We did it joyfully with Sophie, absentmindedly with Zeke, grudgingly with Rosie, and finally with Abe, only because not doing it would have given him too much to talk about in therapy.
My hope is to have two children and to give them equal parts love and attention. No favoritism. No having so many kids I don’t have the time to give them the best fathering I can. Two kids — and do that well. That is “doable.” As I concluded when Julia was in her mother’s womb, “There are no second chances, there is only failed parenting.”
Two healthy kids conceived easily and born healthy into the world – I would pretty much consider life and myself even at that point. I would not ask much more from it.
So I will keep my finger’s crossed.
And I will see you in late February!
As with your big sister, mine will be just about the first face you see. God willing, I will hold you up and welcome you to the world and cut your umbilical chord! So much wanted by your parents, we will accept you with the utmost care and thanks into our loving family.
Your Loving Father,
Maria and I are pregnant!