Today is Loopy's eighteenth birthday. There are no photos of her from the day she was born, but here she is at about two weeks old:
Saucy has a friend on Facebook, a cheer coach in another city who she's never met face-to-face, who has a tiny baby in and out of PICU and is living every parent's worst nightmare. What Saucy would like to say to this woman, who she's never met face-to-face, who she knows through coaching chat groups only, is that she only can hope that eighteen years from now the woman finds herself where Saucy is now, celebrating an eighteenth birthday.
Let Saucy rewind back to when Loopy was born at three pounds six ounces. She was early and the pregnancy was fraught with all sorts of complications (too many for Saucy to mention here without drinking wine before noon) but let's just summarize by saying that after weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit, the doctors discharged Loopy at four pounds with these words of advice to Saucy:
"She's probably not going to make it. We normally wait until these infants are five pounds before discharge but that isn't going to happen, so you should take her home and enjoy you time with her without machines and in private. She is barely feeding with this special NICU formula but you can try her on regular formula and do the best you can. If she were larger we would send you home with a monitor for night sleeping but it would just go off all the time and you won't get any sleep, so do your best. We are amazed she's come this far, but she really responds when you hold her and that's probably what got her here. Good luck to you."
And do you know what Saucy thought at that moment? To put it bluntly, she thought go fuck yourselves.
She took Loopy home and fed her with eye droppers and then tiny bottles. The Secret Weapon fashioned special feeding nipples for those bottles by retrofitting the tiny pacifiers from the NICU. He made the hole bigger so it would be easier for her to get her nourishment. Saucy and The Fan worked round the clock to hold and feed that tiny four pound bag of gold. Saucy slept either sitting up to hold Loopy up on her shoulder or flat on her back with Loopy on her stomach, constantly rubbing her back and head to keep her breathing. Here and then, Saucy would doze off and awake with a jolt - and give Loopy a slight shake just to be sure. They had their moments. It was not easy.
Loopy grew. The doctors were amazed when Saucy showed up with her at a regular follow up appointment with the NICU staff. She was almost eight pounds at six months... they said it was a miracle. It seemed as though she was a newborn, barely opening her eyes. Don't get your hopes up, they said. These babies are more prone to sudden infant death in the first two years of life. Would you like a monitor now?
And do you know what Saucy thought at that moment? She thought fuck you and your monitor. We're doing just fine.
At the next appointment they still marvelled at Loopy's weight gain and growth but suggested that she'd likely never sit up, Saucy should just enjoy holding this baby like a newborn until she got big enough for a special chair.
And do you know what Saucy (and The Fan) said to each other when they left that appointment? They thought, fuck that. We have a plan. (Now just to clarify, The Fan doesn't talk like a sailor but she was definitely on board with Saucy's general sentiment by this point).
The Fan took out her finest silk scarves from her trips to Europe many years ago and they tied Loopy up in a high chair. She looked part Geisha, part Cabbage Patch doll. She was strapped in there from torso up, with her head and hands free. At first her head drooped but eventually she was strong enough to hold it up. Saucy fed her diluted cereal and baby food and tipped her head back like a dog taking a pill with cheese, rubbing her throat sometimes to make her swallow.
Around one, she was sitting up (slouching) but she was starting to cry and wail when she would get hungry and Saucy took this as a good sign. The doctors of course, said it was a miracle because "these babies" sometimes never cry and "they can't even process their own hunger." But not to worry, they said. She would never stand up or walk but they would put her name on a list for a really nice wheelchair and Saucy should put her name on the Children's Wish Foundation list. Maybe a nice trip to Disneyland would make everyone feel better about things.
And of course, Saucy thought to herself as she strapped one-year old Loopy in her newborn car seat and drove home, fuck that too.
From that day on, Saucy sat Loopy on a blanket and then went and sat on the other side of the room. If Loopy wanted to be held, she'd have to come and get it. Later, if Loopy wanted some food or a toy, she'd have to reach for it. The cereal pieces and cookies were up on the ottoman, then on the counter. Life was hard. She cried a lot. Saucy cried. Everyone cried. "Just give it to her already" Saucy heard that from so many people... so many people she had to tell politely to fuck off.
And that was Loopy's childhood in a nutshell. A whole lot of crying. A whole lot of Saucy saying inappropriate things under her breath to well-meaning individuals who constantly suggested that Loopy might be better off with a walker, with crutches, in a wheelchair. And we had all of those things, at some point or another. Loopy had little casts and little braces on her legs. She wore the funny shoes and the giant elastic bands from her toes to her waist. She had glasses and when she walked she stumbled and fell and bumped into things but every single time she got back up again.
It was as though someone had taught her a powerful phrase: fuck it.
She had a wheelchair for a time in grade school but she tired of the whole idea and she didn't want her best friend to have to push her at field trips anymore. She worked out of it and made due with her little braces and splints. Sometimes when she got home from school, she melted down in a puddle of exhaustion because it was such hard work, keeping up with everyone else as much as she could. On top of everything, she had regular physical therapy and occupational therapy, occasional speech therapy and a zillion other appointments. The school thought it best if Loopy didn't take physical education, because it was hard for the teachers to work around her different abilities and besides, it was a good time for her to do her therapy. She had an assigned teachers assistant who she herself promptly dismissed, waving her off with, "why don't you go and find someone to help who needs you?"
Reader, you know how this story ends. It doesn't have an ending because Loopy hasn't written it yet. She can do anything she wants but she seems especially interested in doing the things that everyone thinks she cannot do. You know that the girl who would never talk or sit up or walk is now a high school senior with excellent grades and group of wonderful friends. They never shut up, Saucy can attest to that. The girl who stumbled and was told she'd be better off with a walker is a cheerleader. This year she is strong enough to be a base - she is holding up kids her own size. Sometimes, self-doubt creeps in mostly because she's worried that she might let go and someone else will get hurt because of her limitations. But she keeps at it. She doesn't complain. She does every single skill even though it kills her crooked little back and legs. She jumps and she tumbles. She comes home exhausted.
And she's beautiful, but you knew that already. She's smart. She is quick-witted with a dry sense of humour and if you get in her way her jokes will be at your expense but that is a small price to pay. All of it, every tear, every fight with a doctor or teacher who suggested otherwise has been a small price to gain a fortune. For we have spun that four pound bag of gold into something priceless.
So, to Saucy's never met face-to-face friend, it will get better. Saucy can tell you have the fight in you. You're a cheerleading coach, for God's sake. You can do this. You were born to do this. And if the doctors or the specialists ever suggest that it cannot be done, you know what to say to them.