The Samantha Years

The Blessing Bowl:

July 14, 2007. Numerically it’s a very good day. 07-14-2007, fourteen is divisible by seven and two times seven equals fourteen. I figure this is a sign of good luck. I’ve been doing this lately; looking at long strings of numbers to see if they could divide into themselves. I’m not sure why. Maybe my brain is thinking of ways to keep itself entertained. Regardless, it’s a good date. I like the number seven. It’s a good prime.

This day fell on a Saturday. The day that we were going to celebrate my daughter’s first birthday. She doesn’t turn one until the 18th but Saturday’s are easier to get the family together and I liked the numeric’s.

Samantha’s birthday has been the cause of some anxiety for me. It’s a mixed bag of emotion. I am thrilled that we are celebrating a year of her life but saddened at how hard this year has been for all of us, especially Samantha. We have spent 61 days in the hospital, two flight for life helicopter rides, numerous 911 calls and late night trips in the ambulance. Well, Samantha rode in the helicopter. My husband Bart and I had to follow in our Malibu station wagon, dodging traffic and cursing at slow drivers as we rushed to keep up with the chopper. Helicopters go faster than cars, especially in rush hour traffic.

How do you celebrate this year? I knew how I didn’t want to celebrate. I didn’t want kids her age running around as a reminder of where she should be in her development; playing with her toys as we watched and hoped Samantha didn’t have another seizure. This may sound bitter but I’m the mom and I knew what I was able to handle. No toddling toddlers.

We did need to celebrate. But to have a party and pretend like nothing happened this year didn’t seem right either. Samantha had been through hell and back in her first year of life. We needed to commemorate that.

We kept the party just to family which still turned out to be quite a gathering. I frosted 16 white cupcakes Saturday morning. Well, really 20, my husband ate 4. As I prepared chicken and brats for our barbeque, I felt a sense of peace overcome me. We made it. Our daughter was still here, kicking at her toys on the floor. Our marriage was still intact despite all of those times I was tempted to take off in the Malibu for Mexico. All of those things were worth a celebration.

To honor Samatha’s first year, I had asked people to bring a trinket, a stone, a poem, something that brought them peace or felt good to them. Samantha didn’t need another toy. Samantha needed good juju. I went upstairs in search of a bowl for her well wishes and noticed my great-grandmother’s sewing box. It was made from pine and had a heavy wooden handle. I imagined my great-grandmother toting it from room to room as she quilted or mended socks, sitting peacefully in the corner. She was a lover of children and stray animals. I knew Grandma Burbank was out there, looking over Samantha. I opened the top and inhaled the musky scent of the past. Thread and yarn were wrapped around tiny sticks to keep them from knotting. There was an old rusty Sucrets box filled with buttons still waiting for a shirt. No, I thought. This is not the right container for Samantha’s trinkets. Too much history.

I looked around the room and found another antique of Grandma Burbank’s. It was a simple bowl, the color of sand. Hearty, solid and held the test of time, just like my great-grandmother. Perfect. I carried the bowl downstairs and set it on the table.

I ventured outside to my garden to find my contribution to the blessing bowl. I love my garden. I am continually impressed with the cycle of life perpetuated every spring. I plant tiny seeds in the dirt and they turn into beautiful zucchinis or luscious tomatoes. I found a rock that was smooth all over except for one small side which was jagged and coarse. Perfect, I thought. Samantha’s bumpy beginning…the rest of her life will be smooth. I held it in my hand. It was warm and felt right. I also snipped a bloom from the lily I planted the summer my husband and I were married. The bloom was a buttery yellow with brown spots on the petals. There were three petals, for the three of us in our family.

I was on a roll. I bounded upstairs and found the small, pink, baby bootie charm I wore religiously when I was pregnant with Samantha. In the bowl. I also found one wooden angel wing. I’m not sure where the rest of the angel went but one wing seemed to do the trick. In the bowl. My final contribution was a wooden puzzle piece painted as a big, pink pig. Samantha is about to go on a high-fat, extremely restrictive diet which we hope will help with her seizures. Piggy belonged in the bowl too.

I was done. I set the bowl back on the table and went about getting ready for our guests. I smiled to myself as a Natalie Merchant song came on:

With love, with patience and with faith, she’ll make her way.
She’ll make her way, hey, hey, hey

“That’s you, my baby girl.” I said dancing for my daughter on the floor. She happily jabbered back.

I put Samantha down for her nap promising a wonderful evening all about her if she would just sleep for a couple hours. Amazingly, she closed her eyes and drifted off.

Flowers showed up from my brother and sister-in-law in St. Louis. I clipped off a sprig of daisies…in the bowl.

Samantha woke up on her own at precisely 4:00, when the party was going to start. She’s on so many anti-seizure meds that fully waking her up can take about an hour. Yet today she was lucid and playing in her crib; ready for her party. I put her in a blue dress with yellow daisies. I’ve been saving that dress for a year and a half; waiting for her to be big enough, waiting for that first year. The blue brought out her red hair. I placed her tiny tortoise-shell glasses on her nose and laughed to myself. She was absolutely the most precious thing on earth.

Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, filed in and kissed Samantha. Wine bottles were uncorked, hummus and brie laid out on the table. The mood was festive as everyone toasted to Samantha’s health.

As the evening progressed and the dinner plates were cleared away, it was time for our blessing bowl ceremony. Samantha was still awake, babbling to her Grandma and seizure free.

I brought out my great-grandmother’s bowl and set it in front of our family and studied the faces in front of me. I thought of what a long haul it had been for everyone; the sleepless nights, the worried phone calls, the private tears cried away from the hospital, all for our daughter.

Overwhelmed with gratitude, I cleared my throat and thanked my family for being there. I reached into the bowl and pulled out my blessings for Samantha, the lily from our wedding, the rock from the garden, the baby shoe, the angel wing and the piggy puzzle piece. I also pulled out the daisy from her aunt and uncle.

The last trinket I presented was a jade necklace from Hong Kong. My sister-in-law Poling, is from China and went home for a visit in May. Her mother gave her the necklace to give to Samantha for good luck. Thirty four years ago Poling’s little brother wore the necklace for good luck, good health and safety during his babyhood. Now it was being passed down to Samantha. The span of people loving and praying for Samantha had traveled thousands of miles.

I passed the bowl onto my grandmother, Samantha’s great-grandmother. She pulled out a silver bell. The handle was carved in the shape of an angel, “because Samantha is our angel.” When my talkative Grandma gets emotional, she is a lady of little words. She passed the bowl onto one of Samantha’s Grandmas, her Nonnie.

Nonnie pulled out a perfect sand dollar she found on a California beach. “I chose a sand dollar because it comes from the ocean. The ocean is a beautiful, constant, volatile source of life. The surface can be calm or stormy but we never really see what is going on below. And there is a whole different world below. This reminds me of Samantha; we don’t really know what’s going on underneath the surface. But there is a beautiful world full of life.”

My aunt Tracy pulled out a small silver heart. “I have carried this heart with me for twenty years. It has brought me good luck all of these years. Samantha, I now hand it onto you.” Tracy had become a great friend since Samantha had been sick; visiting in the hospital, sending cards and notes of encouragement. She is a little superstitious. Tracy’s silver heart was her beating heart . It went in the bowl.

My sister-in-law Poling went next. She brought a prayer from a Buddhist temple in Hong Kong. It is a prayer for health and longevity. The Chinese characters were printed in red ink on beautiful brown parchment. Poling passed the bowl to her daughters who had made tiny paper balls while in Hong Kong. The balls also had Chinese characters printed in red ink. The girls had also knitted purple and pink bows for Samantha. I pictured them sitting at a table while on vacation in China, knitting bows and making tiny paper balls for their small cousin; presenting their craft to their mother for approval and thinking of how Samantha would like them.

The bowl was passed to my mother, Grandma Judy who had also chosen shells. The first was a brown and white spiral I had found years ago during a family vacation to Florida. The second was from Tahiti, another beautiful, smooth shell, chosen a thousand miles away years before Samantha was born. My mom and stepdad love the ocean and are avid scuba divers. “The ocean” my mom said, “is a constant source of life. It is where life began. It harbors so many mysteries that we aren’t aware of.”

My cousin and his wife presented three candles for peace, harmony and health. The bowl now smelled of sandalwood and lavender.

My dad went last. He had a small stuffed dog dressed in a karate uniform. When you pressed the dog’s stomach it yelled out “HY YA!” and other ‘karate’ sounds. My dad has had this dog for years. It was his kick butt dog. It reminded him of how Samantha fought the doctors and nurses in the hospital and how she continues to fight. HY YA!

The blessing bowl ceremony was over. The bowl felt alive in my hands; full of love, health and good thoughts.

Cupcakes were served. As I lit her single candle, I felt giddy. One year of life.

Samantha’s dad helped her blow out the candle. We fed her frosting and pieces of mushy cake which she smashed between her fingers and toes.

More wine was poured. The men smoked cigars outside. The women (except for my grandmother who stayed outside with the boys) closed the windows and complained about the smell. Samantha rolled around on the floor, too wound up to sleep.

The night came to an end and we said good bye to our families. I finally got my tired, over-stimulated daughter to sleep. My husband went to bed. I wandered through the house remembering the night. I took the lily and the daisy out of the bowl and placed them in our big family Bible to be pressed for safe keeping. The Bible was my Grandfather’s who passed away over a decade ago. Its black leather cover holds family trees, obituaries and birth announcements through generations. As I thumbed through the pages I found a red rose, perfectly pressed between the passages. I don’t know the origin but I felt compelled to put it in the bowl. It was my grandfather’s wish, his blessing for Samantha.

I continued to roam through the sleepy house and then collapsed on the couch with a glass of wine. I sighed, happy to have a quiet moment to myself and reflect on the past year. We have asked so much from our families, friends and people we don’t know. They have spent countless hours in the hospital, brought meals, coffees, contacted other family members, held and loved Samantha, prayed, sent jade pendants from Hong Kong. How do you give that back?

Gratitude, I thought. I am grateful that I could wander through the house looking for parts and pieces of our life to put in the bowl. Grateful for my daughter’s pink cheeks, for every breath she takes, for a seizure free birthday; that neither my husband nor I decided to take the Malibu to Mexico and leave this life behind. I am grateful for family and friends that could give their silver heart up for the blessing bowl.

Someday I will repay the world for their acts of kindness to our family. I will make meals for someone else. I will send their family good wishes for good health; and visit the hospital with coffee and fresh brownies. Right now I can only reflect on the joy of the night and be grateful.