I woke up early on St. Patrick’s Day in 1994. Oh, about 5 a.m., I believe. Kevin was still asleep. Savannah was still asleep, no doubt cuddled under her covers with her teddy bear Pickles. Whiskers, our striped orange cat, was still curled up next to my head on the pillow. But my big belly was wide awake, and as I drew a deep breath through that first contraction, I smiled. My second baby girl was on her way, and she was going to be a little Irish lass. I positioned myself comfortably upon all of my extra pillows and stayed quiet and still for the next hour, resting my eyes, breathing deeply, and remaining calm. Second babies were easier, and this one was going to arrive with a minimum of fuss, I just knew it. I spent that precious time alone thinking of this new little girl that I would soon meet. There was such love and joy in my heart for her already and there were so many beautiful mysteries in front of me about how she would look, what would be the character of her heart and the quality of her mind, and how her life would unfold.
When the alarm clock signaled the real beginning of the day, I set in motion my plan for a normal weekday morning, at least until Savannah was delivered to her kindergarten classroom and I was on my way to the hospital. Still calm, but increasingly excited, I showered and dressed, helped Savannah prepare for her school day, alerted my obstetrician, and called my mother to begin her journey to Springfield. When we deposited a nervous little Savannah at Dubois Elementary, ensuring her we that would call the school just as soon as her sister arrived, I viewed within the sparkle of my firstborn’s hazel eyes the love already overflowing for her long-awaited little sister. By ten that morning, I was settled in at St. John’s Hospital, and after a visit from the most popular anesthesiologist in the maternity ward (epidurals are the way to go, my friends) and a relatively easy delivery, we announced to the world: Mackenzie Kathleen is here!
On that first day of my new baby’s life, I knew nothing of who she was in her heart, what talents she might possess, or how special her spirit was to be. I could not then divine that she was charming, funny, and athletic. I did not then know that her palate was awaiting sour candies and spicy Thai food. I had no inkling that she would have a passion for popular culture, for lazy afternoons, and for writing. I was, as yet, unaware that her heart was bursting to make its mark on a bevy of best friends. I did not even yet know that she was Mack. On that first day of her life, she was Mackenzie Kathleen, our lucky little leprechaun, the final piece of our McDermott family puzzle. On that first day, she was just a sweet and perfect baby daughter and an eagerly awaited and immediately beloved little sister; and our hearts were full of unconditional love no matter what the future would hold for her or for us.
Now, of course, twenty-two years later, I know exactly the heart, mind, and character of Mackenzie Kathleen, our Irish girl who jigged and giggled her way through our twenty years together. I am so thankful for those years, immeasurably grateful for my time with her. It was an honor to call her my daughter, and it was the greatest of joys to be her Momma Bear. I am proud of the kid she was and of the young woman she became. She enriched my life in so many ways, some of which I have been able to articulate within the essays of this blog and others for which there is no earthy way to adequately measure or to appropriately define.
Now, on this day, twenty-two years later, I am bitter in the loss of Mack’s beautiful life. I understand all too well that melancholy milestones like a birthday have the power to subdue all of the strength within me. I have sadly accepted the eternal existence of a mother’s grief. But I have also learned that there is help for me through the hours of these cruel landmarks of life without Mack. Help grown from a tiny baby girl born on March 17, 1994. Help in the form of a tall and leggy, freckled, Irish lass with the light of a million stars around her and the laughter of an angel within her. Because Mack is with me in my heart. She occupies my memories. Her spirit and good cheer is ever in the air that I breathe. Because Mackenzie Kathleen is still here. Mack is still here. And I am all the better for it.
Lá breithe shona duit, Mackenzie Kathleen. Happy Birthday, Mack. You continue to be an exquisite force of nature in the lives of us all.