Baby’s first second Christmas.

Every time I find myself getting excited about Jack and Emme’s first Christmas, I’m forced to remind myself that it’s not actually their first. They spent their first Christmas swaddled not only in blankets but also in a web of wires, gauze, and plastic. The sounds of Nat King Cole and Perry Como from a nearby radio were punctuated by static-filled intercom calls; the frantic alarms and peculiar horns of nearby monitors; and the sharp, plaintive cries of strangers. If visions of sugarplums danced, it was only in their heads; their eyes were covered with foam goggles most of the time to protect them from the blue light that was dispelling their jaundice. And it was beginning to look a lot like clear tubes: tubes in their noses, tubes down their throats, tubes in their arms, tubes on their toes. All of this as they lay encased in large lucite shoe boxes on either side of their room in the NICU. The 20 feet separating them might as well have been 20 miles.

I’m not surprised that I keep forgetting their first Christmas.

Not that the nurses didn’t try to make it a little more festive. Several days earlier, we had come to the twins’ room to find jaunty new signs attached to each of their beds. No longer would they be presented to the world as “Hightower Boy Twin 1” and “Hightower Girl Twin 2” (when Lara was admitted, they assumed she and I had the same last name; we never corrected their error except on official paperwork). As the holiday approached, candy canes and minature Santa hats appeared next to the signs. I could tell that this was a standard procedure in the NICU; the beds of all of the other tiny patients were similarly adorned. But it didn’t make me appreciate their attempt to inject a little personality and holiday spirit into a grim situation any less.


We were also fortunate to have a little backup on hand last Christmas. Lara’s mentioned this several times on the blog, but we have no relatives in the area. The nearest family members live 600 miles away. Throughout the pregnancy, the birth, and these first stressful days of Emme and Jack’s lives, we had been on our own. There had been plenty of calls and emails of support, but it just wasn’t the same. That said, we had turned down visits from each set of grandparents because it didn’t really make sense. We would be sitting in the NICU eight hours a day where only a few non-parent visitors were allowed. The rest of the time, Lara would be pumping breast milk and I would be doing whatever I could to be supportive. And we would both be sleeping as much as possible. That didn’t sound like a schedule that was worth ruining anyone’s holiday.

However, Lara’s brother, his wife, and their kids didn’t see it that way. Two days before Christmas, the six of them — including a three-month old boy — piled into their minivan and drove 11 hours to be with us. Michelle, Lara’s sister-in-law, called me the day before to see if I thought visiting us was all right. They wanted to surprise Lara but wanted me to sign off on the plan before committing to the open road.

The truth is that I had misgivings. The birth and the days following had been extremely hard on Lara. Frankly, I wasn’t sure she was up to visitors. But I also knew that she adored her family, especially her three nieces and the new nephew that she hadn’t yet met. If there was anyone that could lift her spirits, it was these people.

In the end I was unable to decide, so I spoiled the surprise and asked Lara. She said yes and seemed quite excited by the prospect. Yet I thought I saw something in her eyes, something that went beyond just hating the idea that we were upending her brother’s Christmas plans. Something that feared, as I did, that she just wasn’t up to it.

We needn’t have worried. The moment we saw them, we knew we had made the right choice. It felt so good to have someone there in the flesh to celebrate the season. Laughter filled our apartment as we opened presents on Christmas Eve (as is Lara’s family’s tradition). There was a moment — an instant — when I could have almost forgotten that all was not right with the world.

Almost.

But by that point, Lara and I were so steeped in anxiety and fear from the previous week and a half that it seemed like we would never be normal again. That these feelings would continue long after the babies had come home, had grown, had left, had made families of their own. Not even the Hightower Express could fully deaden the effect of the hospital on Christmas Day, quiet and dark, running on a skeleton crew, with the day’s feast comprising day-old rolls and limp manicotti from the cafeteria. To their credit, the Hightowers made it seem if they were dining at the Rainbow Room.

They had been equally gracious the day before, waiting patiently in the hospital lobby for hours as we took them up in pairs to see Jack and Emmeline in the NICU. The Hightowers’ visits had to be brief and there wasn’t much they could do to interact with the babies since they were still chained to various machines. In the end, they drove 22 hours round trip to see our children for 15 minutes a piece.

We’ll be returning the favor in a little less than two weeks. Not only will be giving those six Santa’s helpers their first proper introduction to the twins, but also the babies will be visiting both Lara’s and my parents on their home turf for the first time. There will also be face time with my sister, hopefully with my aunt, and definitely with the magnificent, huge collective known as Lara’s extended family.

This is the Christmas when memories will be made. This is the Christmas of good tidings brought to us and our kin.

This is our babies’ first Christmas with us.

Shannon - December 11, 2011 - 7:33 pm

I haven’t decided what I love more…that picture of Jack’s wonder looking at those Christmas lights or your phenomenal writing. This definitely will be a Christmas you will all remember! 🙂

Lara Jo - December 11, 2011 - 7:53 pm

BACK OFF, SHANNON, HE’S TAKEN

Janie Hightower - December 11, 2011 - 9:35 pm

I don’t even like to think of what a hard time this was for both of you, and I’m so happy to know that Andy and Michelle etc. brought you some degree of relief. They were extremely kind to have done that. I think we have a really nice little family here. And I’m so grateful that we’re all safe and sound now.

Justin - December 11, 2011 - 11:34 pm

Thanks for the kind words, Shannon. As much as I’m dreading those 22 hours in the car, it will seem like a delightful romp compared to last year. And Janie, I couldn’t agree more, on all points.

katie - December 12, 2011 - 10:53 pm

While I know what the J and E stand for, part of me felt like “where is the ‘SUS’?” 🙂

Lara Jo - December 13, 2011 - 6:27 pm

Ha! We just call him “Je” for short around these parts.

Richard Ragsdale - December 17, 2011 - 5:50 pm

What? There’s something in my eye, ok?

Clara - April 4, 2017 - 4:50 pm

Your answer lifts the ingitlelence of the debate.

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