Some might say that my youngest son, Zachary, was a miracle baby. I say that he is as he is meant to be. The following is quite a lengthy story, every word is true, but it is well worth the read. Everyone thinks their kid is among the best and worthy of praise and boasting about, but for Zachariah and I, that has not always been the case. It has been a long, hard road, and we both still have a bit of traveling to do, but we are finally going in the right direction, and I foresee a magnificence in our future that I am, without a doubt, excited about and look forward to. I dedicate this story to you, Zachariah James, so you can see just how very important you really are to me. I love you, Sweetheart!
Zachary’s father, David, and I had just purchased a triple wide mobile home and were having it placed on a two acre lot in Carson, Washington, while still living in a rental house in Portland, when I became pregnant with Zachary. We had been trying for almost a year and finally, I received the news that I was going to have a baby. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, relief, and pure joy. I remember when I was pregnant with Jeremiah how much I loved being pregnant and this time was no different. With this tiny innocence growing inside of me, David was refraining from hitting me and this made me very happy indeed.
During this time, I was the general manager at A & W Hotdogs and More at the local mall and I was working six days a week and ten hours a day, while finalizing contractor issues and packing up the house in preparation to move. Finally, the day arrived, and with the help of my father, we loaded up a U-Haul truck, and headed north. The night was a stormy one and by the time we arrived at the new house, it was not only pouring, but the ground was very muddy. I had to resign to the fact that my brand new carpet was going to get filthy with all the mud being tracked in, but there really was no other option. We were there and our furniture and many other belongings had to be brought in from the truck. I, of course, went and rented a carpet shampooer first thing the following morning and, thankfully, when I was finished, it looked as fresh as it did the night before.
As we settled into our new home, we also continued to work, only now we had a 60-mile commute, one way. The drive in was always pleasant, armed with coffee, good music, and the warmth of the sun touching me through my open window, I enjoyed this time to myself to start my day. The drive home, on the other hand, was quite a bit frustrating with traffic and, of course, being tired, hungry, and just wanting to relax. As stressful as getting home was, it was well worth it because I had a new house, was going to have a baby, and things at the moment were better than they had been in years. I was content.
One day, when I was at work, I had to use the bathroom, a lot. But things were not going as they were supposed to. When I was out front serving customers, I would suddenly feel wetness pour down my legs, so I would put up a sign that read, “Be back in 5 minutes!” and proceed to the small bathroom in the back room. However, once I got there and sat on the toilet, nothing happened. Back out to the front I would go, everything fine for a few minutes, and then more cascading wetness, now literally filling my shoes. Fortunately, I had started wearing black sweat pants to work, and the dampness was not detectable. I was getting aggravated, to say the least, so I put in a call to my husband at work.
David worked at Waste Management and drove a truck in which he picked up recycling. When I called, they had to locate him on his route and give him a message to call me, so it took about 20 minutes before he finally called. I said to him, “The baby is sitting on my bladder and I keep peeing all over myself without warning.” Really, there was nothing he could do at this point but listen and sympathize, but he did say a few encouraging words before hanging up. This awful cycle continued for almost another hour and I was becoming very emotional. I called David’s work again, but this time, I asked to speak to his boss, Bruce. When Bruce came on the line, I burst into tears saying I really needed to talk to David. He spoke gently to me and got me to calm down a little and explain to him what was going on. When I was finished, he told me to sit tight and he would take care of things.
Ten minutes later, the phone rang and it was David on the line. He told me to either get someone in quick to cover me or to close the store (it was a slow day at the mall and I was the only one working at the time), because I was in labor and he was coming to take me to the hospital. I tried to argue with him, both in regards to being in labor three months early, and objecting to closing the store, as I would incur a fine for the company. He said they would have to understand and that because it was a medical emergency that entailed two lives, what could they do? He said he was on his way back to the yard and to be ready to go when he got to where I was. I hung up the phone and immediately started closing things down, locking the money in the safe, and putting food away so it wouldn’t spoil until someone got there. I also called and left a message for my District Manager. The thought of possibly being in labor both frightened and excited me. I was very concerned about my baby, but how could I not be excited that I may get to hold him on that very day?
David arrived shortly and explained to me on our way out of the mall that Bruce, his boss, was sitting in his truck, engine running, passenger side door open, when he returned to the yard. He was told to leave his truck where it was and to climb in…and hurry! Bruce drove like a maniac to the mall, and if you didn’t know better, you would have thought it was his wife that was having a baby. I will never forget that man for what he did for David and I that day. When we arrived at the hospital, Bruce had already called ahead and I was met by a nurse at the ready with a wheelchair and rushed into a room for immediate examination. The first thing the nurse did was to press a small length of pH paper against my soaked sweat pants, and when it turned blue, she said that yes, I was definitely going into labor as my water had broken. With that, I was put into a bed, hooked up to heart monitors for both myself and Zach, and there was a bustling around of several nurses and a doctor coming in and out.
I just laid back on the pillows and relaxed while I waited for things to get moving. Within a few minutes of checking the baby’s heart monitor, several nurses were scuttling in and out of the room whispering urgently amongst each other and eventually tried to explain to me the potential risks and dangers that often times come with early birth and what I can expect. He would likely have to be life-flighted to Emanuel Children’s Hospital as a precaution and they told me to try to not worry. Normally, I am one to panic in situations like this and imagine the worst of the worst, but on this day, I had never felt so calm and sure that everything would be ok, including my newborn baby boy. I felt a peace around me and within, and thanked God for being by my side. Thirty-three minutes after being wheeled into the emergency room on May 28, 1997, Zachariah James Messer was born at 3:32 PM, weighing in at just 3 pounds and 8 ounces and at a length of 16 inches.
I was stuck in the hospital for an agonizing 48 hours before i could be released and driven to the children’s hospital. Though they said the first 72 hours were the most critical and that if Zachary made it through that time, then he had a better chance of surviving overall, I was not worried about that. I just flat-out wanted to see my baby! I could hardly sit still in the car on the ride over; I don’t think I have ever been so excited about anything as I was of that highly anticipated, first precious moment with my tiny son. Before entering the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), I first had to be confirmed to be the mother of the infant I was there to see, then scrub up, and be covered in protective clothes on my shoes, hair, and body. Finally, it was time. I was led through one area to a set of double doors that opened into the ward and followed the nurse to my baby. He was in an incubator and had a tiny IV line and breathing apparatuses attached to him, but I didn’t mind at all. He was amazingly perfect! Not at all what I had expected to see and my heart just burst with love and happiness. What an incredible gift, a blessing, that I had been given.
Zachary remained in that hospital for six weeks, but he was a very strong little guy. He was breathing on his own in less than two weeks and the respirator was removed. After three weeks, he no longer needed to be fed through a tube inserted into his itty bitty nose and down to his stomach, but could actually suckle on a small bottle, specially designed for premature babies. Zachary’s primary nurse, Nancy, calmly and optimistically explained all that was happening and what to expect. She told me that if I had any questions to be sure and ask her. So I did. I asked many questions, a lot of which I asked over and over again. Nancy answered them all, without hesitation, and with so much patience. She answered my repeated questions as if each time I was asking was the first time, and she was a great comfort through my insecurities.
From the first day I saw him, I could reach in and touch him, but I will never forget the day I first got to hold him. I wanted nothing more than to squeeze him close to me, but was extra careful to be as gentle as possible with my tender little bundle of joy. On one of these mornings, Zachary was awake and very alert, and I as sat rocking him, one of the nurses commented that he really seemed to respond quite well to my holding him and asked me if I would like to try Kangaroo therapy. “Huh? What is Kangaroo therapy?” I asked. She just grinned and said to follow her.
I very carefully stood up, not wanting to disturb or startle Zach in any way, and followed. She took me to a small changing room, took Zach from my arms and assured me that he would be fine, then handed me a new white terry cloth robe, still in the plastic wrap. She pointed to the area behind the curtain and instructed me to remove all clothing from above the waste and to put on the robe. When I came out, she led me a little ways down to a yellow door with a picture of a kangaroo on it. She gave a gentle knock before entering and asked me to take a seat in one of the rocking chairs. I believe there were four chairs in the room and only one was occupied at the time. I sat and she had me loosen my robe and open the top of it, as she removed the little gown that Zach had wrapped around him. She then lay Zach on my chest and wrapped my robe back around, covering Zach as well. She took a moment to explain to me that the warmth and stimulation of skin to skin contact, especially between an infant and their mother, was very therapeutic and healing for the baby. She said the sound, as well as the feel, of a mother’s heartbeat, in addition to smell of her scent, helps baby to relax and feel closer to the environment they were in while in the womb. This helps them to grow and continue to develop into healthier, happier babies. For me, they were precious bonding moments that I will never forget.
When it was time for Zachary to come home from the hospital, we were given a heart monitor and a brief demonstration on how to use it. Zachary was to be connected to the monitor anytime he was sleeping, so if ever he stopped breathing and his heart rate subsequently dropped, a screeching alarm would go off and we could gently rub his face or his belly, which in most cases was enough to get him to take a breath. For the six months that Zachary used the monitor, it went off only twice and without incident. On the day we left the hospital, we drove the 60 miles from Portland, OR to Carson, WA, but instead of driving up our road, David instead passed it by and continued up the hill to his father’s house. I remember thinking that I was tired and really just wanted to get settled in with Zachary and see my older son, Jeremiah, but I didn’t want to cause any tension, so kept my thoughts to myself. With Zachary bundled in my arms, I followed David into the house.
Little did I know that I was about to be blown away. –“Surprise!!!”— everyone shouted. There stood my five-year old, Jeremy, my father-in-law, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law, surrounded by huge boxes and many presents all wrapped and donned with bows and ribbons. I was speechless and could feel myself begin to tremble. I wasn’t sure if the shaking was from fatigue, excitement, or a sudden case of the nerves, but luckily, my mother-in-law, Lucy, greedily took Zachary from my arms and the cuddling and fussing and loving commenced. My knees were feeling weak, so I sat down on the couch before asking, “What is this? What’s going on?”
What I heard next brought tears to my eyes, and is doing so again, even as I write this. Of course, no one expected Zachary to come before August, but in the six weeks since his birth, my mother and sister were contacted, who in turn contacted my Pappy and my aunt and uncle on Mom’s side of the family, and my Nana and all my aunts and uncles in Michigan on my dad’s side of the family. They all connected and, making sure not to duplicate anything, all bought one or many gifts for Zachary and had them mailed to my father and mother-in-law’s house, where they were stored and hidden until the day Zach came home. What was happening was, I was at my baby shower! I received a lot of great gifts including a crib, stroller, baby swing, baby walker, baby thermometer, and so many clothes, toys, and bottles that I had everything I needed and more. I also received checks and cards, and requests for pictures. It was a truly amazing day.
From that day on, my Zachary has been special and unique in many ways. He was born exactly when he was supposed to be, as he is a true Gemini. One year, I was very broke at Christmas time and could only afford to buy the boys each one gift. For Jeremiah, I bought a metal detector and for Zachary, a battery to go into the motorized ATV we had in the garage. The battery I bought him was a 6-volt and when he opened it and tried connecting it to the mini four-wheeler, we discovered it was the wrong size battery. He was, of course, very disappointed and wanted to go to Wal-Mart right away and exchange it for the right one. It was his only gift, so how could we refuse? Sherry, my partner at the time, said she would take him and off they went. When they got there, they learned the correct battery, a 12-volt, cost twice as much and there was no money left to spare to make up the difference, so he decided to just return it for the cash.
On their way home, they passed a woman who looked to be in her 60’s or 70’s, standing on the side of the road holding up a sign. Zachary immediately said to Sherry that he wanted her to go back so he could give her his Christmas money. She tried to argue with him that it wasn’t a good idea, but he insisted. She pulled the car over and they sat and discussed it for a good half an hour. She wanted to be sure he fully understood what it was he was doing. She explained to him that yes, it was his Christmas money and that it was solely his choice what he wanted to do with it, but once he gave the money away, that was it; she would not be able to replace it for him days later when he found something he wanted to buy. He said that he knew that and that he really did want to give his money to the lady on the road, because she was a grandmother and should not be out in the cold and starving on Christmas Eve night. So, she pulled back onto the road, turned the car around, and pulled up next to the woman with the sign. When Sherry rolled her window down, Zach reached across her and handed the twenty-dollar bill to the woman. She very sweetly said to him, “Son, I can’t take your money…” He told her he really wanted her to have it so she could be warm and get something to eat. Her eyes filled with tears, but no, she still wouldn’t take it. Sherry then interjected and explained to her that they had just spent 30 minutes discussing this decision that his heart was very sincere, and to please make her little boy’s Christmas by accepting his gift. She did, with hesitation, finally accept the money, and Zachariah never did ask for a single penny to be replaced. This is just one example of the very sensitive and humane twin of his sign, the Gemini.
On the other hand, he is not without the other twin; the strong-willed, stubborn, fighting one. You cannot tease, insult, or belittle Zachary without a fight. He doesn’t stand for it one iota. Nor will he put up with any kind of attack on his best friend, Jacob, or his family. If Zachary believes strongly in something, he stands up for it at all costs, whether it earns him a beat down from his older brother or causes him to be grounded, he is very passionate about the things he believes with all of his heart. I am proud to say, he gets that from me. He also will not let anything go unfinished. I have tried, to no avail, to say to him, “We will talk about this later,” but later is not acceptable to Zachary. If there is a disagreement or tension in the air, he wants to clear it up, and he wants to do it now. He absolutely does not like to leave anything unresolved. He does not like to be told to shut up while trying to convey his thoughts and feelings in the situation, and he does not like to be yelled at. He has said, on more than one occasion, that yelling is not necessary when he is right there and can hear the same thing in a normal tone of voice. Zachary may be rough around the edges, need some guidance and encouragement, and a bit of fine tuning from time to time, but overall, he is a very smart boy with very tender heart and determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I have some very treasured memories of Zachary that help me keep him close to my heart while we are apart. When he was still a baby, he was lying on his blanket in the family room where the bar off the kitchen was, and where the rest of us were sitting eating spaghetti for dinner. He was cooing and content for quite some time, but suddenly, he began screaming at the top of his lungs. Before I knew what was happening, my oldest step-son, Jacob, put down his fork, climbed off his stool, and squatted down beside Zach. Very calmly, Jacob gently pulled Zachary’s fingers out of his hair, and immediately he stopped crying. I was flabbergasted and had to ask, “How did you know?” Jacob looked at me with a kind of “are you kidding me” expression on his face and said, “I just looked at him.” With that, Jacob, Jeremy, and David all started laughing as we continued with dinner.
Another of my fondest memories, as I have written in a previous post, was when Zachary let us know how smart he really is. “Mama…Mama…Mama…MAAAMAAA!!!” Zach, at just over a year old, cries out from his playpen. I am in the other room sorting through the laundry and try asking him what it is he wants, and he very quickly and without hesitation, replies, “No! Not you, Mommy! I want Mama!” he yells before I barely get the words out of my mouth. My partner and I look at each other and smile. She and I have only been in a committed relationship for about six months and without any prompting or discussion from either of us on the subject, he has already figured out, and clearly accepted, that he has two mothers. And to this day, it has never been an issue for him.
I also remember when we, Sherry and I, were trying to potty train Zachary, when he was two years old. We had the back patio door open, so the kids could go out into the sunshine to play. It was a fenced in area, so I was in and out of the front room getting things around the house done, checking on them every so often. Jeremy, then seven, and Sherry’s daughter Ashley, a little over six years old, were out there with Zachary, so I wasn’t too concerned and could hear everything going on. I had just put some clothes away in the bedroom and came back out to the front room and looked out the sliding glass door. At just that moment, Zach lowered the front of his diaper, pulled out his weenis (a combined word from the words wee-wee and penis, coined by Zachariah James Messer in 1999, all rights reserved) pushed his little pelvis forward, and swiveling his hips from side to side, letting his stream fly. I, being the goof that I am, began jumping up and down, clapping, and shouting “Yea, Zachary!” because though he did not go in the potty, he did not pee in his diaper either. I was thrilled to death! My neighbors thought I had lost my marbles, but I really didn’t care. My son had taken the first step in being a big boy and saving me a lot of money on diapers.
Zachary has true potential of being a great entrepreneur. During a particularly dark time in our lives, we were homeless and had been staying in a seedy motel in downtown Portland. One day, Zachary came into the room and started pulling out dollar bills from his two front pants pockets. I was shocked and asked him where in the world he got all of that money? He said from doing magic tricks. I insisted that he explain and he proceeded to tell me that he went to the neighbors and asked them if they wanted to see a very cool magic trick, to which most couldn’t resist his adorable little five-year old face and said, yes. He would then say to them, “Show me a dollar,” which, now very curious, they did. Zachary would then hold the dollar up between his two small hands and say, “Now you see it…” stuff the dollar bill into his pants pocket, “…and now you don’t!” Oh, so you think that is cute? Well, at the time I did not see it that way at all. I marched him from door to door and told him he had to give every person their money back, but much to my surprise, no one would take it back. They said he had been a very good magician and won it fair and square.
If he wasn’t out performing magic tricks, he was being so kind as to take unwanted litters of kittens off of people’s hands, asking me to make him a huge “KITTENS FOR SALE” sign, and sitting on the corner and actually selling the kittens! Unbelievable! One time he brought home $60 that he received from selling just two kittens. Of course, the down side to that is that the ones he couldn’t sell, or even give away, ended up staying in our home. Too many kittens, too often, but believe me, the last batch (that reached a count of eight) was the last batch.
Zachary is also a very strong athlete. He has always loved anything on wheels from his bicycle to his scooter to his skateboard and beyond. When he was just three years old, he was at his baby sitter’s apartment and she had all the kids down in the closed off parking lot riding bikes. The one Zach was using was small and had training wheels. After riding it for quite some time, he asked the sitter to please remove the training wheels because he couldn’t go very fast with them on. She, at first, was not going to take them off, because he was still so little and it was the only bike she had that was his size. But true to Zachary’s nature, he persisted, and she eventually relented, telling him that once she removed them, she was not going to put them back on. As soon as they were off, Zachary climbed back onto the seat of the bike and took off. He rode a good length of the parking lot until he reached a speed bump, put his feet down to stop the bike, carefully turned the bike around using his feet on the ground, then hopped back up and rode back to where the sitter stood, astonished. He simply said to her, “Thank you! That is so much better.” Needless to say, for his fourth birthday, I bought him a bike and a helmet. Zachary would wake up in the morning and go straight outside with his bike and ride until I literally had to pick him up, kicking and screaming, as the sun went down, and bring him in for dinner and a bath. For nearly a year, he never took his helmet off, little ears pulled forward and sticking out from the straps, except to let me wash his hair. He not only slept with the helmet on, but had to have his bike leaning against his bed, so he could rest his hand on the seat before falling asleep. No matter the wheels, Zachary spent a lot of time riding, having fun, and mastering trick after trick, which he often showed off to anyone who would watch.
I have a lot more wonderful memories, and some that are not so favorable, of my Zachary. The one thing I will say, which is something he doesn’t know, is that while I have always thought of my eldest son as my heart, Zachary truly is my soul. He began by saving me from wishing I were dead rather than continue to endure the ongoing abuse at the hands of his father, and giving me hope and a renewed desire to live. And to this day, his experiences in life, and mine with him, continue to teach me so many things I could not be learning without him in my life. As each day goes by, I appreciate him more and more and see how deeply blessed I am to have him as my son. I really am proud of the young man my little boy is becoming.