A very fuzzy photo of Matisse, Me, Mondrian, and my mother.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Chapter Two: Our Names
We never felt our names were particularly unusual, but we did know they were special. Every time our mom introduced us by our names, strangers would smile broadly.
“Do you know where your name comes from?” One stranger would ask Matisse.
And of course he knew.
He could have had an honorary degree on Henri Matisse by the time he was in sixth grade with all of the information he was told about the painter.
Mondrian, while he loved his first name, struggled and almost cried once trying to spell his middle name, “Renaissance.”
Yes, my little brother’s middle name is Renaissance.
True to the name, he was my mother’s rebirth. She had left our father. She had packed our bags and left him, while she was eight months pregnant with Mondrian.
To this day, I cannot fathom the courage and strength she must have possessed to have done so. I can only imagine the fear and saddens she must have felt, but also being emboldened by knowing she was making the right choice. She knew raising us without him, was a better option then raising us with him. He was not ready to be a husband (nor a faithful one) let alone a father, and so we left.
When we got to Albuquerque from Denver our rusty Dodge Dart ran out of gas just off the highway as we coasted into the parking lot just off the Hiway House Motel. My mother got us a room. As Matisse slept I pretended to sleep while my mother called one of her best friends, Kay, on the phone. Kay would help us get settled the next day, but told my mother, “Just sleep.” And sleep soundly my mother did for the first time in a few years.
Despite all of the stress she had just been through, she was going to have this new child as a natural birth. With only four weeks to go, she put herself into Lamaze classes. She learned her breathing techniques, and Kay would be there for her as her Lamaze partner. Kay had three children of her own and she and her husband’s tranquil disposition were just what my mother needed.
The morning my mother went into labor, Kay came and got her. “I will send for you both” our mom exhaled looking at Matisse and I, “once I get settled at the hospital.” Our neighbor Danielle came over to watch us.
Matisse and I were jubilant. While we hadn’t been united on many issues, we were on this one. We were going to have a little brother or sister. This new sibling would break ‘the tie’. We knew this third child would make the call on whether we would watch this cartoon or that cartoon, what games we would play, and who would get the toy in the cereal box.
Matisse and I feigned well wishes to the other. “I just know it will be a girl.” Matisse said laughing. We were cutting construction paper into little rings to make a chain. These would be our welcome decorations for our newest little brother or sister.
“No, I think it will be a boy. It will be great having a little brother.” I said with a sinister smile. I had this one in the bag. I had seen my mother pick out a pink onesie and lay it out on her bed a few days ago. What I hadn’t know at the time was that our grandmother had sent that, and my mother had a blue onesie in diaper bag in the crib.
I walked into the kitchen to make Matisse a glass of tang and contemplated the future of having a little sister. I had mixed feelings about it. I knew three women in the house would overwhelm Matisse, but I also worried about the prospect of sharing clothes with a sister. I put this behind me, poured a glass of the orange sugar drink and handed it to Matisse. He took a sip and asked me “Do you think Astronauts really drink this?”
“I guess. That’s what they say on TV.”
My mother called for us and Kay picked us up and brought us to the hospital. My mother was serene, and sitting in a wheelchair about to go into the delivery room.
Matisse and I hugged her, and she kissed us on top of our heads.
“In just in hour, you two will have either a baby sister or baby brother.”
Matisse and I smiled at each other and like a bookie trying to grease the palm of a ref at a game to make the right call, we each gave our mom’s an encouraging thumbs up.
The doctor’s wheeled our mother away, only to wheel her back past us fifteen minutes later. The serenity had left her and now she was utterly dejected. Through her tears she told us, “The baby is upside down.” We had no idea what that meant. The doctors had given her something to sooth her nerves. She was loopy and the doctors felt the need to be calm voice of reason to us, her two frightened and confused children.
“It’s OK children, it just means we are going to get the baby out in a different manner.” The nurse wheeled my mother ahead of the doctor. “She will be fine.”
As I heard my mother say, “but my birth plan!” Behind close doors, Kay took us into the waiting room.
In what felt like hours, the nurse came out to get us.
“You can see your mom now.”
She led us into our mother’s recovery room, where we found her now to be harmonious, and unruffled by the cesarean procedure.
She invited us to come closer, but we didn’t see the baby in her arms. She hugged us, and kissed us, before asking, “Do you want to see your little brother?”
“YES!” Matisse yelled. He would have fist pumped the air if he could. I grumbled only for a moment, before realizing, I was very excited about seeing the baby, my baby brother. “What’s his name?” I asked my Mom.
“Mondrian.” My mother was beaming.
“All M names!” Matisse said excitedly.
The nurse came back in, and lead us to the viewing room to see Mondrian. As Matisse and I looked through the glass, we asked which one he was.
“That one.” The nurse said smiling.
“That one?” Matisse said, looking confused.
“No, that’s a Chinese baby. That’s not our brother.” I said.
The nurse laughed. She was Asian. She assured us, that was indeed our little brother.
“But he is so pale.” I said.
“He is only an hour old. You will probably see his skin tone change in the next few days.” The nurse said walking away.
Mondrian went from being pale, to me and Matisse’s caramel color, and then to his now coffee skin. He was born with a full head of hair, and was a very grouchy sleeper.
“Why won’t he go to sleep?” Matisse said rubbing his eyes. This was something Mondrian and he did not have in common, Matisse slept, all of the time. As a child my mother once put a mirror under Matisse nose to make sure he was still breathing. She didn’t want to wake him up, but she was curious as to why he was such a sound sleeper.
“I think he is just hungry.” Our mother said.
“Well he is hungry all of the time.” Matisse said burying his head back into his pillow.
“You’re one to talk.” Our mother said, “You drink a half a gallon a milk a day” continued before going back into the baby’s room to feed him.
The next morning when Matisse and I woke up, we crept into the baby’s room. His two dimples proudly pronounced in his cheeks. He was awake, smiling, as if waiting for us. We stared at him and laughed. Despite his his dispirited slumber he was happily awake. We knew our family was now complete.
xo Maya Contreras