In her outstanding book Yes Please, Amy Poehler shares a lot of wonderful, honest, and fascinating stories about her path to being one of the coolest women on the planet. When I read it last Christmas, I kept bursting into tears and then laughing like a maniac. These on-the-dime turns concerned my Mister. He asked if I was okay, and I told him it was an unsettling yet satisfying feeling to see someone else express ideas that felt so central to who I am. But I’m not writing to explain why Poehler and I are totally destined to be best friends.
For me, the best part of her book turned out to be the part she didn’t write. She allowed a space for her mother and father to share the story of her birth. Then she offered two pages, blank except for the title “The Day I Was Born.” Believing that our births shape greatly who we become, she wrote as precursor to this section:
If your parents are still alive, call them and ask them to describe the day you were born. Write the details down here, on the following pages. Tell the story every year on your birthday until you know it by heart.
Yes Please was a Christmas gift from my mom. I was still visiting with her and the rest of my family when I got to this section. I showed her the pages, and asked her to write my birth story. My mom cares very much about details, about people and about doing things properly. She chose not to write in the book, but worked for days on her computer, using scraps of quiet moments in her home bustling in spurts with visitors, booze-fueled board games, and raucous conversations. (We Puchkos are a boisterous lot.) Before I boarded the train back to New York, she handed me two printed pages. I shoved them in my copy of Yes Please, and read them an hour later on the train, where I unabashedly wept next to a stranger.
Today is my birthday. And I’ve begun it by rereading this story. I’d heard my birth story in snippets before. How when my mom went to visit my Halloween-born cousin in the hospital, a nurse told her the full moon meant her own baby would come early. My mom thought this a ludicrous superstition, but three days later there I was, 10 days early.
In my mind, I can see my sensible but ever-courteous mom smiling politely—with an edge of irritation no one but those closest to her would notice—as she talks to the nurse. I can imagine her frustration about how my early arrival meant the luggage she’d received for this special occasion would go unused. Like the daughter she was carrying, my mom cares very much about things going according to plan. And I caught my newly minted mom and dad off guard in a couple of ways.
Then the most beautiful sound was you crying and letting us know you were okay and ready to join our world.
In 1982, determining a baby’s sex was not an exact science. My parents were told my heart rate meant they should expect a son. Then I came, and they were a bit stunned. My aunt was still in high school at the time. A devout tomboy she’d been pumped to babysit a nephew. When she ditched classes to come meet him (me), my mom broke the news to her asking, “Will you still babysit? It’s a girl.” She laughed, and would become a huge part of my childhood, teaching me countless games and that “being a girl” could mean whatever I wanted.
There’s more details, like the birth of family in-jokes too storied to explain, and some my mom would be mortified if I shared with the whole wide world. But the main thing I pull from My Birth Story is not so much how it shaped me, but how it shaped us, my family. It’s an insight into who my parents were right before they were parents. In my mom’s meticulously considered pages, I can see them so clearly. So much younger than I am now. And even though we live too many miles apart, reading this story makes me feel like they’re right here with me, still stoked about the little girl who caught them off guard. And it’s a feeling for which I’m deeply deeply grateful.
Kristy Puchko will celebrate today as she does everyday. With ice cream.