A Tribute to Leah on her 21st Birthday

28 Sep

My favorite photo of Leah

Twenty one years ago today, my daughter, Leah, burst upon the scene so fast that I had to fight with every muscle in my lower body to hold her back from being born. It certainly wasn’t her fault—no one had informed her that the doctor hadn’t yet arrived. I felt her head crown as one of the nurses frantically paged my obstetrician from outside the hospital room door.

“Don’t push—don’t push!” another nurse screamed at me, pressing her hand against Leah’s head. “You’re not ready yet, don’t push!”

She lied. I was ready. Leah was ready.

Finally, the doctor arrived. Sweat dripped from his forehead and neck, leaving dark droplets on his blue scrubs. He was still panting from his unfinished tennis game as he deftly donned his rubber gloves and got into position. With a relieved grunt and one ferocious push on my part, she was out. Leah was finally free, screaming lustily as she took her first breaths.

My labor had lasted a total of two hours. Nothing has ever been slow with Leah.

Leah’s birth was only twenty months after Nora’s, who was the most placid baby that ever lived. I was pleasantly surprised that Leah was also an easy second baby—that is, until she became mobile.

Leah, before she became mobile

Then there was no stopping her. She wanted to do, play with, and go where she wanted, and nothing I said or did could contain her. I remember after one particular tantrum when Leah didn’t get her way, Rene and I rolled our eyes at each other and agreed that we were going to have it bad when she became a teenager.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen—at least not with me. But Leah is so much like her dad: stubborn, strong-willed, and in possession of such caustic wit, that it was inevitable that they butted heads at times.  They also share a trait for which I am ever grateful: their hearts are enormous and they are unfailingly loyal to those whom they love.

When I was forty-two, and found out I was pregnant with Isa, we gathered the kids around to give them the surprising news. I was worried about how the three of them would react, as I was still getting used to the idea myself.

Nora, my oldest at fifteen, cried because she was distraught that she would be going off to college and the baby wouldn’t get to know her. Nino, my youngest at ten, cried because he would be losing his “baby boy of the family” status that had worked so well for him for so long.

Leah, at fourteen, was the only one who took the news with a look of pure joy on her face. She was so thrilled that she jumped and danced around, filling the room with so much happy enthusiasm that I actually began to feel my own excitement grow about this unplanned pregnancy.

Three years later, when Isa was diagnosed with her cancer, Leah took it the hardest. I can still see her, after Rene and I gave the kids the horrible news that Isa had leukemia, sobbing hysterically on the hospital floor, her long brown hair entwined with the tears on her face. She was beyond devastated.

Leah never gives up, though. She rallied as always, and was there in that hospital room, every single day. Even though she was terrified of Isa’s cancer diagnosis, Leah entertained her little sister with sincere exuberance, taping pictures and drawings up on the walls, playing games and lying with Isa in her hospital bed, reading endless stories.

Leah with Isa at a Chistmas party

During the two long years of chemotherapy, when the steroids caused Isa to be irritable and bloated, when her bald head and fat cheeks made her look as hideous as she felt, Leah was there, doing anything she could to make Isa laugh. Leah was my helper and my rock—her therapeutic, steadfast presence helped save me and Rene.

Perhaps Isa’s cancer has been a gift for Leah, too. She has developed a phenomenal connection with children that is beyond the profound. She spends her free time volunteering at Children’s Hospital working with kids who have cancer. She has been a grief counselor for teenagers who have lost someone close to them.

Recently, we attended Camp Reach for the Stars sponsored by the American Cancer Society for families with children with cancer. Leah volunteered to be a counselor and was assigned to a family with three young children—one of them is battling neuroblastoma (cancer of the nerve tissues).

Watching Leah over that weekend, I marveled at how at ease she was taking care of three kids; playing and swimming with them, making them laugh—just basically loving them. She worked to connect her camp family with another family there whose daughter is a long-term survivor of neuroblastoma, so that they could feel hopeful about their own daughter’s prognosis.

Leah’s enthusiasm was so infectious with everyone at the camp—people kept coming up to me and saying how much they appreciated that she was there. Watching her interact with everyone, Rene and I were in awe of how she handled herself. We were so proud of our daughter.

Now that Leah is in her senior year at USC, she’s pretty much gone from the house these days. I follow her on Facebook and we talk on the phone pretty much every day. She often arrives home on weekends and bustles in, throws her stuff everywhere, does her laundry, and makes us laugh so hard that our stomachs hurt. Then she’s gone again, leaving a quiet emptiness behind her. And then I miss her.

We all love our children. The problem is when you like your children so much, it’s often difficult to let them go. I’ve tried my best to hold on to Leah for as long as I could, but it’s her time to fly.

I should’ve realized it twenty one years ago.

It’s not possible to hold Leah back.

 Happy 21st Birthday—my darling middle child. I love you.

Leah at the same age that Isa is now

10 Responses to “A Tribute to Leah on her 21st Birthday”

  1. Becky Green Aaronson September 28, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

    Kleenex, my friend. Kleenex. Happy Birthday to your beautiful girl. You have a lot to celebrate!

  2. nancy September 28, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

    Seriously! My eyes get teary with each post. And then i smile and laugh too.

    Happy birthday to your beautiful and amazing Leah!

  3. Pam September 29, 2011 at 3:00 am #

    Ahhh Jessica, that was a beautiful tribute to your amazing, effervescent, loving, beautiful, giving, exuberant Leah!!

  4. Cyndi September 29, 2011 at 3:13 am #

    I love you Leah! You are an awesome young lady. May GOD bless you richly this year and all the ones to come. Hugs to the whole Mireles family. All my love, Nurse Cyndi

  5. Betty Pierskalla September 29, 2011 at 5:30 am #

    Happy Birthday, Leah. Your mom hits it on the nail. We need more Leahs in the world. I am privileged to know you better through your mom’s writing.
    Betty Pierskalla

  6. Julie Hagen September 30, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    Loved it! Thank you

  7. Melanie October 3, 2011 at 5:12 am #

    A gift I’ll bet she’ll read over and over again. What love!

  8. Leah October 11, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    First of all, thanks for visiting my blog today. Secondly, I’m so glad to have found yours! This tribute to your daughter on her birthday is so beautifully moving. I most love when you wrote, “We all love our children. The problem is when you like your children so much, it’s often difficult to let them go. I’ve tried my best to hold on to Leah for as long as I could, but it’s her time to fly.” I can SO relate because I feel this way every day with my little girl, Sophie. And she’s nearly 4. I can only imagine how hard it’s going to be when she does grow older.

  9. Leah October 11, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    And by the way, do you live in Southern California? Because my daughter needs a piano teacher.

    • Allegro non tanto October 11, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

      I live in the Santa Barbara area, about 100 miles north of L.A. I’m currently president of our branch of the Music Teachers’ Association of California, so I can give you names of reputable teachers in any area of CA.

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