18 years ago I was not a happy camper. Since my labor for Daniel was 18 hours, and then it was 12 hours for Natalie, I figured it would only take 6 hours to give birth to Forest. That was the second time of many that he surprised me (the first involved an at-home pregnancy test). Since then, it’s been a lovely walk in the country of delightful surprises, lovely because, being a third child, Forest is mercifully peaceful.
Labor itself took a while, but that’s so Forest too. After who-knows-how-many-hours of contradictions, I had a simply thought: “To hell with this.” I decided to simply push this baby out despite my midwife telling me I was early in the “transition stage” (translation: you won’t remember this later because it’s so painful). Since Forest is accommodating, he went along with me. From there, he moseyed through infancy and toddler years gently, sleeping through the night from an early age.
Part of what made him easy was that he’s never been very demanding, and until he was about three, he hardly talked at all. It wasn’t that he didn’t know how but rather than he had no need. Of course, given our other kids, he probably also couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Natalie was his seeing eye dog to the world, leading him toward whatever he needed or wanted in between dressing him in frilly dresses. She also translated the look on his face into whatever he needed from us: “He wants more juice,” or “He needs you to stop at the store and get ice pops for him.” I remember him waking us one early morning — Natalie was still asleep — holding a loaf of bread, a jar of jelly and a butter knife. That’s how he asked for breakfast.
When he started school, he folded in easily without any of the drama or glitter of the older kids. But at age five, he and the rest of us had a life-changing event: a very bad car accident involving our mini-van and black ice threw Forest from the car and onto the banks of the wetlands. He was life-flighted to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City where the doctors reported his brain was bleeding in three places and his jaw was broken in five. Thanks to a flood of prayers from around the world, a spectacular energy healer who worked with him night and day (Ursula Gilkeson), and the expert and compassionate care of nurses at the hospital, we experienced a Forest miracle: in three days all the breaks vanished from his jaw, his brain healed itself, and he was woken from the drug-induced coma. Our whole family is still terrified of black ice, but we’re immensely and enduringly grateful to all who saved his life.
His life after the accident threaded itself through many years
of school, each parent-teacher conference another chance to hear about “Forestisms” (strange and funny comments he made in class) or “Forest tricks” (his self-made formulas for solving math problems). His science teacher recently told us how, when he asked the class to to explain what a volcano is, Forest responded with a lengthy and vivid description correlating the volcano to human evolution and our current political challenges.
We count on Forest to surprise us regularly. Recently, driving behind a car, which was tailgating a flatbed truck with dozens of big-screen TVs bungie-corded together, Forest casually remarked, “What could possible go wrong?” Watching presidential debates, going out for Mexican food, or walking down our road, Forest constantly entertains us, but no wonder, considering he was named after Ken’s cousin (and our beloved good friend) Woody, whose real name was Forest and worked as a forest ranger. When Woody was dying from cancer, Forest mailed back to him a prayer quilt Woody and his wife made for Forest after his accident. That quilt is now somewhere in the pile of blankets on Forest’s bed.
Now Forest is 18, ready to graduate high school, get his first job and his driver’s license, go to Johnson County Community College next fall, and continue to live at home, giving us succinct and pithy updates of the news and sharing with us the funniest videos on the internet. 18 in Judaism is also the letter Chai, which means life and luck. We find both with Forest, and we wish him many years of the same continual joy he brings us and others.