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  • Writer's pictureJack White

Origami Girl Turns 26

I wrote this story when my daughter Juliette turned 16. Amazingly that was 10 years ago. I've updated the story slightly to reflect recent developments.

Origami Girl Turns 16 (March, 2011)

Finally, Origami Girl has met her match. She can't turn a dollar bill into a fish.

Before explaining that, let me provide some backstory, beginning with a brief visit to Howard County General Hospital in Columbia, Maryland, in 1995, on this day 16 years ago, as Origami Girl enters the world at 9:01 a.m.

The adventure that led to this moment started in a bar at Fells Point not five years earlier, but let’s skip that part and get to the big life changing dinner when my wife, Andrea, who I met outside that bar in Baltimore, stood up at the dinner table and said, "A bunch of water just came out of me.”

And it had. The cushion on her wicker chair was soaked. We packed a little suitcase and soon we were on our way from our townhouse in Baltimore County to the room where our first child would be born.

Her official name is Juliette, and honestly it seems like just yesterday, not 5840 days ago, that we had her.

Of course, it was Andrea who had her, but I was right there, down in the trenches, so to speak, in that ugly room full of sinks and monitors and beeping gray machines, counting contractions, giving encouragement and bits of ice, helping her to the bathroom in her the hospital gown that opened in the back, working on our Bradley method and all the other odd stuff people get into when having their first baby, especially when there’s no pain medication involved. And there wasn't.

Origami Girl made her move at shift change, just as the doctor who'd been with us all night said, "good bye," and a new doctor arrived quite casually with a big smile. She may have been 30. She said she’d be right back. She had to change out of her jeans and tennis shoes and into her delivery gear.

As soon as she left the room, Juliette decided it was time. There was a very nice nurse. She tried to slow things down, but Juliette was coming and there was no stopping her.

Our doctor returned in her proper outfit just in time to cut the cord, which she did quite well, before pressing a little pink crying football into Andrea’s arms.

Then I noticed that the doctor was frowning and reaching way up inside my wife. Finally, she announced that the placenta had declined to detach. I wasn't sure what that meant, but I could tell by the doctor's face, that I should probably be slightly alarmed. And I was when, the doctor suddenly rushed out of the room, like an actor who forgot her lines and decided to just run off stage.

She was back quickly with a very serious, no-nonsense sort of woman in her fifties, with a calm, professional demeanor, and a thick German accent, whose arm quickly disappeared inside Andrea. This doctor also frowned. She shrugged. She pulled her arm back out, and Andrea fainted.

And then with barely any explanation, they wheeled Andrea out of the room. Someone else, took off with the baby. And there I was. The bed was gone. The room was suddenly silent and empty. There was blood and water mixed together on the floor. And I should also mention that the baby had two very crooked feet?

I eased down into the only chair in the room and called my mother. But I was so tired from being up all night, so confused, and so emotional, I could barely speak. I said something like, “Andrea fainted. They took her away. The baby has crooked feet.”

To which my mom said, “What? Jack, what's going on?"

"We had a baby." That was about all I could get out. I was an emotional wreck and crying a bit.

Eventually, they fixed the problem with the placenta. Andrea was pale and white and weary and smiling. A day later we went home. Our simple life as a childless couple with some pets and a little house was over.

Dr. Bright

We went to see a big, totally bald doctor named Dr. Bright, so he could look at Juliette's feet. After about ten minutes, he asked if there was any way we could get her to stop screaming. I had been wondering that for weeks, and said, "No."

He measured her feet. He showed us X-rays and diagrams, and eventually the baby had casts on both legs up past her knees. She lay in bed in her diaper and her giant casts while a Winnie the Pooh mobile spinned around above her bed and played a pretty chiming version of the Winnie the Pooh Song, until it stopped and we wound it again.

I learned how to work a diaper genie, which turns each pamper into a link in a long diaper sausage. I walked around singing James Taylor songs to a screaming baby through the wee hours of the morning. I threw in some Beatles and Neil Young.

A few weeks later she got shorter casts and eventually special shoes with a bar that screwed to the bottom of each shoe and kept her feet straight at night. Slowly the feet straightened out. (Andrea was also born with two club feet, but in 1965, and with a much worse case than Juliette. She spent much of her early years undergoing operations and wearing braces and has large scars just above the shins on each leg.)


Let’s skip the next 15 years, which, as they say, were no picnic, to that Christmas when we all discovered that Juliette, who had straight feet now, also had tremendously skilled fingers, what her mom refers to as very good fine-motor skills.

We bought her a laptop. Her younger sister, Anna, got an Origami book. One day Juliette picked up the Origami book. Now whenever I enter our family room, she's on the couch. Her laptop is on her lap. On the laptop, a video plays.

The video consists of a set of hands folding paper. At the end of Juliette's arms is another set of hands, mimicking exactly the set of hands on the screen. A man with a Japanese accent murmurs things that Juliette seems to understand. Her eyes stay fixed on the screen, while her hands fold paper very quickly. At first, the paper looks like nothing, but eventually a creature emerges. She hands me a very nice hummingbird. She makes several more. Her hands move very quickly. Soon there are more hummingbirds. There are also cranes and ducks and fish and elephants. There are flowers. There’s a leviathan.

Every spare surface in our family room is covered with paper creatures, exquisitely made, beautiful, crammed together, piling on top of one another.

But yesterday Origami Girl met her match, a task so tough that even with her fine motor skills, her laptop, her intense concentration, her talent, determination, and YouTube Japanese master, she cannot complete. Turning a dollar bill into a fish. It's a very complicated fish.

And that seems to break the spell. Origami is over.

Soon will come Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, astronomy, and her greatest love, Kung Fu. She will even fly to China, take a bus to some remote region, hike up a long hill, and present herself at a monastery, where she will be met by monks and live with rats and squirrels and other westerners and begin her long journey to master another ancient art.


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