In my belly, sure as the thump of The Times on the stoop before sunrise, you came to me on Sundays. False alarms for weeks that I let pass between the two of us at 3 a.m., subscribing instead to an affinity for youtubed Avett Brothers & bathtub full of lavender. I was so used to you insisting you weren’t ready, it hardly occurred to me at the playground between contractions and conversation that for my own sake when a stranger blurted out across parked cars, “I bet you’ll have that baby today!” I would finally see your face as a plausible outcome of my condition. Only I coaxed Dad into the market instead of the hospital. “We need eggs,” I shrugged. And at home I folded laundry; screamed with my grips on the ceramic sink sides until your father could take it no longer, finally sneaking with drywall between us to phone our doctor. “I think I’ll just have her here in the bed,” I called to him, romanticising your delivery to a sea of yellow fireman coats. “Just call the fire department.” After Dad shooed me down three flights of stairs, I held onto the corner of the building bellowing (and just barely keeping you inside) only to discover the driveway was bare, save for a band of drunken college students cutting through. “Where’s the ambulance?!” I gasped, dismayed. I think of you now whenever I see speeding vehicles: Me screaming. Dad’s hand in slow-motion glide towards the Hazards. All the red lights flashing. Your steady green light. And nothing else but Go.
There was a split at the Emergency Room doors- me whisked to Maternity and Dad to move his car from the ambulance entrance. You were an excitement I could not hold in any longer. I began howling and pushing atop the cot on wheels to a background chorus of elevator bells, swinging doors, and the voice beside me in unrealized metronome “1, 2, 3… PUSH. “I think you may miss this one, Dad!” the attendant teased as he sprinted towards my voice, coming back to us. Twenty minutes flat and you were wet on my chest, amidst full-on applause- our room brimming with staff during an otherwise eventless Sunday night in suburbia. You had your grand entrance into this world, and the turnout of joyous uninhibited energy we’d willed would outlast itself in you. I was smiling.
I never thought you’d stay at my chest until just after your third birthday; the longevity of our nursing relationship reflecting us as easy companions. A crisp white cotton sheet. A nice cushion to lay. The safest place on Earth. Light years apart from your brother; a collicly baby soothed by nothing but endless hours of enduring to wear him sleepy. That first experience shattered my confidence, along with every preconceived notion I had on parenthood. This idea that parents are capable or equipped to ‘fix.’ What a relief it was that from birth you nestled right in next to me. Wailing seized the moment the weight of your head fell into the crook of my elbow. I was completely awestruck to again be worthy.
One day your brother sat staring at you quietly, an infant on the floor fussing at the inability to move about as you wanted. “I’m so glad I’m not a baby anymore. I just didn’t like it,” he finally pieced, free now to make his way. After all those years, as clueless and drained as I’d been, it dawned on me that sometimes things are just hard because they are. And though the heart may want what it wants, time itself builds it’s own muscle memory; heartens us, should we survive our singular points of view.
Crazy to think a baby girl is born with all the eggs that ever belong to her. It’s perhaps the only creature comfort afforded to mothers; this fact that’s managed to keep you two my entire life. You are here. We’ll be together because we always have. And somehow love alone has not failed; has proven enough to carry you through, no matter what was happening on the outside. But man am I glad when we learn to find the words.
When we moved the new neighbor’s dog bit you. And then that cat on the curb sunk it’s claws into your scalp so deep your brother and I saw red. “That cat is so coot,” you told me the next morning he crept into the yard. Fingertips pressed purple on your chest, I hissed at him out the screen door. “Not cool, you little prick. You’re not coming around here anymore,” one solemn outstretched digit towards the pavement. As if, some punk boy had broken your heart. Sure to tell others tall tales of gullibility- only Mom caught word. He throws his body in all the theatrics of infatuation at the stephill of the lawn now, pawing. And in case he’s forgotten I’m serious, I stomp my foot and he runs a leg at a time stopping to look back as I beat him out of sight.
And then there are operations altogether unfamiliar to territory; this innate emotional cosmos of a person which transcends time, place, & permission. Will you remember that afternoon in my room? The last time your wooden suitcase cracked against my knee? “STOP DOING THAT?!” I grunted. You huffed off, and in petty annoyance I refused to look up from my computer even when I heard you fighting back tears. Being surrounded by constant tantrums sometimes makes you feel as though you’re entitled to throw your own. You did not run away like I thought you would; sulk on the stairs demanding my attention or affection. You just stood there in the doorway gripping the handle of that thing I thought most hurt me. I was wrong. “I’m sorry!” you braved, magnanimous; gasping. You crushed my heart in that threshold. “Wait!” I called, “I’m sorry!!” I cried to my knees, scooping you up into my arms, a reaction that surprised us both. “Stay precious, and gentle, and beautiful,” I urged.
Not a few mornings later, you would hurry down the staircase, drop your belongings at that same frame waking from your nap to the sound of my sobs. I’d had a difficult day trying to help your brother. “Mama, I’m here. I’m here,” you told me over and over, your small careful hand on my back. I kept crying. But I felt better. “Thank you,” I managed.
There are plenty of challenges ahead to fight for your place in this world, sweet girl. I never want you to fight for your place, next to me. Watch me become the gracious woman all of us need, but not one of us has. Become her with me. I will ask to try again and again. And again.
I’d’ve sworn to have some grey strands by now, the way the color had snuck up on women before me. Or how it wires through the hedges of Dad’s unkempt beard; the landscape of seasons turning. We’re all a little unruly these days, but the time of it doesn’t quite show on me as I thought it would. You toddle in front, hair not long enough even to tangle- sweet and forgiving. Ten fingers stretch backward, pull blindly at my dressfront; divide to clasp each of my hands until you smile and wear me around your collarbone. We walk this way together. Everything golden keeps; streaks the crown of my head this same summer we witness sunrays encircle an afternoon moon. A mighty eclipse you pay no mind. Another yet to pass us; one foot in front of the others’.
– Photo Unknown