It’s 8:00am and I’m listening to The Daily’s new podcast about COVID-19 while you play on your musical mat. The song to your play mat is on repeat. The words change a bit, but it’s got a sort of bouncy beat that always hits on the rhyme. I know the lyrics by heart, but I mix them up a lot because of their bland adaptability.
In case you should every read this and get the urge to jog your infant memory, there’s a lot of singing about animals playing. My favorite line to chime in on is, “Maybe you – could be – a purple monkey in a bubble gum tree.” That line sounds oddly sexual to me?? I can’t understand why, but you know – it’s got that Disney feel to it.
The bouncy beat is a strange contrast to the news Michael Barbaro is reporting on the recent spike in New York City’s death toll and President Trump pulling funding from the World Health Organization.
The world is a crazy place right now. You’re going to hear that phrase a lot as you grow up. It usually comes from people who reminisce on “the good ole’ days” and think every new invention brings humans one step closer to becoming robots. I’m not one of those people, so you can trust me when I say it. 138,487 people across the world have died from COVID-19; 28,593 people have died in the U.S. alone. Women are giving birth without their partners in the room, families are saying their last goodbye to loved ones via FaceTime, morgues are running out of space for dead bodies, and every event everywhere has been canceled (school, March Madness, CHURCH, and even the summer olympics).
Your dad works in a COVID unit at the hospital. He wears a surgical mask when he holds you, and I am forever dousing our apartment down with disinfectant spray. I kept hand sanitizer in every bag, pocket, basket, or crevasse I find. I spend a lot of time reading the news and even more time deciphering infographics about COVID stats. There’s a shortage on toilet paper, of all things, and I can’t buy a packet of yeast even with a million dollars. I go to the store once every two weeks, and when I get home I strip my clothes to shower immediately. Our family can’t visit, and I worry about how you’ll bond with everyone when the Stay Home orders are lifted. It’s a weird time to be a new mother.
Your coos are getting louder now, and your eyes scan the room in a manner that suggests you know a lot more about this place than I do. Your nursery has become a sort of Secret Garden in the midst of this scary pandemic. Soft stuffed bunnies, shelves full of sweet children’s books, and the smell of Dreft are under a constant glow from the thick yellow curtain that hides the flood light outside. I like to think this is how your thoughts look now. I hope you don’t feel my stress or hear me expel the litany of worries I share to friends over the phone.
Anyway, I have to answer emails now. I’m working from home with the rest of the world, so that means I get to hold you in my left arm while I type with my right. It takes a lot longer to get things done this way but the good news is – we’ve got no reason to rush.
When I first started on this journey, I thought deciding to become a mother would be the most difficult part of motherhood. It feels naive to admit to you now, but I couldn’t imagine a version of myself with children. What will I do on Saturdays or after work? Will I keep a job? Will I still be good at my job? Can I travel? Will I have friends? Do I have to join a mom circle? Will my old friends like the new me? Will I grow to love poop jokes and wiping bums? Will I turn into someone who nags their partner and envies their freedom? WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO MY VAGINA?
It was (and still is) a role and experience I couldn’t fully grasp. Sure there are books on parenting and parents who will divulge the gruesome details of delivery you didn’t request, but that information always got jumbled up and stored as various fears in my mind. I was really looking for a clear depiction – a look into the future that showed me exactly how life would be once little kids didn’t just call me “Aunt Cap” but also “Mom”.
I took a deep dive into motherhood research hoping to obtain a better picture. I steered clear of the flowery books that would rave about what a gift you’d be to the world and stuck with the gritty ones like, A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother. I listened to podcasts about women who regretted becoming mothers, polled all of my close friends on their thoughts on motherhood, and conducted a month long Facebook investigation on every mother in my 1,200+ friend list. The research was futile. I’d only swam a million feet deeper into murkier water.
Over the next two years there were lots of little moments that started to help build a picture of motherhood in my mind. One of them I remember most was Christmas Day 2018. Your dad and I stayed in New York for the holiday. We had a lazy morning drinking mimosas and opening gifts. Then we went ice skating in Central Park and ate a fancy dinner at Augustine in Lower Manhattan. Sitting next to us at dinner was a family with two girls. One seemed to be about eleven or twelve years old and the other around eight. The eight year old’s name was Cleo, and she was dead set on ordering steak for dinner. Her mother offered to split the steak with her, and Cleo refused. She wanted the whole thing to herself.
I looked at your dad with an eye roll locked and loaded thinking, I would never let my eight year old order a $50 steak. But Cleo’s parents said, “Okay, how do you want it cooked?” She answered in a very sophisticated manner and knew both the temperature she’d like her steak and the side dish she’d like to go with it. My eye roll faded, and I fell in love with Cleo’s independence and ability to make decisions that differed from her parents. I’m sure this may sound a bit crazy to you (and btw you cannot order a $50 steak), but I realized then that children are not just the outcome of their parents’ successes and/or flaws. You have the ability to be autonomous.
Who you are, what you like, who you decide to be, and what you decide to do is up to you – not me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to shunt the responsibility of parenting onto you while you’re still in utero. I only mean to say that I realized it’s not all up to me. We can steer the ship together, which makes the idea of motherhood sound more like a fun adventure than a solo task filled with guilt and regret.
The trouble is now – after I tackled the decision to become a mother – I realized the fears and challenges of motherhood don’t stop. You quickly grew from an idea, into a heartbeat, and now a baby that kicks and makes themselves known, and the more you become you the more I realize deciding to become a mother was the easiest part of all.
This is a tale about George and, as you may have guessed by now, a shore. George is just like you and me. He doesn’t have super powers. He cannot fly, and he doesn’t even have night vision (except of course when he uses his night vision goggles).
George lives on a shore. Do you know what a shore is? I’ll tell you what I know about a shore just to be sure.
A shore is where land stops and water begins, which makes the certainty of a shore hard to see for sure. There’s really no clear line or path on a shore, because the water’s tide changes the shore’s perimeter every few counts of a “Mississippi”. Do you count in Mississippi’s, too? Maybe that’s just something people down in Mississippi do.
Anyway, I guess a shoreline is a pretty simple concept, but for George there is an awful lot of trouble that comes along with living on a shore. I can’t think of all the confusing bits right now, but I can tell you the most significant trouble is George’s inability to ever be, you know, sure.
I heard George say a shore is like a fringe – loose, unformed, and always on the mend. Living on the shore means he’s mostly in flux. He gets pushed back and rebuilds, back and rebuilds, back and rebuilds. Sometimes though, really scary storms come through and erode the shore’s border so much that he has to build from scratch on a new shore a few feet back from where he began. Does that make sense to you? I’m sure.
Well, George got so scared of the shore that he moved to a place off the coast of France. It’s on the water and everything, just like Mississippi, but in France they call the shoreline a Riviera.
He says he’s happy there, but I’m pretty sure any shore — no matter what you call it — is still a shore.
I sat on a pew. The room was quiet and solemn and smelled like a box of stale potpourri. I remembered sitting there before. Not on that specific row, or even in that specific room, but I’d been there before. You were beside me, doodling crosses into grids and connecting each grid line with meticulous care to another cross on the page. At the end of a two-hour Sunday service, you’d have a whole maze of crosses connected.
Today you were front and center. You asked for no flowers, but we put them anyway. You didn’t want a fuss of speeches, but we did them anyway. You didn’t want anyone in heels or suits, but we wore them anyway. I imagine you would have liked your hair done differently, and I think you’d prefer our hearts were alert to the gospel and our eyes were open to change.
On the pew, the fears you carried about your legacy – addiction, poverty, success – all found their way into the chaos of my mind. In a second that felt like a lifetime, I understood the language of parental love and how it often translated into criticism through my ears. I wanted to rewrite my childhood and rebuild my memories with the new understanding of love and fear you carried with you everyday. Your words would sound so differently to me now.
I didn’t want kids until that day on the pew. I imagine it sounds weird to say your death inspired life, but it did. You taught me the impact of generational growth, the honor in legacy, the love that stings and shapes change. At your service we talked about the time you worked all day logging woods for a few nickels, the day you walked into a tent revival in 1972, the summer you met Corrine in that diner in San Francisco, and even the day you beat someone up for not paying for a job well done. Isn’t it funny how a life gets remembered? I wonder what you’d like us to say in our stories about you.
I think you’d like to know you are loved, respected, and missed. And you are –