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February 3, 2014: Blankets, Onesies, Socks

February 3, 2014

We drove to Wisconsin on Friday for a baby shower. It was the perfect weekend, full of the hiccups one might expect when it’s still very, very cold and a person’s body doesn’t feel quite right and there’s really nothing to do but laugh, a lot.

For starters, we were booted from the church gathering space my sister had reserved for the shower. A longtime parishioner had passed away, and the family wanted the funeral luncheon to be in a familiar, convenient place. Of course, I thought. That makes sense. But not to my sister, who decreed, “This is bullshit!” and turned into a wild woman in search of a new venue. For one hot minute it sounded like we were going to be at the American Legion Headquarters-the American Legion?!-but no, another church lunchroom was secured. Suffice it to say, Lutheran church lunchrooms aren’t really in short supply in Wisconsin. Crisis averted.

What else? Nearing the end of our drive from Chicago to Wisconsin on Friday night, we found a small dog running up the road by my parents’ house, his face covered in snow. There was nothing to do but grab him and toss him in the car, then laugh with surprise as he and Walden did happy somersaults on my spouse’s lap while I drove down the hill. In all honesty, I was probably the only one laughing. It wasn’t the greeting my parents expected when we walked in the door-“Hi! Good to see you, sorry to delay dinner, we found this dog…”- but my bewildered and good-natured mom nonetheless threw on a long parka and wrapped a scarf around her face. She and I trudged from house to house in the dim, icy light of early evening, looking for the dog’s owners and joking to cover up our impatience and worry: Why was the dog alone, with no collar? Why wasn’t anyone driving around looking for it? Why was it so cold? But after two neighbors pointed toward the house at the top of the hill-it was a familiar dog, apparently-we found the appreciative owners and returned him. Less admirably, it was soon clear that when Bijan and  I scooped up the dog and threw him in our car, we might have actually intercepted him while he was running home. Still: l don’t regret it. It was very cold.

I took a long snowy walk with Walden on Saturday morning, then enjoyed a second breakfast while the party planners rushed to decorate tables in the (apparently requisite) pastel colors of babydom and my spouse and father drove to Madison to get the food. It was very clear to everyone that they would stop by the house on their way back to pick me up and take everything to church. It was very clear to everyone except them, apparently, and I stood in the window in my red dress, waiting like a jilted prom-goer. They pulled in the driveway eventually, my sweet husband sheepishly saying something like, “We only heard murmurs that we were supposed to get you.”

Of course everything worked out, as tends to happen when a mismatched group of family and friends gets together to do something really nice for someone. The space was lovely, the food delicious. And just as new parent friends had warned me, we  didn’t get hardly anything that was on our baby registry. What they didn’t predict was the abundance of even better, homemade baby registry derivatives we received. Instead of the soft, muted (and very expensive) colors of aden + anais muslin burp rags, we were given bright squares of flannel and cotton with scalloped edges, stitched together by my cousin Mary. Instead of the Bowron Sheepskin UnShorn Baby Comforter–truly nothing says “out of touch, hyper-educated hippie” like a $50 Bowron Sheepskin UnShorn Baby Comforter, but still-my sister made us a quilt covered in frogs and bugs and butterflies. It’s perfect. There were hand-knit stocking caps and a onesie that reads “I heart Bayfield,” in honor of my beloved Ashland-to-Bayfield cross-country ski race. There was a gold envelope filled with scraps of green and navy and yellow fabric and tiny twigs and a ball of knotted thread, along with the promise of a mobile. “The tiny scraps are just proof,” said my friend Beth. “I’ll finish it soon.”

As I held up the little sweaters and duck-covered pajamas (apparently ducks are synonymous with “gender-neutral”) and soft, soft blankets, my sister occasionally wiped her eyes with a Kleenex. I caught an aunt doing the same, and then my grandma. Baby things make some people sentimental-but not me, I realized, wondering if I might be missing some essential mothering quality. The pile of presents slowly diminishing, I reached toward a pink bag behind me. It was very light. It was from my cousin Nick, who reads this blog. And it was a pair of running socks. I peeled away the bright pink tissue paper and held them in my hands, away from anyone’s sight.

And that, dear friends, was the gift that made me cry.

“What is it?” someone called out.

“Running socks.” I said, my voice wavering. “They’re from Nick. He knows I run, and I’ve had this thing called placenta previa and so I can’t run and it’s been a little hard and I just…” my voice trailed and I sniveled loudly. I wiped my snotty nose with the back of my hand and shook my head, giving up. Everyone waited patiently. I grabbed another gift.

It remains utterly impossible for me to imagine Life with Baby, which is probably why I’m so neutral about the sweet tiny hats and soft, soft blankets. I know that the little one will be enchanting, confusing, exhausting, etc., etc., etc. and that I will change a lot as a result. And to be very honest, sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that this change will be okay, that I will be able to maintain (or return to) the thing where I sweat and hurt and find silence and strength and fresh air and the best, truest me. I couldn’t explain it at the time, and I imagine sentimentality over a pair of running socks might actually appear pretty self-centered. But truly no gift could have reassured me more.





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One Comment
  1. This brought tears to my eyes! I am reading this at 2:45 am not because I am up with Baby, but because I am doing work that is inspiring and that I care about. It amazes me to discover that I can continue to expand (though no longer bodily, thankfully). And that is, in many ways, because I have a child. (And also, I well know, because even as a grad student I have the privilege to afford some hours of child care and have a small support network.).

    Still, there are moments when my world is so filled with all the grit and wonder of mothering that I doubt I will emerge intact. And still, I have found that you will deepen. You will want to share all the things you love, and all best parts of yourself with your little one, and you will, as much as you can, seize the small moments to keep your soul fed and full so that sharing can happen. Those beloved onesies and cloths will serve their sweet purpose and in due time be tucked away, but keep those running socks handy. You will keep your stride.

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