Thursday, July 3, 2014
I'm down here at five thirty in the morning, hoping that in the quietness, I might be able to write. I want to write because it's July. Next month, my baby will be a year old.
Sometimes I feel like I'm already looking at this period of my life from a great distance, as if I know the shape the memories will take. They'll be centered around this house- the side of the master bedroom that was completely taken over by the glider, the crib, the suitcase with baby clothes and the boxes of diapers bought wholesale. There's the scalloped sink in the master bedroom where she was bathed and the downstairs window where her playpen was placed.
I remember last July in the rental house, everything overgrown and bugs in the kitchen, the dampness seeping through the windowsills. The landlords raised the rent by fifteen dollars and that was enough to send my husband on a house search.
He came home with pictures, realtor agents' telephone numbers and quotes from the bank. He'd been to see a few houses. He even called the adoption agency to ask about getting our address changed on the myriad places where it was officially written.
I didn't know what to do, everything was spinning too fast, but I heard Jesus whisper that He had a good plan and Keith was hard at work tracking it down. After that, I tried to step away from the fear, mostly, and paid attention instead of digging my heels in.
Of course, it was after we'd signed the papers on a house yet to be built that we were matched with Merissa's birth parents. We waited in the rental house while the boxes piled up around us, on a collision course between the house's building schedule and Merissa's projected birthday, each one getting closer and closer together and there was simply nothing we could do about it but wait.
The stroller and car seat came in the mail and we set them up right then and there. We took pictures. Our faces are filled with joy, a tender joy, but one that was fragile- because how would it end? Those boxes were pushed underneath the kitchen counter when we finally arrived at the new house with Merissa in tow, dizzy with exhaustion and light headed with relief.
On the way, we'd stopped at this two bit town, at a gas station with cracked pavement and leaning gas pumps. The air was muggy and full of the sound of local traffic heading home for dinner and a beer. Merissa was like a warm rag doll with dark eyes and a shock of dark hair. The new born sized pants gaped at her waist and fell down over her arched, helpless feet. I rode in the back with her the entire way, leaning over to watch her breathing.
The dogs were wild underfoot when we arrived and the soldier who'd been house sitting for us had set up a few things on the wide expanse of dusty counter. Outside the windows, everything was green, just like it is now, almost a full year later.
Yesterday, I took Merissa to Goodwill to do some shopping. She needed play clothes, things she could crawl around in. At the parking lot, I leaned into the back seat and lifted her from the car seat. She's heavy, compact and warm, full of strength and energy, her skin a light golden color.
Her chubby legs are getting longer and her knees and elbows and the back of her hands are dimpled. She's stretching out to run, but for right now, she still clings to me like a monkey, her hands grasping my tee shirt, looking around her with interest. She's a willing and cooperative little back seat rider, happy to get in and buckled up and happy to get unbuckled and out, stretching her arms up, intently looking at me.
Sometimes it comes over me, the goodness of my life like a wave and I have to pause and let the wave break over me. Then I must break into ridiculous baby talk and refer to myself in the third person.
"Mommy loves you!" I must whisper to her, in delight. "Who is Mommy's little baby buddy? Who is Mommy's little companion? Mommy loves to spend all day with you! Mommy loves your company. You are the joy of the Mommy!"
Inside the store, I went carefully up and down the isles with the small blue cart. I searched through the racks, sliding one hanger after another, hearing my mother's voice in my head- her you have to be patient and persistent to find the good stuff- a find! I missed her, that cheerful veteran of garage sales and second hand shops.
Merissa, however, was not convinced about this slow and steady pace of shopping, especially after she was discouraged from attempting to eat the merchandise. She prefers grocery shopping, where every isle is a new adventure and the atmosphere is cool and brisk and store clerks coo at her.
When her father gets home, she stares up at him, her mouth dropped open in delight, starry eyed. When that broad shouldered soldier in uniform leans in to kiss her, her eyes get wider and wider. She hangs out with him on the couch while I get dinner and I see the back of their two heads, one shaved close per Army regulation, one soft and downy.
Even then, when I am exhausted and stressed by the noise of the television and the growing mess in the kitchen and the fact that I still have the home stretch of the evening before me, the sight of those two heads fills me with fondness.
It's July and the heat is oppressive. Long after sunset, the air remains humid, heavy with the scent of warm earth, pine needles and green growing things. The sky holds a dusky blue color, like the bottom of a glass bottle, thick and glowing faintly. Birds flit through the shadows, darting over the grass in pursuit of insects.
My baby still sleeps on her belly with her head pillowed on her arms, her knees curled up, but in the day, she is lifting off, pushing with her hands and straightening her sturdy legs, reaching forward to grasp anything, finding sounds and linking them together and intently tracking cheerios across the tray of her high chair.
I knew I couldn't hold onto this year and I knew it would go quickly, but I knew those things in theory. Now I know it in practice. I know the rest of her childhood will pass by like this; the rest of my life will pass by like this. This one year has given me a greater understanding of the brevity and beauty of life than anything else I've even known.
When I was younger, I assumed that I would have a whole brood, that being a mother would be my most basic identity. I assumed this even when I was thirty years old, when I married Keith and waited during his deployment for him to return and our family to begin, the happy chaos, the flotsam and jetsam of many children.
I assumed this until we moved to Kentucky, and then that dream began to ebb slowly away. That was five years ago, I think. Almost five years now. I lost that dream slowly, pushing myself to walk and then jog along the golf paths in winter and early spring, making my body do at least one thing I could control.
Now that dream seems foreign to me. I am surprised to remember it. I don't think it was ever real to me; it was a kind of mirage. I would have stepped into it and made it real, if I could have, but the reality would have been something completely different.
The same now too, when I consider the future, what it holds. What will it mean and what will it look like? I don't know. I can hold to a mirage and run toward it, if I want, if I choose to do that. But I don't want to, because I don't want to lose what's real right now, the precious and imperfect life that is given to me right now.
So I must swoop my almost one year old daughter up in my arms and kiss her and love on her while she is here, as she is passing through, one of the greatest gifts I ever received and so different from my first expectations.