here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
- e.e. cummings
It has occurred to me more than once this summer that simplicity as an option in our lives quietly slipped out the door one day in May. Most recently, it popped into my head (along with a few other choice words) when I had made it all the way down into the car, late for one appointment or another, only to realize something crucial had been left tucked up in our place. What was once a simple two-minute bound upstairs, suffice it to say is now a twelve-step juggling act. Not that it’s bad, it just used to be a simple thing – leaving the house – though that’s so cliché to say. These expeditions require much more forethought these days. We haven’t let that deter us too far off our typical track yet, we’re just learning to plan ahead, and fortunately most of the time he’s up for coming along for the ride.
This concept though has echoes, in such a literal way. The sheer new volume of things. The space and roots our visions of the future now seem to require. The logistics of traveling. Of even staying put. Of attending a wedding. Of planning how we’ll get through the days come Fall.
Come September, the ability to get up and go to work is no longer an independent act, nor some easy thing to be taken for granted. The idea of work trips on the horizon (for both of us) – once a near weekly, eyes-closed its so familiar part of my routine – is now a genuinely complex logistical equation for us to solve. The sheer effort and expense that has gone into our eighteen different child care plans, which have all fallen through like dominos in turn this month, is absolutely absurd. How is it this hard? And why, seriously, why? It wasn’t until we finally found a nanny we’re excited about this past weekend – a trilingual law grad, working on being a stand up comic by night, and clearly the new smartest person in our house – that things seemed like they might possibly reach a workable equilibrium, though it’s definitely a tenuous balance at that.
I find it hilarious in a way though, the instant doubling of our fleet. It’s as if we went from two to three and then suddenly we require an entire team to keep this little household afloat. One tiny human, that’s all it took to tip the scales. It’s amusing, really. My bank account begs to differ of course, but let’s try not to think about that…
Clearly, I knew, in theory, all this was headed our way. And that’s not to say it’s all that hard, or even unwelcome really (he is so worth anything). But the level of coordination our lives now require really feels a bit wild (and this is just with one!).
So, simplicity walked calmly out the door. And then did an about-face.
At the same time, ironically this boy has also reduced us to the bare essentials; and honestly, what a beautiful intervention it has been. For the last two and a half months our focus has been on little more than each other. And the fundamentals of survival: eating, sleeping, and the like. It’s pretty remarkable the amount of energy I expend these days just getting everything back to neutral. Resetting the coffee maker, doing the dishes, feeding the baby, getting dressed, picking things up so we have a clean slate to destroy again tomorrow. But in between are tiny eyes staring intently at us, baby baths and newly minted skills and smiles, long walks outside, hand-spun milkshakes and so much family time. For the first time in forever (truthfully, I can’t think of another spell like this), there’s no work stress in my life: no emails, no calls to return, no impending trips, no one wanting anything from me but to keep this little person happy and alive. My sole job right now is to be present here. And that feels, well… amazing. I’ve released myself for the time being from all the pressure and expectation of deadlines and drafts, and also from thinking too much about their inevitable return with my return to work. And I can’t tell you how good it feels. All the important things will be there when I get back (I trust the house will not burn down; it rarely does…) and nothing out there right now is as important as our little man in here. I don’t think I even knew how much I needed this sabbatical, this kind of re-centering…this simplification of focus, oddly enough.
I measure my success these days in micro achievements and macro maintenance of the status quo. We made it to the grocery store! / It’s 9pm and everyone is still alive! Instead of decisions and decks and the normal markers of productivity, I’m relishing not watching the clock nor setting my alarm for once. We’re filling the days temporarily instead with naps, letting him sleep soundly on our chests for as long as we like (or rather, as long as he will allow), getting outside when the weather’s nice, exploring this city of ours with new eyes, learning about a whole new realm (child development is seriously fascinating), reading a bit every day (both his little books and mine) and watching every single sport that’s on TV (I kid you not, literally the entire World Cup and Tour de France, but still, football season can’t come soon enough).
It’s a strong, welcome dose of togetherness, and David and I are learning how to be teammates like never before. We’re waving the white flag of order and just embracing the chaos that comes with this territory of becoming a new family around here. Because genuinely, I don’t think we’ve ever been happier or had more fun. For all the complications this new chapter entails, the amazing truth is we also have this brief moment in time this summer, where the outside noise is quieted and it’s just the three of us. And I’m savoring the simplicity of that.
You came easily, without a fight. Ready only when you were, as these things tend to go. We thought about rushing you onward my love, taking up the doctor’s thought to see you earlier here, but decided instead that you would come in your own time, and you proved us right. It was not long into Wednesday morning, just past Memorial Day, you took quick, decisive action, like someone else I know…
I woke to you stirring around 1:30 a.m., but wouldn’t trust it truly until your father found me writhing in bed around 3:00 and actually got up to start packing. The hours passed quickly through the early morning before light, tracked in intervals of one minute to the next, as I gripped my way, white-knuckled through each wave of tense and release. It felt different than I expected, less clear, and more intense, but by mid-morning it was unmistakable that you were on your way. Around 5 a.m. we arrived at the hospital and they wheeled me in, exactly the scene you would expect. You sir, decided you were ready to arrive just over twelve hours and six pushes in. Calmly, in the dim light, with a whimper. Arms open wide. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but there you were: healthy and perfect and right on time. Everything having gone mercifully so much better than expected.
They held you up to the light and laid you hastily on my chest as your father called it out. A boy! It wasn’t as much the dramatic punctuation I’d expected as it was a blurry haze. It took full minutes for it to sink in, and for me to believe it, in the shock of having so many questions pondered over for months suddenly answered at once. Here you are. Squinty eyes and furrowed brow, blinking slowly into the light. For all the time we spent together it was still such a strange thing, meeting you for the first time. It was as if it took awhile to recognize you love, bloody and bewildered, limbs splayed and so frail, and believe we finally knew. You were weighed and prodded, cleaned and bundled, and you took it all so well. Seeing you on the outside, so long and substantial, it was hard to imagine how you ever, in any contortion, fit inside. I expected that moment of lightning striking – he looks like a… – but it never came, so your father and I just looked at each other for awhile and then spoke your name. We kept you to ourselves for nearly an hour before sharing the news, soaking in the newness of you, of us, of your little face finally revealed. I heard my mother’s scream at the proclamation of your arrival in the hall when your father went out to share the news.
Exhaustion like the end of a marathon arrived in the evening. The nurses wrapped you in blanket upon blanket and that classic little hat until all that was showing was your small face. The slits of your eyes, wide cheeks, pointy chin, trembling jaw, full lips, broad nose, faint eyebrows and stork bites on each lid. You looked like a little boy in the face from the start, everyone said. They laid you in the bassinet and we kept you with us as we woke and slept lightly through the night, stirring at every noise you’d make, alert and bewildered at what we were to do with you.
You creaked like the floorboards of an old house with every breath, a pattern I found amusing to no end but which kept me awake that whole first night, newly aware of the extent of your dependency lying right there next to my bed. That first night your father did everything though, springing into action at every cry. I laid there immobilized, watching with heavy eyes open at how wonderfully capable, what a natural he was with you from the start.
You and I took to each other slowly at first and then somewhere in the early morning hours of that second night, I fell in love with you, steeply, in the way that people always describe it to be. Something in those hours of just you and me awake in the dark, quietly stroking the down of your tiny shoulder with my forefinger while you ate, broke me open and swallowed me whole. As if a door had been opened by a hurricane: you were mine. I marveled at the small parts of you, and your whole size newly freed, seeming so minute and yet so large somehow at the same time. You, peering back at me double swaddled with half-opened navy eyes. I drank in the smell of you, hungry and close, the sound of your breathing, the small noises that became the harbinger of your needs, the trademark of your company. I underestimated how much it would feel like falling in love – a version instead so concentrated and consuming, it dropped you off the precipice in minutes rather than months – it felt as if my heart might physically fail.
Those days in the hospital were a blur of activity: feedings and medicine, sleeping and waking to new nurses and rushed lessons. I was amazed by your instincts to breathe, to eat without coaxing or instruction. And also by how hands off the hospital was, trusting you with us, as if we knew at all what to do. And yet, we managed, as people seem to do. So intoxicated was I by your sweet face and velvet skin, I couldn’t look at you without crying for some time, my heart was just so full. On the second full day, nervous as we were to leave that haven of people-who-knew-what-to-do, we loaded you in to the car wailing, and drove you carefully home.
The first few days at home no one ever put you down. The only way you’d sleep at night was milk drunk and on my chest and in the daylight we danced to keep you from crying in the brief spells when you were awake. The trauma of transition from inside to out felt remarkably real. And we clung to one another as neither of us had any idea what was going on or what to do.
The day you were born, love, marked the end of not marking time. The hours picked up speed, with you growing rounder and more awake by the day. The passing weeks arrived in turn with a new sense of consciousness for time. The lot of us surviving on coffee and watermelon and all-too-brief afternoon naps.
When you sleep they say I should sleep, but most of the time I cannot find a good enough reason to put you down. So I am existing exhausted, and literally nothing at all is getting done, but I’ve resolved myself to that. These moments to hold you so compact, quietly purring in my arms and trace your full lips, little bruised eyes, the curvature of your shoulder and tiny knuckles, miniature finger nails and narrow pin-prick of a heel, to follow your eyelashes pressed between heavy lids and faint eyebrows, I already know they are fleeting and nothing seems important enough to stop staring down.
So we go on trading yawns and watching you change, grow, thrive, come alive. Watching you mesmerized by the art on the walls, and strong and sturdy already trying to stand. Already you are changing, growing much too fast for me. Already you have changed us in the best ways it seems. More patient, more loving, more generous with one another. I’d call it content, little boy, you’re a bearer of good things.