Musings from an unsuspecting navy wife

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Little Ball

My dad used to scoop me into his lap, curling my knees to my chest as he held me tight, pressing me into a wriggling little ball. I’d scream with laughter until I couldn’t breathe. When the pressure seemed too great and I might succumb to his grasp, he’d release me. Though freed, I’d usually stay put, tucked into his arms.  

It was our game. He said he was trying to squeeze me down into a little ball because I was growing too fast. He wanted to reverse my progress. Keep me small forever. We’d laugh and cuddle, but it was futile. Despite being condensed into countless little balls throughout my childhood and beyond, I grew up.  

Now I am grown. That still feels surreal sometimes. Frequently I’ll find myself doing something mundane—washing the dishes, paying a bill, driving to the store—and it will hit me. I’m an adult. I have a house and a husband. Together, we have two boys. I still feel like that kid sometimes though, pressed tight, loving the comfort of my father’s embrace as we both tried to hold onto my childhood a little longer.  

My oldest son is two-and-a-half. He’s wild. His hair falls in dirty blond ringlets as he launches himself from couch cushion to couch cushion, often narrowly avoiding a collision with the coffee table. I’m so proud of his growth. He can use his words to communicate his intent (more-or-less) in a way that seemed impossible a few months ago.  

My youngest is 10 months and on the cusp of walking. He snakes around the house, pulling himself forward on his forearms then pauses to look back and grin, showing his four teeth—two up top, two down below. His growing independence terrifies and delights me.  

Despite my pride I already feel the pull to bring them in and squeeze them tight. I want to hold on to both of my sons now, while they both need me so desperately. As independent as they both already are, I’m still their Mommy. They come running or crawling to me with all their needs. I can’t stand the idea that one day, I won’t be able fix all their problems.  

I never realized that being a parent would fill my heart so much that it breaks a little. With each new milestone I feel pride, tinged with a little mourning at my children taking one more step towards adulthood. I know that no matter how hard I squeeze and press them to me, there is no slowing their speeding growth.  

At the same time, I’m always on a countdown, waiting for it to be time for the next activity, meal or sleep so that I can check out for a bit. It’s exhausting to be needed, especially now when there are so few outlets. 

One of the few things we can do out of the house with the playgrounds closed is head to the old cemetery that doubles as a dog park down the road. My husband and I take the boys and our dog there after dinner most nights to let them get some energy out before bed. My toddler loves to run through the headstones as he screams for me to chase him, his knees raised high with each stride in his toddler gait, giggling wildly.  

It always strikes me as I run after him how many children are buried there. Most of them are tragedies more than a hundred years past, but not all. On one trip my son tried to take a toy car that looked brand new from a gravestone of another 2-year-old who died in 2004. As scared as I am of my sons growing up and not needing me, I can’t fathom them not having the opportunity to do so.  

I’ve heard that “the unknown” is life’s greatest fear, but that’s a lie. I know exactly what my greatest fear is. It’s to join the chorus of moaning mothers who have buried their child.  

Before my sons were born, I had a miscarriage, and I didn’t know if I’d make it out from under the grief. I will always carry the weight of knowing that baby was there, then gone. I imagine losing one of my boys would leave me a living ghost.  

I’m so grateful to live in an age and a place where it is uncommon to lose a child. For most of human history, and even in much of the world today, that hasn’t been the case.  

No matter how exhausting it is to have my oldest pulling at me, crying, as I nurse the baby, with them both needing me so urgently, the idea of the alternative is infinitely worse. No matter how much I wish I could pause their growth, I’m thankful that they’re growing. 

Throughout quarantine I’ve tried to practice grace, giving myself and those around me some extra leeway because we’re all struggling. I know I can’t stop my boys from growing up, but sometimes, when they crawl into my lap, I’ll indulge the urge to hold on. I’ll squeeze them tight, knees to chest, and we’ll all revel in the perfection of their youth.  

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Mother’s Day

Our lives are often parceled into different periods marked by major events, the times before and after something has changed us. There’s before Cameron and after. Before we moved to Hawaii and after we started our lives here. Before my miscarriage and after, when I learned the extent my soul could feel pain. But the greatest fissure in my life will now always be before becoming a mother and after.


Every night I stand watch, perched over Jack, fingertips grazing his pajamas as I wait for the steady rise in his chest to meet my touch then fall away, before rising again. Still breathing. Once confirmed, I’ll return to bed.


This ritual started within days of bringing Jack home from the hospital. Either Cameron or I would sit up and peer into the bassinet at night, letting our eyes adjust to the dim light cast in through a crack in our bathroom door, waiting to see him move.


After five months, Cameron has largely stopped his vigil. He’s confident our baby is fine at night. He doesn’t feel my constant, unabating terror that somehow this miracle we made will cease to be. Or if he does, he’s better at hiding it.


I’ve heard the words before that you never really know fear until you have a child. I understood the meaning of those syllables strung together to form an idea, but I couldn’t comprehend the concept until I held Jack in my arms.


Jack was born a little after midnight on November 19th. I pushed him out in 14 minutes. I didn’t let the nurses take him away to clean him. Instead I had them hand him straight to me, blood and all. Lying on my chest, only a minute old, he did the first of many things I would find remarkable, when he picked up his head and looked at me.


I’m constantly amazed at how much I can love Jack. I’d heard of people bursting with joy, but never truly felt my heart swell till I felt lightheaded until I saw his smile and heard his laugh. He can be frustrating, gross, tiresome and loud, and I love him anyway. Being Jack’s mom is the most difficult and most rewarding experience of my life so far.


Of all the realizations that have come since Jack was born, one of the most mind boggling has been the understanding that this feeling of awe I have for my son is how my mother has felt about me.


Few relationships are as fraught as that between a mother and a daughter. There are novels, movies and memoirs dedicated to the subject. Though my mother and I have a loving relationship and talk often, we’ve had our differences.


I baffle her. In as many ways as we are alike, from our physique to our exacting logic, we are different. She marvels at my gregarious ability to make friends in new places. Throughout high school she was frustrated by how often I neglected homework yet managed good grades by acing the final exam. I don’t know how many times she told me that real life doesn’t work that way; there wasn’t always going to be a big test at the end where I could make up for months of slacking off. As a freelance writer, I tend to disagree.


I needled her, clearly. I tested the perimeter of her boundaries, always searching for a weak spot. Always hoping she’d concede to me doing something outside of her better judgment. I could never understand why she didn’t want me to go to concerts at the old movie theater that had burned twice before because she thought it was a firetrap. It rankled me that she was always so damn protective, wanting to carefully guide my actions to stay safe.


I get it now. Every night as I lightly caress Jack’s ribcage, waiting for the telltale rise and fall in his chest, I finally understand why my mom did everything in her power to keep Sarah and I sound. I know the boundless love of a mother for her child that strangles with its ferocity.


We have a joke in our family. Whenever someone embarks on something new, and potentially dangerous, we tell them, “stay with the group, watch out for sleeper waves.” That was my mother’s mantra during class field trips to the beach at Bodega Bay, where rip tides can sweep you away in an instant. Now it’s a way to say “be careful, I love you.”


Now on my first Mother’s Day as a mother, I’m equally bewildered by my love for Jack as I am at my new appreciation for my own mother. And I want her to know that Jack and I continue to stay with the group and are always on guard for sleeper waves.


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Soft Eggs

“The nurse said you had a question about soft eggs,” my doctor says as he enters the room.


He’s English with a strong accent, watery blue eyes that match his scrubs and a bald head. His wife is Thai, a fact that he’s mentioned at each of our appointments, though I’m not sure why. Despite his multicultural household and decades stateside, something about him immediately broadcasts that he’s British. It reminds me of my boss whose coiffed hair, gold chain and unbelievably long O’s point to his far removed youth in Long Island.


Before I have the chance to ask my question, the doctor continues. “I love soft eggs, don’t you? Great for dipping toast into. I wonder how they do that. Get the eggs just right. Boil them so that the outside is firm but the yoke is still soft. I’ve never perfected that.”


His words stream together without the chance to interject in a way that I’m confident would annoy me if it weren’t for his accent.


He finally pauses to look at me and I shrug. Cooking has never been my forte. For years I couldn’t adequately bake a potato. If I’ve ever soft boiled an egg, it was certainly a mistake en route to hard-boiling.


“Hmmm…” he muses. “Delicious.” Suddenly he interrupts his reverie and looks back to me from staring into an unseen abyss. “What’s your question, love?”


“Can I eat them?”


His brow furrows. “Eat what?”


“Soft eggs. Can I eat them? The app on my phone says I shouldn’t.”


He waives a hand dismissively while exaggerating an eye roll. Apps are not to be trusted.


“Feel free,” he finally answers. “Anything else?”


“What about raw salmon. Is that ok?”


He starts to rise from the examination stool he’s just plopped onto. “You can’t cook mercury out of fish,” he begins. “It doesn’t matter if it’s raw or cooked, the mercury is there.” His voice starts to fade as he opens the door to the hall, quickly returning with a pamphlet titled “Local Guide to Fish” that he’s given me twice before. I take my latest copy. I already know it says to eat as much salmon as I want.


“This pamphlet,” he continues, “has all the information you need about how much fish to eat throughout your pregnancy.”


I nod. I assume this means raw salmon is fine, and parasites and bacteria that I imagine will kill my baby one bite at a time are just that, imagined.


My voice always seems to fail me in this office. I’d like to blame the doctor’s gregarious nature and clear intellect rendering me shy, something completely out of character, but I’m sure that’s not it. At least not all of it. It’s mostly the fear that takes me every time I walk through the door.


Every appointment when the doctor unveils my growing belly and douses it with jelly, I’m afraid that when his practiced hand comes down with the ultrasound wand my baby will have stopped developing, his heartbeat dormant, his life having eased away undetected. I imagine this every appointment, and often in between, preparing myself just in case. The weeks between each visit are a near constant stream of anxiety.


I bought a fetal heartbeat monitor early on that was so cheap I couldn’t even distinguish my own pulse. I thought if I could just verify his presence with the device it would ease my mind. Now I can feel him move and kick and I’m still scared because there will be long hours when he sleeps where I feel nothing, and I’m terrified all over that he’s gone, always waiting and praying for the next flutter to let me know he’s still alright in there.


I don’t know if my anxiety-addled mind would have felt like this regardless, or if it’s a direct outcome of losing the first life to start to develop inside me last year. The distinction doesn’t seem to matter. Either way I’m scared.


Pregnancy is scary. It’s also magical and wonderful and hard and everything else that women feel when they are growing a tiny person from scratch. But it is scary. Some believe that the greatest fear in life is that of the unknown. Pregnancy is a major question mark on one of the most important milestones in any life.


Will I be able to deliver naturally or will I need a C-section like my mom and sister? Will he be healthy? Will he be a good baby who easily sleeps through the night, or will he be colicky and hard to manage? Will I be able to breast feed? Will I be any good at it at all?


There are so many questions. A million variables. It’s impossible to predict what will happen when he finally arrives. I’m used to planning and preparing, always with a contingency in case things don’t turn out as expected. But with a baby it’s impossible to know what to expect, bestselling guides with catchy titles be damned.


In truth though, none of my life plans are foolproof. Any plan or contingency can be easily derailed by the frailty of life and the myriad of possibilities at any given moment. It’s easy not to worry that tsunami might wipe away my home one day when that prospect, while legitimate, isn’t likely. Why then is motherhood so different?


I suppose a lot of it has to do with the idea of responsibility. We feel responsible, even liable for all of the unknowable outcomes of our offspring. Though I know that I can only do my best in raising him, and then let him go out on his own to find his own way. Just like my mom did for me.


Still, I worry. I probably always will.


The doctor has finally stopped musing on fish and eggs and asked me to lie back. I pull up my shirt and he puts a paper blanket over my leggings, tucking it into the waist. The jelly comes out, and the wand lowers to my belly. I clench my jaw.


There he is. My baby. I can see his skeletal frame dancing in black and white on the ultrasound monitor. At the start he looked like a blob and now here he is, a tiny person.


“Alright, there he is, love,” says the doctor. He’s half talking to me, half to the instruments in front of him. He moves the wand around, taking measurements and muttering to himself. Finally he seems satisfied and turns his blue gaze to me.


“Everything looks just fine.”