A while back, when there was no bump, no heartburn or charley horses or “weird rib pain,” I asked my daughter and son-in-law if after the baby comes, they might want a couple of days on their own before I arrive? Maybe get used to the baby’s presence, and each other? Have some private time to make a mess without eyes on them?
With that, we made fluid plans for my arrival, but it was back when she was wearing regular clothes, and now it doesn’t matter what they were. Now, it matters that when she is leaning back on her elbows during a Zoom talk, she has to do that side-to-side thing to sit up. Now, I would move in next door, next weekend, if I could.
Only moments ago, I was asking her to pick a twin-bead elastic for her ponytail. I liked them because they were colorful and fun, like peanut M&Ms.
“Which one do you want?” I would ask, showing her the collection in my hand. With a frown of concentration that still crosses her face today, she’d poke them with her index finger. “This one,” she’d say and hand it to me.
I’d comb her hair, and talk to her like a stylist. “So, what’s going on with you today?” She would tell me about plans of swimming, or camp or new preschool friends. Then, when she was combed and ponytailed, I’d say every time, “Okay, ready? You’re free to go,” and off she’d run, with her Pebbles Flintstone hair, into the day.
Only moments later, she was a freshman in college and I got a call one night. There was silence after I answered. Then tears. Then, “Mommy.” There’d been a breakup. A meltdown. I asked her to fly home.
In a restaurant, I held her hand. “Tell me what happened,” I said. Then, like we were resurrecting an upended puzzle, we laid out the pieces, trying this one and that until at least the borders were back. The next day, ready and free to go, she was off to the airport to finish the rest.
On a Zoom call, I can see the bump now without trying, and she is luminous. Her voice is musical. Between her pretty smile and happy eyes, I can’t stop looking at her. On rainy days, or after a night of poor sleep, I can’t stop thinking about her.
But lucky us, we are talkers. Big talkers. On speaker while we’re cleaning out drawers or folding laundry kind of talkers. We are former hate-the-phone types who learned to love the phone for the love of each other.
While she has been sheltering in place, and I have been wondering when I’ll see her again, we’ve been revisiting our other big mother-daughter moments across the life arc — apartments, boyfriends, jobs, graduate school, marriage, divorce and my favorite: Her introduction of the “special friend” who became the special one and changed everything, beginning with the depth of my daughter’s laughter.
In seven weeks, only moments from now, he will be on the phone telling me that “she’s okay, she’s doing well.”
He knows. Because damn this virus, he’s been forced to stay at home every day, share the cooking, join her on walks, make her laugh, take care of the litter, rub her back when she’s cranky, and bring up well-marinated observations so that their intellectual minds continue to waltz, even when she would rather think about morning glory muffins.
I was thinking about this tender twosome on the way to buy groceries the other day when it occurred to me that I haven’t seen her put on a coat. I haven’t seen her not able to button a coat over her baby.
I won’t be there when she is heavy and lumbering and possibly past her due date, and the crazy thought hits her that she may be the first woman who never actually had the baby but just remained pregnant forever, the way I thought I would at 42 weeks.
I keep forgetting to ask her whether she’s had the nightmare yet about leaving the baby in the supermarket parking lot? Perfectly normal. Or whether her ankles are swollen, because I have a funny story about that.
Nothing about the way she looks and sounds on our Zoom calls suggests she is anything but serene. But my intuition is asking for new information. It wants to know what doesn’t show on a Zoom call. It wants me to ask, “What would I notice about you if I followed you around for eight or nine hours?”
What this has shown me is that I know how to be there for my daughter and always have. But I don’t know how to be there for me.
I want to hold her hand.
I want to know from the look, sound and presence of her that she’s really resting enough.
I want to be sitting across from her, and grab her arm and say, “Oh, my God,” because of some really funny pregnancy or new parenting story that just occurred to me.
I want to see her walk that slightly back-leaning, side-to-side way.
I want to see her coat not button.
But really, what I want, is to know her well in these last weeks before she became a mother forever.
I know, we’ve had practice. I know, we know what we’re doing.
And so, we’ll Zoom like we have been. I’ll talk to her when I am driving to get groceries, like I have been. She’ll call me on her walks. I’ll ask how she slept, and she’ll say, “Did you ever have …” or “What does it mean when …” I’ll hear about her OB visits because, only moments from now, they will be weekly.
I’ll tell her my stories, maybe about the time when, stupid with postpartum exhaustion, I tried to feed her father a pacifier. She will laugh the deep laugh of a person whose heart is in the right hands.
I will know she’s ready and free to go, because I used to fix her hair. And stylists know these things about their favorite customers.
Susan Bonifant is an essayist, novelist and mother of four who blogs about life after the last college drop-off at Attic View. She lives with her husband and cat in Hopkinton, N.H. Follow her on Twitter @SusanBonifant.
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