What’s the bravest thing you did today? I mucked about in my front yard garden for a few hours, with the baby on my hip in my old trusty ring sling, and if you don’t think that’s brave, you’ll just have to trust me on this one. Every time I leave my house I have to be brave and strong and consistent. And sometimes I don’t feel so brave, so I stay home. While we live in a small town (35,000 population little city, actually) my house is oriented in the “downtown” core. I am 2 blocks away from the most intriguing hustle and bustle this town has to offer and my sidewalk gets a lot of foot traffic. The arrangement of our house on our lot is such that we have a long and very narrow backyard, while the bulk of our gardening and play space is in the front. Which is to say, when we’re out in our yard, working in the garden, it’s not private at all. Which is also to say, even going into my garden is going into public. And yet, because it’s my yard, my tiny plants to water, my weeds to pull, my patio to sit on, my comfortable space I’ve built out of an unappealing swath of what was once chemically treated grass and nothing more, I feel like it should be my safe place. I feel like I should be immune from double takes and whispers. But I’m not. When the baby’s waving his little arms around, grinning happily like he does, someone’s bound to glance, to squint, to stare. And to keep my own yard safe, I have to go about my business, I have to keep watering and pretend not to mind and smile and say something friendly and I have to be ON. I can’t hide in my yard, is what I’m saying. And not hiding is extraordinarily brave.
Is this what it feels like to be Angelina Jolie? Oh, Angie probably doesn’t have a rental car in the driveway because BOTH of the household rides bit the dust on the same damn day. And, really, there is nothing we have in common (except I confess I did have a pre-famous Brad Pitt poster on my wall when I was sixteen, back in his long haired, dirty rebel days. So I guess we technically both have fond feelings for the same fella, even if, technically, I was fond of him first, ha!) BUT it must be exhausting for her to go anywhere. That I understand, now. It’s exhausting for me, too. When I go somewhere by myself, a quick zip into the grocery store or whatever, I feel like Angelina in disguise. I feel like I’m getting away with something. I can pass as “typical”. I can pass as nobody. I can be in and out and it’s no big deal. But the whole time I’m thinking, wait! You think I’m just like you! But if I had my baby with me you’d look at me differently! Don’t you know who I am? I’m Ulysses’ mother! And I feel guilty, because I know Ulysses will never pass as typical.
Sometimes I fantasize about taking out a full page newspaper ad to introduce him to the world. I wonder what it would be like to widely distribute pictures and a story so that everyone we meet would know him already. I want them to smile, right off the bat, hey! there’s Ulysses! I don’t like having to feel the weight of strangers’ curiosity and confusion again and again and again. I just want him to be known and loved. The things I want for Ulysses are no different than any parent wants for any child. The difference is that his road is more challenging. We all have challenges. But not all of our challenges are noticeable when we’re just minding our own business in our own yard, you know?
Yesterday the baby became SIX MONTHS OLD. I feel embarrassingly ambivalent about his birthday. He was born a week past his “due date”, a week of heartache you cannot begin to comprehend, and it was I who chose his actual birth date. It was I who called up my new perinatologist and said, basically, I’m done! I can’t cry and grieve and anticipate this horrific thing one more minute. I insisted upon induction. They accommodated. So, he was born on the 9th of November because maybe if I’d had to wait until the 10th, or the 11th, or who knows which day, for him to arrive on his own, I would have imploded. I am still really proud of myself for advocating for that intervention. It was the right decision.
At six months, Ulysses is scooching a little, rolling a lot, laughing easily. He isn’t sitting up yet. I expect that particular milestone will be a little later coming; he doesn’t have long fat legs for leverage. But he’s strong and determined. I know it won’t be long.
Half a year. Dang. I am not the same person. I have hurt more. I know more. I love more. I tolerate less. Ulysses has changed me incredibly.
(I tried all my best tricks to get him to smile for that picture, but he was ready for a nap and wasn’t having any of it. Today was the first day I was able to comfortably carry him in that sling and I needed photo documentation. that sling! I carried my daughter, who is lady sized now herself, all over Portland in that sling when she was little. I carried mister six, when he was a great big giant thirty pound baby, all over Phoenix in that sling. that sling! I guess I won’t carry any more babies in it after Uly, but I might always keep it hanging on a hook in my bedroom.)