Friday night I walked through the Soho – Chinatown border, where continuous leans in structural black smoked cigarettes and lounged on restaurant benches next to vibrant old Asian women selling branches of longan, dragon’s eyes, and grapes the size of toddler fists.
Fall is coming. My son’s last first season, and my own, in this new motherhood.
Last summer on a Thursday or Friday night I’d do the same walk and the liveliness would render me rife with longings I knew to be foolish but was nonetheless piquant. To be another continuous lean, in thin straps or flutters of skin. To start drinking as the sky went pink and not know where the night might lead.
But by fall I was settling into quiet inwardness. I started to look pregnant — which, surface as it seems, made a world of difference, comfort-wise. My husband and I decorated, in our fledgling way, the nursery. A sky blue shelf, a pink leather elephant, a bassinet that brought a bit of Danish chrome and felt sais quoi to our spare apartment. Two framed Babar prints, from a set of three (my husband put his foot down at the third. Elephants on parade.)
That fall was one of long stretches of contemplation and time. I left work in the middle of the day to swim desultory laps. I went to the old Morgan to look at books and the new Whitney to look at wires and the dancing tinker bell shadows they cast.
I did not socialize much, and liked it. There was, of course, a sense of ephemera in each day, an acknowledgement of a storm — or a new land!—on the horizon. But without knowing its extent, I did not dwell on it.
My son was born on what was the coldest day of the year, and then it grew colder and colder, 2018 ringing in like Narnia’s White Witch. But still, we went outside. Our first day home, we took the subway to the doctor’s, gaming out the exits so we were only above ground for two blocks. Two became ten became loops of Fort Greene Park became hours if the mercury cracked freezing. My son, a winter baby. Occasionally a gust would make him gasp and let out soft little o’s, but mostly, he slept, undisturbed.
In April, we went to Mendocino, driving up through a city of redwoods. The light that drifted down to the road was chartreuse and hazy, like the shallows of a pond. We stayed in a fairy cabin surrounded by fairy gardens up a long, narrow road that led further into the woods or out to the cliffs and the roaring sea. There’s nothing that doesn’t grow here, the cabin’s owner told us. His cherry and apple trees were fleecy with pink and white blossoms; hyacinth and cornflowers curled around the trellis of our cabin like charmed snakes. My son’s color palate went from a narrow, muted sleeve to a Jacob’s coat. At the cliffs, the sky threatened to boil and so did the surf; the scrub beneath our feet was spongy and sturdy, stippled with wind-resistant dudleya succulents and fireweed. My son gasped at the onslaught; we turned him inward and he went to sleep, his hands still opening and closing around pockets of wind.
May brought more emerald. We flew to my grandparents’ farm in North Carolina’s tobacco country (the “Piedmont”, as it’s called on local radio). The tobacco was starched green and the cotton was beginning to silk. The lettuce was just peaking up but the roses were already at full-throttle. My son sat on the jade-green rug in the little room with the ladybug wallpaper and stared up at the curio cabinet whose contents — Peruvian worry dolls, Ming figurines, smart Steiff bears in full Royal Guard regalia — had been the objects of my own childhood fascination. We tromped (well, I tromped) along the cow fields, across deeply rutted red clay and swollen ponds. In the barn, my son was too small to jump from bale to bale as I had done, but he held a bit of hay in both hands and sneezed.
He sneezed and it was summer. In the mornings, we walked through the park and I read the placards identifying this tree as a horse chestnut, that as a ginkgo. He watched, with great interest, the serves and volleys of tennis players and the darts and jumbles and friendly inspections of roving dogs. My husband put him in a swing and he slumped and then a week later he sat upright and laughed at his progress.
In July, we drove out east, where my son was able to get much closer to the gentler Atlantic than the fearsome Pacific. A winter baby, he grumbled at the cloistered heat of the tent but countenanced the umbrella and laughed at the suck of tide around his toes. I found sand in his folds for weeks after; what’s left may soon be glass.
In August and then again last weekend we drove up to the family farm in Vermont —the absolute closest the green mountain state gets to New York City. The first time it was riverine and cool, as if gathering itself for the harvest yellows that had exploded by the second trip. The wildflowers — goldenrod and thistle and queen Anne’s late and Black-eyed Susans — were thick as grass and up to my chest in the fields past the lawn where we played croquet and the pool where my son forgot the pain of his front teeth coming through in his efforts to drink as much bromine as possible. He watched, askance, as our friends’ baby crawled away and ran his hand over the patient flank of my aunt’s old stallion and gnawed on boiled corn and any steak bones people cared to give him. By the time the stars came out he was asleep, but they were bright enough to see beneath the skylight.
And now it is 65 and lightly raining and my son is wearing pants and crawling. Soon he will walk and then run under the brown fog of a winter dawn into this unreal city and I will run after him. Until then we crawl.