In my rented house, sitting on borrowed furniture, I holed myself up one cold winter night, reading. “It’s a girl,” said the little voice in my head. I stopped mid-sentence and laid the book against my chest, gazing ahead of me, as if I expected to find someone sitting at the opposite end of the couch. But no one was there. It was perfectly quiet. Patiently, I waited for more. I was delivered more silence.
The next morning, I made an appointment to see a doctor. A doctor. Because I didn’t have one. I never got sick. And since my current living arrangement may or may not be temporary, I never bothered to plant roots by selecting a “primary care” physician. There was no need. Until now. Apparently, there was a need. I had no idea.
A pregnancy test was run. I sat in the room, for what seemed like an eternity, waiting for the nurse to return. “Yes, you’re pregnant,” she said with just a hint of a smile. She couldn’t decipher my expression to determine whether this was good news. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Pregnant? I had battled endometriosis for years and had decided that I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant even if I tried. I hadn’t tried. But I hadn’t not tried.
A man I once dated asked me if I wanted to have kids some day. I said I hadn’t really made a deliberate decision about it. If I was meant to have kids, it would just happen. And if I wasn’t, then it wouldn’t. I was okay with it, either way.
Well, now was the moment of truth. Was I okay?
“Because of your age, we’ll want to do an ultrasound.” “Oh, right. 35 is pushing the envelope,” I quipped in my head. She handed me a gown and opened the door to usher me down the hall. “You mean right now?” I asked. She looked back at me as if to say, “What, you have something better to do with your time right now?” She kept walking, her unspoken order for me to follow her.
Lying on the table, my mind raced. A kid. A baby. Me, a mother. A mom. Was I prepared? Could I do it? How did I really feel about this? I was unsure. The technician squirted the glob of cold goo on my belly and began her search, slowly and methodically moving the wand, eyes fixed on the monitor. My eyes followed hers. Her hand stopped and she smiled. “There. Right there. See it? That’s the heart beating.” She adjusted a knob, turning on the volume. The quick rhythm, beating in time to the pulse on the screen, was loud and clear. A Top 10 hit. A one-hit wonder. My heart melted and I was reduced to a puddle of tears.
Yes. Yes indeed, this was good news. I was more than just okay. I was overwhelmed. In the very best possible way.
I chose a boy’s name, you know, just in case. Just in case my intuition was wrong this time. But I knew that it wasn’t. It never is. It is always there, and it is always right. Seven months later, in the middle of one of the most horrific lightning storms I could remember, as promised, the Universe delivered. Laid on my chest was a perfect, beautiful bundle of warm flesh. She was full of life, love, and lessons.
She was a baby for about 10 years, during which time I got about four hours of sleep in total. And then, the day she went to kindergarten, everything changed. She began to grow and learn and ask all kinds of life questions. The following week, when she started her senior year of high school, she was still asking questions about life. What was my life like in college? What did I like least about living in an apartment when I moved to Chicago? What exactly happens when the government shuts down?
I swear, it was just this morning that I was sitting in our rocking recliner for a few minutes of peace when she crept oh-so-quietly halfway down the stairs at 5:30 a.m. Peering at me through the banisters, wearing that mischievous little grin, she was bright-eyed and bushy tailed, even at o’dark thirty. It was yesterday, I believe, that she was running through the sprinkler wearing her hot pink bikini, squealing with pure, innocent glee at the icy cold water blasting her little belly. A few weeks ago, she was admonishing me for not being with her at the dining room table, supervising her finger-painting. Last month when she was in middle school and we were talking about how kids can be so thoughtless and hurtful, I was struck by her wisdom. As I watched her back out of the driveway for the very first time all by herself last week, I’m sure I caught a glimpse of her clutching her favorite stuffed animal, the pink elephant whose little velour tail served as a pacifier.
The clock tick-tocks in the background as I sit waiting. Waiting for her to get up. Waiting for her to get ready. Waiting for her to finish eating. Waiting for her to come home.
For right now, just for today, I will appreciate every minute. I will take an internal snapshot of every smile, every laugh, every missed assignment, dirty dish, wet towel on the floor, unmade bed, eye roll, and every long hair wiped on the shower wall. I will secretly record for my memory to play back at will every giggle as she watches the latest viral video and each gasp as clips of her friends jump at her from her phone screen. I’ll admire her tenacity when she argues her curfew with me, and smile at her taking a nap rather than unloading the dishwasher. I’ll savor every half-finished meal, silently step over every pair of shoes in the middle of the floor, and ignore every room that remains unkempt after numerous requests to clean it. I’ll be grateful for every request for takeout, the late night chats on my bed, and each time she begs to have her feet rubbed after getting home at 10:30 p.m. from a long shift at the restaurant, even though I’m exhausted from my own long day at the office. I’ll wrap my warm fingers around those smelly little toes and massage them, enjoying every minute.
Because in eight months, which is tomorrow, I’ll be holed up in our house, gazing at the opposite end of the couch over the top of a book, half-expecting to find someone there. But she’ll be sitting on borrowed furniture in a rented room, hundreds of miles away at college.
And although it will not be perfect, it will be perfectly quiet.