“I wanted to multiply everything excellent in the world and make a kingdom just for her.”
I was in the backseat of the silver Corolla, seated in the middle, right where the seat rises. I felt closer to the car’s cabin ceiling, snug next to the plastic undercurve of the infant carseat. I was pressed against the base and the attachment was digging into my right thigh. It sounds uncomfortable but I couldn’t feel it.
She was sleeping, sort of hunched and sagging in the infant carrier. She was tiny and delicate in her newborn blankets, like a puffed cloth on a satellite dish. She was three days old. We were going home from the hospital.
He was outside, loading the overnight bags with baby clothes, blankets and other paraphernalia we acquired during the hospital stay. I was almost sure that I was supposed to feel tired, but I felt even more alert and alive. From this day forward, there is no such thing as surrendering to rest.
It was our first moment alone. Since my contractions, up until labor, we…well, I, at the time, was surrounded by someone- either him, my mother, the nurses. Then family, phone calls, a few relatives. This brief stay in the backseat was the first time no one else was talking to us.
Some people decided on a simple congratulation call. That was okay with me. I was too busy mastering breastfeeding. It wasn’t as easy as I thought. I was frustrated that I wasn’t gushing out milk. The nurses and my aunts started saying the baby needed formula. Then that made it more difficult. I felt like my incompetence was setting in too early.
I didn’t even consider sitting in the front seat. Once she was born, there was an inexplicable magnet to be by her side. She was so small and healthy. She was finally here but, at the same time, she had been with me the whole time. I was looking at her – her small face, her covered fists. She was officially in the world.
My heart ached. What have I done?
He got in the driver’s seat. Even at 6”2’ in a Japanese compact, his presence didn’t fill the car. This invisible grey weight swept over me, slowly, like a heavy emotional shroud. I began to sob.
What did I get myself into? He wasn’t working. He didn’t show any signs of intending to work. I supported the entire “family.” He agreed to stay home with the baby when I went back to work. Looking back, this was actually the wiser choice. But at the time, I cowered from having to explain the role reversal.
My daughter was beside me. And the man in the front seat was her father. I wasn’t his wife. He wasn’t my husband. It was all out of order. It all needed explaining. Especially when we went places and people said, “Oh well, your husband..”
Then I’d start clarifying and correcting. After a while, it wasn’t worth clearing it up for strangers. Maybe that was a quick jab at honesty for us. So, we did it anyway.
The pregnancy wasn’t planned. She was “our daughter” but, at the moment, where was the connection? Everyone was in their own body, their own personal space. There were three people in the car now, all in their own seat belts. She was a separate entity altogether.
I believed that I owed her a million explanations – why I thought it was a good idea to bring her into this life- undefined, unresolved, incomplete. Why I insisted on following a distorted rule book of keeping him around when I knew that the involvement was already draining me. How was I going to make sense of this for her? When people in complicated situations say that all they had to give was love, I finally knew what it meant.
I could tell her in later years, that during the ride home from the hospital, she had both of her parents. But he was like a ghost, wandering in and out of rooms, hardly a voice in anything significant. Really, she only had me. And I didn’t feel like I was enough, with my human resources job and traveling past. I wanted to multiply everything excellent in the world and make a kingdom just for her. And, then, maybe – maybe that would be almost enough.
It was evening. The freeway was clear. He heard me crying, sniffling.
“Hey…” he spoke softly. He was trying not to stir her with his voice. Even at the hospital, we could see that she responded to his sound.
I couldn’t answer. I was choked up and I really didn’t have any words beyond the disappointment, the dread, the absorption of the new reality that I was on my own.
“It’s gonna be okay,” he said to the rear view mirror. It almost sounded like a goodbye. I just nodded, wiping away my tears. It was all superficial agreement and genuine distress.
The world seemed too big for her. The sky looked extra dark. The headlights of other cars were loud, piercing blades of flash and panic. The air was too cold, even for California. But I’m her mother. The air is always going to be too cold for her.
He turned the car to our exit. I’m rubbing the bottom of her foot. I had an ongoing need to know she’s still there. Her feet are half the size of my finger, but it lets me know she’s complete, all parts accounted for and that she’s in full attendance.
It felt like we were transporting a secret- a new life that was going to be in apartment 104. She had a name and everything. The security gate opened and he parked the car, intending to get me and the baby in the house first.
At least, we understood each other on the basic things that seemed important in the everyday mechanics of tending to an infant. It was like having a decent science project partner- they knew well enough to move out of the way when the volcano explodes.
I unfastened the seat belt, tucking in the sides of the blanket to keep her in place. My tears had dried. I was focused on the long trek from the parking space to our front door. Her cap slipped forward and covered her eyes but I didn’t bother to adjust it.
Her eyes were closed. She was still sleeping. He unlocked the door and I walked in first. He followed behind, toting the car seat and gently placing it by the sofa. The living room was warm and it smelled like no one had been there. She was home.
“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” -Philippians 4:11