On desire and disappointment
I love fresh starts. New years, new months, new moons — any chance I can get for a clean slate, I take. And the big daddy of comebacks? For me, it’s got to be back to school.
My end-of-summer birthday heralds the ultimate season for renewal: no matter the weather, I conjure the scent of fall leaves, freshly sharpened pencils, and sweaters unpacked from old pine trunks, or the exhilaration of trying on a different, better persona — like the mousy girls from high school who showed up in college lecture halls with contact lenses and trendy highlights.
It’s no surprise to me that I launched this newsletter a year ago this week, for instance. There’s something about a new school year that inspires bold moves, even if your academic career is long past. And for the past year, I’ve kept up my commitment to write once a month.
Except last month.
That’s because, at a time when I usually feel the most hopeful, this year I feel nothing but stuck.
Most of my recent plans for big debuts have gone terribly wrong. For starters, there was (s)hot girl summer. It seems foolish to think of those carefree days now. But for a few bright, hot weeks, we made plans. We picked outfits. We booked trips.
For me, it felt even more prodigious of a reentry. I’d begun my retreat from crowds months before COVID, in the winding-down days of my first pregnancy at the end of 2019. As I grew heavier and larger, I found myself starting the journey inward that would carry me through a marathon, unmedicated labor that changed me forever. When lockdown hit, I’d already been sequestered at home with a newborn for weeks, adjusting to my new little world.
Fast forward to a year and a half later, with a closet full of barely touched clothes I’d purchased online for quick hits of dopamine, and I was more than ready to reemergence. My identity might have changed from party girl to parent, but as the temperatures climbed, I wanted to see and be seen. I might even buy my first bikini in years!
Then in May, two pink lines showed up on a pregnancy test.
It was sooner than I’d expected. The symptoms — nausea, fatigue, generalized rage-brain — showed up faster than the first time, too, and I was quickly sidelined from socializing.
It never ceases to amaze me that during the first, worst part, pregnant people are expected to go about their normal business while telling hardly a soul. You surreptitiously throw up in office trash cans before prepping for the next work meeting. You fall asleep in your shoes at the merest suggestion of a nap. The transition from hungry to hangry is a nanosecond. At night, Unisom dreams about babies growing tinier and tinier until they get lost in the rug (just me?) plague an already fitful sleep. All this happens while everyone in your personal and professional life expects you to be as gracious and productive as ever.
Beyond the physical ailments, if you find the energy to go to a gathering, what is there to even talk about? You can’t share the single biggest thing that’s happening to you, save close family and friends. At home, you’ve started to say things to your partner like “This week it’s developing its exterior genitals,” which doesn’t exactly make for polite conversation. So you stand there, sweating a little more than usual (fun new symptom!), sober and mute.
Of course, though, there was great joy, too. We’d wanted this, and the timing wasn’t awful. Might be good, even.
I’d wanted to wait until after the worst of COVID was over before we tried again. I didn’t want to leave my husband home during prenatal visits, to wonder up until the last minute whether a new preventative policy might have me laboring alone or in a mask.
And it seemed I had gotten my wish.
Later that summer, another little person made her debut: My daughter, Julia, who started school for the first time in August. (I’d often been slightly amused at how moms called daycare “school,” but I was the first to adopt the lingo when it felt right for her to start.) She’d been raised at home for 19 months as my parents, their own careers as international workers put on pause, watched her while I worked from home. Over the summer, right when I was planning to be more social, she had started to show an interest in other kids at the playground, to hug them when our pod came over. I looked forward to her first day, knowing that even if she cried and clung to my shirt, she would be ready.
When the day came, instead of feeling excited, I had fantasies of calling the unmasked parents at drop-off “murderers.”
When I sent my daughter to daycare for the first time this year, she was supposed to be safer. Wasn’t that why we’d been so careful?
Instead, she is more vulnerable than ever, because in a country where vaccines are free and readily available to anyone who wants one, an amazing feat that desperate populations in other countries could only dream about, the grown-ups have decided to politicize the measures that save lives, to prolong the suffering for everyone.
Including for one little girl in a pink butterfly backpack.
I can’t describe the terror of sending her during Delta, with its dubious effects on children, to a room with under-two’s who can’t mask — not that any of the other children in the preschool do either, since Georgia doesn’t require it.
All parents, and especially working parents, added about ten new jobs to their resume over the past year and a half: teacher, hygiene compliance officer, entertainment director, and childcare coordinator to name a few, all while juggling the real jobs they get paid for which at any time could be further disrupted by quarantines or illness.
Now, in addition to full-time mom and full-time worker, I have to police the protocols at my daughter’s daycare. Instead of cussing people out, I settled for a complaint, which thankfully resulted in new safety measures. But still. It’s only a matter of time.
Her first time away from home wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Like our pediatrician predicted, we ended up in the doctor’s office barely three weeks after her first day. Though it’s not COVID — this time — the illness derailed a trip to Atlanta I planned and paid for for my extended family, back when we thought we could travel. The last symptoms linger on past Labor Day, causing us to cancel cookouts and pool parties that would have been such a treat in the long days and sleepless nights of caring for a sick kid.
By now, some people may have the urge to tell me my hope is foolish. The excitement and elation of re-entering the world after an absence caused by new motherhood, of having a baby post-pandemic, of entering my daughter in school — it’s akin to tempting fate.
But what control do I have, anyway?
Whether I’m ready or not, the seasons turn. New babies grow. Our 20-week ultrasound is on Tuesday. Halfway. It is starting to cool down in the mornings and evenings, even in the swamp where I live. I daydream about my next getaway, to the mountains to see the leaves.
Perhaps I’ll be disappointed again, my big plans dashed to bits. But it’s the only way I know how to keep going. After all, a fresh start is always right around the corner.