Each night I recite the same words before gently depositing you into your crib. But one night last week, I forgot. I slipped out of the moment for a minute, thinking about the email I needed to send, the work awaiting me on the other side of the nursery door. Your body remained heavy in my arms, but my mind traveled to one of the open Chrome tabs on my MacBook.
I remembered after you were out of my arms, so I rubbed your back with one hand and put the other hand flat on the crib mattress. “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be,” I said. By the time I got to “…as long as I’m living” you’d put your little palm next to mine so my thumb and your pink were touching.
I’m now over a year in working from home, and a year as a full-time working mom. It does get easier, but then harder in different ways. The first few weeks my son was in daycare, it felt like I was missing a limb. And in truth I was, but more like a Kangaroo pouch, since I wore William hours a day for the first six months of his life. It now aches less to say goodbye each morning and stings less to see how happy he is at daycare.
I have noticed that during my rare breaks during the workday, I find myself wandering into William’s nursery. I spend a few minutes straightening the books on his shelf, laying out his jammies for bedtime, and completing other small tasks. I tell myself that I am making the bedtime and morning routines more manageable by doing this, but that isn’t true. I do it in a small way to prove to myself – that I’m still a mom even when working full-time.
I’m not a religious person, but am familiar with the term penance. It’s defined as “voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong.” These small asks are my form of penance, or act of service, to show my love for my son when we’re apart.
It’s been 523 days since my son was born and I haven’t spent a single night away from him. I read that sentence and marvel. I wonder how many nights I would have spent away from him had we not gone into lockdown. A work trip here and there, a weekend trip for a wedding, maybe a trip with my girlfriends? Putting William to bed and getting him out of his crib bookend my days and it’s hard to imagine a time when they won’t.
I never used to use the iPhone feature that reminds you of what was happening one year ago. But since the birth of my son, I look at it almost daily for a reminder of both how little he was and how much he’s grown – and we’ve grown as parents.
COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020 so I went to look at what William was doing that day. Here he is, just a few weeks shy of six months old. I have a video of him that day, smiling up at me and shrugging his little shoulders.
Today, on March 11, 2021, I feel sadness for lives lost and plans cancelled. I also feel a lot of pride for this sweet boy we are raising when it feels like the world is falling down around us.
I felt like a failure today, not only at work but at being your mom. I was late to and distracted in meetings, and unable to give you my full attention.
You woke up with a runny nose. You were babbling away when we scooped you out of your crib, and didn’t have a fever, but we’re still brand new parents and there’s still a pandemic, so we kept you home from daycare.
After you’d grabbed your third fistful of dirt from our fig leaf fiddle tree and (successfully) drank from the dog’s bowl, while spilling the water all over the kitchen, I almost lost my temper before seeing the expectant expression on your sweet, snot-covered face. You were proud of drinking out of your brothers cup!
What I’ll remember about today, as your mom:
On our afternoon walk, I picked a yellow flower and handed it to you. We both marveled at its vibrant yellow color. You smiled and held it out to me to kiss.
You just learned to jump and so we jumped together until you laughed so hard you gave yourself the hiccups.
What I’ll remember about today, as a woman with a career:
My agency released an important campaign about breastfeeding.
Some of my team knew it was a hard week, and sent me rosé and Tartine croissants.
I hope you remember your brother, Tank: a purebred, brindle boxer. He was eight when you were born and got very sick not long after your first birthday.
One morning when you were around nine months old, your dad and I went downstairs to clean out our garage storage unit while you took your nap. Tank thought we’d forgotten about you and scratched all of the paint from your nursery door in his efforts to rescue you.
Tank never used to bark, let alone growl. But if you’re home and the doorbell rings, his dormant protector instinct kicks in and he rushes the door, a low grumble escaping his jowls.
He lets you pet (read: hit) him and grab his cropped tail. You haven’t yet discovered his velvety nose but are mesmerized by his prehistoric claws. You offer him your sippy cup and bring him his leash every morning before our walk.
Chemotherapy has been tough on Tank. He continues to lose weight and hair and the smallest scratch will bleed and bleed, but he comes with us on our daily walks to daycare and you keep him young at home.
At Rossi Playground down the block, he lets other kids pet him but doesn’t take his eyes off you. Even though he’s not allowed in the playground, I can’t imagine a day when he’s not tied up on the perimeter watching over us. The sweetest dog in the world: your brother.
You won’t remember 2020, but you’ll learn about it in school. The year of the global pandemic. Lives and jobs lost to the point of the numbers almost becoming abstract and meaningless. Our favorite restaurants closed, some never to reopen. Empty apartments across San Francisco, people fleeing the city for more space and less rent. Birthdays and holidays celebrated over FaceTime and Zoom.
2020 was the year we lost your paternal grandfather, just a few weeks before the country shut down. We made it to the east coast in time for him to meet you, but you won’t remember that either. You made us all smile on a cold February day, in a gray hospital room.
2020 has been a hard year to be new parents. So many of our friends and even close family haven’t been able to meet you yet. Parenthood can be lonely and FaceTime can only help so much. I miss the way people would smile at me pushing you in your stroller or wearing you strapped to my chest. I try to imagine them smiling behind their masks.
2020 has been the year of cancelled plans. I always assumed I’d spend an overnight away from you within your first year. You’re 14 months old today and it hasn’t happened yet.
2020 was the year our dog, Tank, got cancer. One night in December you had dinner in your carseat while we waited to hear from the emergency veterinary clinic. His chemo meds sit next to your favorite snacks in the pantry.
2020 was the year we walked and walked and walked. We clocked miles upon miles in Golden Gate Park, looping around the Conservatory of Flowers and weaving our way through the Inner Richmond streets.
William. You’ve been the brightest spot in a dark year.
When I look back at photos from a year ago, I don’t look the way I felt. I don’t see the exhaustion or the uncertainty or the sadness I felt. I see my son’s tiny hand curled around mine and how his little body fits perfectly in my arms. I read this quote recently and it feels like it was written about a mother: “Just because someone carries it well doesn’t mean it’s not heavy.”