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.
In no particular order, here are a list of people who mean so much to your dad and I that you’ve never been able to meet due to the pandemic.
- Your Uncle Steve and Aunt Paige
- Your godmother, Jacqueline
- Your godfather, Rick
- Your great, great Aunt Jane
- Your great Aunt Sharon and Uncle Matt
- Carter, who is two months younger than you, and my closest friend from work, Carrie’s son
- The Thomas family, in Australia
- Hanley and Sears, first names Ryan and Tyler, who were both in our wedding
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.”
You are thirteen months and two days old today.
Today you closed the door to your nursery and said “buh bye,” unable to hide your excitement about our fifteenth game of peekaboo this morning.
Today you had milk in a sippy cup for the first time, and tried to feed me some, too.
Today you had blueberries and waffles for breakfast.
Today you had peas and cauliflower hash browns for lunch.
Today you had leftover rotisserie chicken and white beans for dinner.
Today you blew raspberries on our sunset walk in Golden Gate Park.
Today you tested out different laughs, relishing the feel of scrunching up your nose and throwing your head back.
Today you stood and tried to run in the bath, challenging us in delight.
Today you sat in the dog bed and your “brother” didn’t mind.
Today I said “I love you, my William” approximately one hundred times.
When I can’t sleep, I picture you, my son. I can feel your weight in my arms as I drift off to sleep. Your warm body tucked into my arm, my lips kissing the swirl of hair on the crown your head, your fingers wrapped around mine.
Many of the parenthood sayings have been around for generations for a reason: they’re true. One I’ve been thinking about lately is: “It takes a village.”
We live in San Francisco. William’s grandparents live in New Jersey and Southern California, respectively. My twin brothers are are across the country – Nashville – and the world – London. My brother-in-law is in Oakland, and we also have family near Mendocino. Many of our closest friends are far flung as well, from Perth, Australia to Manhattan along with Dallas, San Diego, and Los Angeles. The close friends that we have in the Bay Area have young children, too, so even pre-Pandemic, getting together meant coordinating nap times and feeding schedules. Easier said than done.
This past week, our daycare was closed for its belated “summer break.” I had to have Mohs surgery to remove some skin cancer on Monday, so Sunday night my husband and I looked at our calendars and sent invites for our most important meetings. We cobbled a loose schedule together for the week, but we were pretty much in survival mode and on our own. My husband wore the baby for the calls that he could take on walks; I led Zoom calls while giving him a bottle and thankfully my recovery from surgery was quick. William spent a lot of time in which we have jokingly started calling “the pen,” pictured below, which is basically a corner of our living room.
The pandemic and wildfires in San Francisco have made what can already be an isolating time – early parenthood – even more isolating. I have an amazing network of women spanning my closest friends, fellow moms at my company, former coworkers, my baby group, and more, but this week really made me think about “our village” and how there isn’t a replacement for someone being there physically to hold your baby when you need an extra set of hands.
My body doesn’t feel like my own. My baby is ten months old, and I’m still getting used to the way my formerly taut stomach has loose skin that pools and puckers. My baby is ten months old, and I’ve stopped nursing, but I know my breasts will never be the same, more full than before, but deflated still. My baby is ten months old, and after months of losing my hair, I’m now trying to tame the baby hairs that have sprouted along my hairline.
My son knows this new body better than I do. When having his bottle, he runs his pointer finger along my clavicle back and forth back and forth. He’s so close to walking, and uses my body to steady himself before taking a step. When I’m rocking him in my arms at bedtime, he curls his right arm behind my back and reaches his left arm up to touch my lips or run his fingers through my hair. When he’s sleepy or scared, he sucks on his middle and ring fingers, clutching my chest with his other hand. His place of comfort and safety is my source of shame.
My body is as familiar to my son as his own, I suppose because he knows it was home. But when will I start to become used to this body?
We’ve only left San Francisco a handful of times since Shelter in Place was implemented in late March, mainly spending our time wandering our neighborhood and finding new routes to Golden Gate Park. Truth be told, we’ve always done a lot of walking since moving to the Inner Richmond because we have a dog and now a baby, but the pace is slower now that we’re five months into SIP. I started really paying attention during our daily walks, and wanted to document the Inner Richmond during this time, from signs thanking essential workers to Black Lives Matter posters, masked Fnnch honey bears encouraging people to wear masks, and empty, closed parks that would typically be full of families.