This is my worst nightmare.
My daughter’s hair is not brown but it’s not red either. Her eye color lives in the space where blue tickles green. She has one dimple on her right cheek and none on her left. She was born at 7:26 am on a Tuesday in October. 20 minutes after a sunrise that we wouldn’t have seen if we had wanted to look. It was cloudy. We were busy.
My sister-in-law said she never saw a baby look so much like their mom. That is, secretly, very satisfying.
She’s the neatest little human. She likes rocks, animal figurines, and chocolate milk.
Her name is Genevive. Her dad, grandma, and I call her Genevive. Everyone else calls her Evey.
I had postpartum depression - I never thought I’d actually love her the way that I do. Once she was born she was no longer mine. I couldn’t hoard her, protect her, keep her. Now she is of the world, by the world, with the world. And now I’m not ready. I was not prepared for this to happen.
All 28 lbs of her are embedded in this space behind my heart that’s not ready to say goodbye to the atoms that she’s inhabited for the last three years. But I should have been prepared. With every new syllable, step ran, and shoe outgrown I should have been preparing myself. After all, her little being has always been an “in-between”. From her eyes to her personality to her diaper size she volleys between changes at a speed I’ll never be accustomed to.
The driveway to the front door is the longest, hardest, heaviest I’ve ever seen. I feel hot, forced happy, my face full of congested tears.
I’m not ready. I’m not ready. I’m not ready.
But she is.
They warn you. They warn you that, like the sun, children continually expand outward. When you become a parent, you hit that inflection point where everything simmers inward. Inward with love for your growing child. Inward with always holding yourself just a little bit apart so that your heavy doesn’t become their heavy. Inward with fears, and hopes, and wishes, and dreams.
Like a little plant curling towards the sun, roots that eat through pipes to find water, a dog inching forward for a belly scratch, Genevive inhales the world around her faster than I can exhale. Even now, with mismatched bows, shoes she put on herself, and her stuffed elephant under her arm she’s trying new words and sounds and dance that go along with my early 00s anthems.
I read once that toddlers are wily little adventurers because they have an innate desire to master their bodies. We can’t remember what that feels like. For good reason. I imagine it’s not that dissimilar to coaching yourself not to throw up or trying to not act too drunk when you’re, indeed, very drunk. Maybe that’s why she feels so fearless. So ready.
I know what will happen next though.
We’ll pull up. I’ll take a deep breath and smile. I’ll say something like: “Are you ready?” She will be. I’ll make it seem exciting. It will be. I’ll help her out. Give her her bag and lunch box, take her sweet little hand and go inside. She’ll get shy. The teacher will show her something fun and help her get comfortable. I’ll give her a kiss, it’ll be watery. I’ll cry on my way home and call my mom.
The driveway feels longer than it did on our visits. Plural because there were many. One to inquire. One to meet the teachers. One for orientation. And one more, because I needed it. Not including the two drivebys.
The drive is longer because of the cars in front of me. I’m staring at a purple minivan with three bumper stickers: a stick family, a soccer ball, and the initials of a local elementary school. Walking advertisement for creeps. Or, should I say driving?
Two cars ahead.
I smile at Genevive in the rearview mirror and mimic her wiggly dance moves back to her. One day this won’t be cool. Today isn’t that day.
My husband had given me a pep talk this morning, offered to take her for me, told me it’d be ok, reminded me that she’s ready. He’s sweet like that. I’d never not be here, he knows that but he’s kind enough to offer.
He knows I’m ready, just like he knows that Genevive is.
When she comes home, I know I’ll be happy for her. I’ll be excited to hear about her day, for her to meet new kids, to try new things. I know that I’ll be less sad leaving her tomorrow. But that’s not today.
One car ahead.
The purple minivan stops too early, rolls forward, and stops again. The mom gets out. She’s older than me with brown hair, running shorts, and pink sneakers. She looks like she does spin. Two kids get out: a sandy-haired boy with a backpack bigger than him and a little girl wearing fairy wings carrying a mermaid lunchbox. She waves at them and doesn’t watch them go into the building.
She’s a pro.
When she looks back she must see something in my expression because I get a double thumbs-up as she climbs back into her car. I give a half-smile and a little wave. One day, maybe sooner than I realize, it’ll feel that easy for. However I suspect, on some level, I’ll always want her tucked back in my arms.
It’s hard to think that, for most of us, our parents may still feel this way. That on some level they still hope for a smile, a kiss, or that look a child gives you that lets you know that you’re their person.
Genevive is singing in the backseat. Her elephant is flying in her arms. She’s kicking her feet in the shoes she put on herself.
The purple minivan pulls away. We’re next.
This is my worst nightmare.
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Wow! I love this story so much! I could really feel the emotion. I’m off to ring my parents… Great story, congratulations!
Awww 🤗🤗 Became I read this after A Girl The Girl This Girl, it seems like a sequel to that one. Nora's baby is Genevieve, all grown up (at least, as grown up as a toddler can be). Anyway, good work, great story. I totally enjoyed reading it.
I loved this story! Even though I’m not a mom, I could feel all the emotions you were conveying. Your words flowed together very well. My favorite part has to be the anaphora of “I’m not ready. I’m not ready. I’m not ready.” It made the next line (“But she is”) hit that much harder. Nice work, Anna, and well-deserved shortlist! —Tommie Michele
This is so heartfelt and poetic! Congratulations!