My guest room closet is where ambition goes to die. Take, for instance, the green plastic tub of fabric. There’s the two yards of flannel meant to be the backing for my homemade face wipes. The internet said it was one of the best things you could do for the environment—ditch those cotton pads you get at the drug store in favor of reusable ones. It only took one link for me to find step-by-step instructions for making my own. A quick YouTube video taught me the recommended blanket stitch (poke the needle in from the back, move a stitch width across, leave a little loop and push the needle through the loop; repeat ad infinitum) to get that perfect, finished edge. I was going to make myself a set, and some for my mom and sister for Christmas. To my credit, I made six wipes before I got bored. I still use them to apply astringent in the morning, when I've remembered to launder them.
Then there’s the yard of ivory minky with raised dots like fuzzy blueberries, or like tire prints in the snow. That was meant to be a baby blanket for my now three-year-old niece, paired with some left-over green flower-speckled cotton my mom had used to make table runners for my wedding. It was a nice thought—a great welcome to the family, little one!
Once that niece turned two and decided that her favorite animal was a fish, I found goldfish-printed fabric—puffy orange and white koi tangled densely among pink lotus flowers in a way that reminds me of folds in the structure of a brain—and resolved to make her a dress. Never mind I’d never made a dress before.
To my credit, I made her a skirt. It was cute, but here in the green plastic tub is the detritus of a goal half-achieved. There's the extra fabric, the circle of the skirt leaving a crescent moon void in the koi tangles; the unfinished straps cut out and sitting, frayed; the dress pattern imperfectly folded back into its bulging paper envelope, and the tracing I did on now-wrinkled wrapping tissue. Even less excusable are the patterns lying flat and crisp in unopened envelopes: pajama pants, the whimsical vintage tunic that could be made from any assortment of mismatched fabrics. They were only a few dollars, and I honestly thought I’d use them.
That was the tail end of my Laura Ingalls Wilder phase, as I called it, when I was making my own bread and butter, and was just fascinated with the origins of things I’d taken for granted all my life. It was like scales had been lifted from my eyes, like I could see inside of bread and mascarpone cheese and yogurt. I remember the excitement I felt at witnessing the process of creation, seeing it all unfold at my fingertips. Flour, yeast, and water smashing under my knuckles and magically growing into something fragrant and nourishing.
Making my own clothing was a satisfying, logical extension of that: snip, stitch; something from nothing.
It's hard to say why I abandoned it all, why my toast this morning was on Oroweat from the grocery aisle, and after breakfast I donned a plain lavender cotton t-shirt from Target. I guess modern conveniences became too convenient once the next project at work heated up. My eyes were bigger than my stomach, or, my mom would say I was on to the next shiny thing. Maybe for me it was not the doing, but the knowing that mattered. So long as I could look at someone's dress and imagine the shape of the raw fabric, imagine the folds and seams coming together into something finished with dimension, that was enough. My curiosity was satiated.
I toss neatly folded squares of fabric in the donation pile.
Next to the green fabric tub is a smaller bin containing clay pots from my succulent gardening phase. As my fingers trail through the chalky sienna dust I remember the thrill of imposing order on life. The plants were all so smooth and self-contained, but plump and bursting inside with sappy juices bolstering the pert red and green petals on a ruby slipper echeveria, or the thousand tiny nubs like pinky toes stacked into the billowing columns of a donkey's tail sedum. I would play with color and texture, misty green bursting into pink and purple flame at the tips of variegated leaves. They were pretty hardy, until I went a month without watering them. Somehow, the joy of creation having lost is glow, my arrangements would become invisible and languish on a shelf. I'd made some nice birthday presents in my succulent phase. Maybe some of my arrangements were still cherished in some other house where they were maintained enough to thrive.
I survey the clay pots, most of them chipped or cracked now, and reluctantly put them in the trash pile.
Beneath the clay pots, paper cut-outs litter the floor of the clear plastic container—rabbits and hedgehogs and deer cut from the remains of wrapping paper too cute to throw away. I remember how my intent had been to decoupage the pots with a forest of critters.
I wonder if cleaning out the guest room will be another hobby that I abandon before it’s done. Already I’m tempted to take some Mod Podge to the dining room table (I'm sure I'll find it in the set of plastic drawers holding the rulers and colored pencils and spools of purple satin ribbon left over from my wedding favors) and finish the stupid decoupage.
I close my eyes and take a deep, palate cleansing breath through my nose, feeling my belly rise and fall. Then I toss the cut outs onto the trash pile and move on to the bin of unread books—my someday pile. Without opening it, I push the whole box with my foot into the donation pile.
I think of my latest hobby: the green chevron rug, the orange black-out curtains, the robin’s egg-colored swivel rocking chair, the white crib with sheets that look like an explosion of flowers on a spring meadow. I had pasted all of this into a Photoshop vision board as I acquired each item. I have three months to bring my vision to life—to transform the crowded guest room into a colorful and cozy nursery—before picking up a new hobby: motherhood.
The shrinking space beneath my sternum, right above the growing mound of baby, constricts with panic as I survey the piles on the bedroom carpet and realize just how bad I am at sticking to anything.
Yes, I’m excited about this baby now. I wanted her. I’ve meticulously tracked her weekly growth from a lima bean to a lemon to a cantaloupe. I can match every fruit to every week. I set up a light box on the dining room table and photographed each item for cryptic weekly Instagram posts leading up to the big reveal a month ago: lentil, kidney bean, raspberry, kumquat, fig, apple, yam, eggplant, Baby Girl Sutton coming April 2021!
Pregnancy has been a fun hobby, but what if that’s all it is? Will I stick with the whole Mom thing when it gets hard? Diapers and tantrums and annoying TV shows with theme songs that get stuck in your head? What if the joy is in the creation more than the execution?
“I can’t believe this is going to happen,” one of my co-workers had remarked over our last Zoom conference. “It’s like you’re going to have a new roommate for the next eighteen years!”
Eighteen years is long enough to plant a fruit tree and see it come to bushel-full maturity. It’s more than halfway to paying off a mortgage. It’s the lifespan of a healthy cat. It’s...how many cups of coffee, I wonder, working some quick math in my head. Somewhere around 6,000!
I don’t want to be the pregnant lady who cries. I bristle at that cliche. I’m not weak and hormonal; I’m growing a freaking life. But I feel a noise well up in my chest and I let it out in a protracted groan that makes the baby squirm. I feel a foot or elbow or something pressing near my right hip and I poke her back, pressing with two knuckles until my skin indents. My way of saying hi. She kicks back.
“You okay, Abby?” I’ve attracted Marcus’s attention and he peeks into the room. “You’re not lifting anything too heavy, right? Do you need me to move anything out?”
“I’m fine,” I say in a voice smaller than I expected to, still resting my hand on the right side of my belly.
“Geez. I thought you were cleaning this room out,” Marcus says, and I grimace as his eyes land on the piles that surround me, blanketing the gray carpet.
“Yeah. My life threw up.” I try to laugh. “I didn’t realize how much junk I’d collected.”
“You always have big plans,” he says, settling down next to me on the floor, tucking his knees up to his chest to fit between boxes.
“That’s my problem,” I agree. “I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Well, having a baby doesn’t mean giving up on your other interests…” Marcus begins.
“I already gave them up! Don’t you see? I gave up on sewing two years ago. I haven’t decorated a cake since your thirtieth.” I flop my arm toward the shoe box of frosting tips on the desk. “How am I supposed to maintain an interest in this baby for the rest of my life?”
Marcus laughs—a quick, contemplative chuckle. “I don’t know. I never thought about it that way.”
“You just assume it’s going to happen?”
It's easy for him to say. Marcus is steady. He’s a tropical climate with twelve-hour days and 72-degree weather all year round. Five days a week he plays guitar for an hour in the evenings, picking apart the same chords, repeating the same bars. He doesn’t mind eating the same left-overs for dinner three days in a row.
My eyes stop wandering the room and seek out the source of this calm, casual yes that reverberates through the room like afternoon thunder. His eyes are there, waiting to catch mine. They are serious, no playful light glinting on their surface.
“You’re going to be such a good mom.” I watch his lips move without offering a response. “You’re so full of energy.”
“Energy can’t be created or destroyed,” I say absently. “It just changes forms.” I don't know where that came from. “What if I’m too fickle?”
“You haven’t lost interest in me yet, right?”
Now I laugh. Eight years together. Three cities, five different jobs between us, a dozen failed hobbies, but he’s not one of them. He’s the constant. “No.”
“You’re not fickle,” he says, picking up my hand and gently twisting my wrist. "You’re just really flexible. And all those things you think you’ve given up on?” He takes my hand and sweeps it, inside of his, around the room. “I don’t think you have. The way I see it, we’re all juggling different things in life, but we can only actively hold on to one or two balls at a time. The rest are hanging there in the air around us, but they’re still in play. You…” he squeezes my hand and a smile spreads through his cheeks up to his eyes. “You just have a lot of balls in play, and who knows when they’ll land? Maybe you’ll make our kid a unicorn cake for her first birthday, or maybe you’ll pull out some of this fabric and make her a bib or a blanket. And I would not be upset if you started making bread again someday.”
I’m re-evaluating the donation pile, scanning it for fabric that matches my vision board. “I’m going to have a baby in at least one hand,” I say. “How am I even supposed to juggle?”
“Slowly,” Marcus says as he slowly strokes the skin inside my wrist.
I have goose-bumps, but I also have a ball firmly in my hand. I’m going to clean this room. “Help me up,” I say, extending my arm.
As I rise, Marcus pulling me up off the floor, I feel her kick again, and I think of her inner ear developing a sense of balance, and imagine that labyrinth of tubes folding into place inside her skull, knitting themselves in with her brain. I imagine this sixth sense guiding her somersaults, weighing her head down toward the earth.
Each of us, even as adults, is a work in progress. Creation is steady and constant. I stand up and poke her back—two knuckles, hello.