2020 coincides with my son’s first year of life. When people ask what it’s been like, I don’t know what to say. I can’t separate having a baby from the pandemic. January to March, new parenthood was, more or less, a pilot for lockdown. Concerts, theaters, restaurants, what? I was lucky if I showered. The fourth trimester ended then quarantine began, a blur in my sleep-deprived, mashed-potato brains.
“You should journal this experience so you can give it to him one day,” oh shut up.
Don’t you know how exhausting this is?
And yet… both feel worlds apart. Parenthood. Pandemic. Teeny tiny toes. The mask should cover your fucking nose, I haven’t had time to think. About how angry I am. How tragically naïve, to believe as a people we’d feel pain or anything at a hundred thousand dead that doubled and tripled like NBD. Nothing’s got nothing on the swell of pride for the apple of my eye. Then comes the crash of rage and shame I can’t shake in reaction to our reckless nation.
It feels unique but I know it’s not. The tension, that feeling of being walled off.
All the contradictions at once.
A year of unyielding extremes.
Early on Arthur threaded an orange extension cord through the dog door to the stoop so he could drill holes in rocks. You know, for whatever. Curiosity. Boredom. Weltschmerz. Random holes evolved into binary sets, dead but somehow soulful eyes, the very earth staring back. He threw some on his Etsy as pet rocks alongside his paintings that no one buys. He calls it the Pet Rock Adoption Agency. Each one has a name and a punchy, poignant bio.
While grateful to keep my job, the transition to working from home was hard as hell. It didn’t help when the kid woke up at five. To kill time I’d take him on walks with his stroller, each dawn closer to perfecting his Morning Song.
It’s morning time in Austin, babe
It’s time to rise and shine
It’s morning time in Austin
Alright alright alright
Strolling ‘round the neighborhood
The sun begins to rise
From street to street the birds all tweet
Alright alright alright
Orange Cat looks like a tangerine
In the morning light
A liquid sheen that must be seen
Alright alright alright
It goes on for awhile. 🙂
Then on to eight hours of work behind double closed doors to block out the cries. His, not mine, though I’ve come close. I’ll be cagey to salvage professionalism — I was selected for a special project I was not allowed to dodge that was a cluster of a boondoggle to start. It smoothed out somewhat but remains a large part of other duties as assigned. I’m stuck — at least until the pandemic winds down. Once we’re back in the building, there will be no time.
Oh, also, people are dying. So far they’re not my people but that doesn’t make me all right. Yet lockdown has been a weird blessing. A world-renowned tourist attraction it may be, but the Central Library is still an urban public space. It’s been amazing to go months without getting yelled at by a stranger, to not fear I’ll be attacked or get sexually harassed. At the same time, I ache to know with the library buildings closed, many of our regulars have no where to go.
You can’t obey a Stay Home order when you don’t have a home.
No commute, hooray! means more sleep and more time with Louie, catching all the little moments and having the flexibility to double-team the meltdowns and intervene when Arthur gets a thousand-yard stare. But all this garbage also means no visiting with family or friends. My mom planned to stay a few weeks in late spring. We told her hell no.
I learned the word doomscrolling. I relearned exponentials. I learned about toxic positivity and embody it for my baby who doesn’t know any better.
Mama? Mama’s great.
Dada gets my teeth.
But really, not really. We are too tired to fight the world or ourselves. We are home all the time but on our own schedules, working, choring, caring for our son, drilling holes in rocks and sleeping in shifts. When we cross paths we collapse against each other, a loose, wordless hug. Then we trudge onto the next thing.
One morning on a walk the next block over, I find a grinder on the curb, at least I think it’s a grinder, “Hey, is that a grinder?” muffled through my mask. “Shore is,” says the man wrangling other castaways. “All yours.” He doesn’t know he’s the subject of Verse 7 of the Morning Song.
Neighbor Scott is in his bathrobe
Giving his lawn a drink
He’s feeling good just like he should
He don’t care what you think
“We’ll be back in 10.”
Arthur uses the grinder to shear the rocks so they can squat upright. Then he excavates the sockets with a Dremel. He downloaded TikTok at the height of its notoriety and bandwagoned memes featuring his creations. And then they began to sell.
Would you guess our little Louie loves books? 😀
He was turning pages by himself at five months. When he learned to crawl he’d slide them around the floor, his butt up in the air in a bear crawl, scattering open books in every room of the house. Now he takes them off the shelf and brings them to us to read, 20-30 books a day, easy, if you count the consecutive repeats. Our modest but growing collection is heavily supplemented with a steady stream of checkouts from the library.
This librarian’s kid has never been to storytime.
He’s never been to Target or HEB or a restaurant or a park where he could play with another child. I pull up YouTubes of babies and he leans in. It’s not just him. There are others out there, legions of ’em. Cutie pies and beans, roly poly puppy dogs, infants and toddlers and kids like him.
The grandparents are going wild.
In December Arthur’s Etsy sales began taking off #stockingstuffer. He started the summer with about 30 sales spread over a dozen years. He ends 2020 with 164. It makes us giddy and dizzy. Acting’s dried up, he hasn’t performed in well over a year, politics is murder and being a full-time dad is vital and amazing and exhausting and boring. He is thrilled to be making and selling art. I lol every time he announces a sale. We talk about logos, tie-ins, add-ons, next steps, personalized adoption certificates and custom embossers. Everything’s so funny and stupid.
Is this real life?
Are people paying Arthur money to mail them rocks he picked out of the field where we walk the dogs?
Did my city burn, another name seared on our hearts?
Did 74 million Americans think, Yes, this is the country we want, this is the man for the job?
Is wearing a mask so fucking hard?
The library self-nominated the special project I’m a part of for a well-respected award in Library Land. The nomination dripped with innovative business-speak, smacking of smart but devilishly vague. Didn’t matter. It won. Any pride I might feel is eclipsed by frustration and the sinking suspicion its accolades ensure its permanence, long after the pandemic fades.
Which is… when by the way?
A perpetual rolling 3-6 months.
It doesn’t feel weird anymore.
This is it. What we got.
At one year old, Lucien has an attention span of 2-3 minutes. That means handing him an endless array of random crap to keep him busy. Measuring cups, coffee cans, pots and pans and cardboard tubes. One day he was yowling from teething and I gave him an empty clamshell cherry tomato container. He held it to his face and screamed.
I got down at his level, gently took the container, dunked my face and added my own scream. He forgot about the mouth bones tearing out his tender gums, and laughed. I tried to hand it back but he kept pushing it to my face. More, Mama. More!
I screamed and screamed and screamed.
He laughed and laughed and laughed.
Arthur wandered in, wondering about the fuss. We gave him the plastic box. He gave it a whirl.
2020, fuck you.
2020, fuck yeah.
My husband? He’s an artist. He works in stone.
I’m an award-winning librarian.
Our one-year-old son invented the Scream Box.
It’s all real.