What My Expectant Daughter and I Talk About When We Walk
Nancy Townsley writes a touching essay about sharing a walk with her expectant daughter and discussing the way things were versus the way things are now.
My daughter and I amble up Leif Erickson Trail and skirt the perimeter of Forest Park, shuffle through calendar months that bring crackling brown leaves, muddy water flowing through stone, swirling flakes of snow, treacherous patches of ice.
We pause at the crosswalk, waiting for traffic, waiting for the dog to catch up, waiting for answers to questions about the future, infinitely unknowable.
“Things were different then,” I say to her, looking at the ground. “We had more options thirty years ago. Rents weren’t so high, one income was enough, and come to think of it, we were very, very lucky.”
My words trail off with a dot, dot, dot.
We are two generations standing on a downtown street corner smiling hopeful anxious smiles, new life burgeoning inside her and old life resounding inside me. A breeze puffs past our heads and tosses a frail branch onto the rain-soaked road.
Cherry blossoms will return, color the landscape pink and white in another season, but we do not see them now.
We imagine out loud how things might play out.
If only … says my daughter, wistful and resolute.
If only … I echo, searching her wide blue eyes.
If only money actually did grow on trees. If only compromise wasn’t necessary. If only you could always get what you want, and not just what you need.
And: what if children aren’t all that resilient, anyway?
The questions are legion, inexorable. They make my girl wonder; they tug at her heart. What to do, what to do. She tries to be brave, and she is so very brave.
Yet, she worries …
Will the caregiver know to test the temperature of the milk on her wrist and wash the bottle nipples after feedings and change the baby’s diaper often enough that he doesn’t get a rash?
Will she remember he likes it when I play “This Little Piggy” with his toes and where to rub his back when he has trouble settling down and how to strap the car seat in the right way so he is safe?
Whose arms will cradle my baby when his eyes are wet from crying? Who will sing him to sleep, “Kemo Kimo” and “Pegasus” and “You Are My Sunshine”? Whose hands will dress him, stretching the white cotton shirt-neck oh so gently over his gossamer head, and whose fingers will trace the dark whorl of his hair, feel the warm miracle of his fontanel? On whose chest will his body rest while reclined in the carved rocker there, the one that occupied a place of honor in his great-grandmother’s front room, with the lace-draped windows that let in so much light?
Whose heartbeat will he come to know best, its rhythm as much a part of him as his sui generis soul?
“I wish,” says my daughter.
“I wish,” I repeat.
Let it be, whispers the wisdom of the river, the giver of all that nourishes.
He is not yours and he is not mine, nor his father’s or his grandfather’s. He is his own being, subject of words in the “Desiderata” claiming him as a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars.
We summon the ancestors’ blessings on the child: that he grows into someone who knows he has a right to be here, that he is gentle with himself and others, that he believes in the profound ache that loved him into being.
We peer ahead together, out of winter, toward spring.