Every two weeks, I buy a half gallon of organic, hormone free, ridiculously expensive milk, the kind with the distant expiration date. As I grabbed some off the shelf at the grocery store last week, I looked at the date. April 26, 2013. My heart beat a little faster. On April 26, my baby Gus will be one year and five days old. That expiration date feels anything but far off to me right now.
It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was waddling and huffing down an aisle at the grocery store, cart full of the spoils of a Very Hungry Pregnant Lady: Cadbury Creme Eggs and popsicles, frozen pizzas and veggie burgers. I remembered that I needed to stop at the dairy case to get milk for my daily cup of tea. I lifted out a carton and glanced at the date printed along the top: April 15, 2012. My due date. Butterflies thumped in my chest, competing with the slow and squirming giant movements in my belly. I couldn’t fathom that an actual baby, my actual baby, would be in my arms so soon. Now I can’t believe a little one-year-old boy will be looking at me over his first cupcake, laughing his funny laugh, holding my fingers as he tentatively stands. So soon.
Spring is happening right now, whether I’m ready or not. It is my most nostalgic time of year, when everything I see or smell or hear reminds me of one of the beautiful parts of my life I’m so grateful for. April is the month when, on a walk through my childhood neighborhood, Brandon and I decided we would get married. We looped a little clover around my left ring finger and then we kissed, grasped hands, and finished our walk. It was April when I stood in the doorway of a little brick ranch house, looking out at the garden in bloom, and told Brandon I knew without doubt that it was the house we would live in together. We were married on April 14, 2007 on a fragrant, rainy evening. We held hands tightly, and he raised the umbrella over our heads, and we sprinted through the rain to my car, grinning uncontrollably, and we began our life together. On April 21, 2012, our baby boy was born on a dark and still Spring night. It was the most frightening, magnificent, shocking moment of my life. I didn’t understand at the time, but it was a beginning that unlocked new and yet undiscovered territories in my heart and brain. I play that night over and over in my head and work at it, turning it over like a worry stone, a lucky coin, a talisman. And I wish I could somehow, magically, go back and give birth to my boy again, even with all the terror and pain, just so that I could once more experience all of the newness, all of the shocking love and worry, all of the opening of my eyes and heart, all of the unveiling of glimpses of life’s secrets, all that our tiny baby has given to us over this past year.
I wound my way through the garden yesterday with Gus on my hip, checking all the plants to see what was blooming and what was popping up through the ground. I toed at the dirt to see green spears poking determinedly out of the soil. All around us, daffodils and grape hyacinth were blooming riotously, filling the air with their color and sweetness. A few feet away, an awkward, alien shape caught my eye. It was the peony shrub Brandon and I picked out and planted several years ago, before we were married. Peony plants look very peculiar when they first struggle out of the earth. They are like dark pink fists with claws that fight their way up for weeks, finally turning green and unfolding their leaves, then producing globular buds that wait patiently for an eternity, growing bigger and bigger, oozing sticky sap that ants and aphids savor. When the buds finally decide to bloom, they make you catch your breath with their ornate ruffles and rich fragrance. You clip just one to put in a vase by your bed so that you can fall asleep to its familiar smell. But you leave the rest right where they are because the crowded bursts of pink are so beautiful together.
When we left for the hospital in the early hours of April 21, 2012, our peonies had not yet bloomed. The buds sat stoically, enduring the ants’ unending march up and down their stems.
“It helps to visualize what you want to have happen,” my mother suggested as she helped me breathe. ”It helps to visualize yourself opening.” Because I just wasn’t opening. I was so afraid. I thought of those peonies and felt ridiculous, but I imagined their bright pink petals finally unfurling. I don’t know if it helped at all. I suppose it did, a bit. It is one of the only moments of labor I remember with any sort of clarity.
The day Brandon slowly, carefully drove his car to our little brick ranch house, grimacing at every bump in the uneven pavement–because, after all, we had a brand new, fragile human in our back seat, and a hard-won human, at that–I sat weeping in the passenger seat. I was sad and afraid and so was Brandon. We had not slept in over 72 hours and we were feeling nostalgic for our old life and fearful of our new one. Brandon turned the car up our driveway and parked, and when I opened the passenger side door and slowly, carefully extracted my exhausted, battered body up and out, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, something pink and bright and cheery. I turned to see our peonies in full bloom, waving excitedly in the breeze, and I felt so much promise. For a moment, I knew that everything would be alright.
And it has been more than alright.