this is one of those posts that you’re not supposed to write. i’m about to say too much and bring an entire downpour of bad juju upon mine head. the type of post my mother wouldn’t approve of. “don’t say that,” she’d say. so be it.
i always wanted three kids. then ruth was born. and we nearly stopped at one. “were you really stressed out while you were pregnant with ruth?” one parenting friend recently asked me, glancing to the side, making sure no one was watching. “not especially, no,” i replied ( i mean, yes, my mom did have a bout with cancer during my pregnancy with ruth, so it wasn’t a totally stress free time in my life, i suppose), “why?” she leaned in conspiratorially, “because… when i was pregnant with my first, i had a really high-stress job, and i always wondered if she didn’t turn out so intense because i worked there while i was pregnant, up to the end.” (these are hushed conversations, whispered tones while the kids are momentarily in the other room, between mothers, trusted mothers, friends). “i’ve heard about that idea…” i said and we exchanged commiserating looks that only parents of the “difficult” or “challenging” kids can share. half “can you believe our luck/no one knows what we deal with” and half “did we do this…somehow? are we responsible?” if you’re one of these parents, then you know what i mean.
then we got pregnant again. but oddly, instead of feeling dread, wondering if the second would turn out to be of similar temperament, from the very beginning, i felt nothing but hope. that this second baby would somehow save us all from ourselves, to be sure a lot of pressure for a tiny fetus, but i knew…i hoped, anyways, that joel would somehow balance out our whacked-out family. even when we found out his due date was only a couple days before ruth’s birthday, and, in many ways, my second pregnancy was a close mirror of my first. even though they would both be tauruses, the dreaded children of the bull, i still felt that the baby i carried would change us all…for the better.
then, he was born, and lay there, not making a peep, a beautiful shade of blue, covered in wax, and rolled into a ball, a chubby ball. and he was the answer to all of my non-prayerful prayers. then he started crying, and it was the most heartbreaking, prolonged cry you could ever hear. i looked at greg. “he looks so small,” i said, though in a few hours, the scale would reveal that he was actually bigger than ruth had been at birth. greg looked back at me and i could see it in his eyes too. this baby had just opened up an entirely new world of vulnerability and challenge to us.
one of my neighbors first put it into words when joel was still tiny enough that he slept most of the time and i wore him tightly fastened to my chest in the moby wrap. she came rushing over for a peek at the new baby and, when she got a look at his face, staggered backwards with her hand over her chest and a look almost of shock on her face. then, english being her second language, struggled to explain her reaction to me, “this baby…when i look at him…it’s like my heart opens to him.” and she confirmed the feelings that arose in me when i had first looked upon him, heard his primal cries, and what i had been feeling more or less since he was born. having joel was like giving birth to my own broken heart. it doesn’t make much sense but that’s the best way i can put it.
sometimes greg and i give each other looks that say without words, “our son…is kind of a….woose.” or we joke and say, “he’s gonna be the kid that gets beat up on the playground.” all things we don’t want to say because we don’t want to box him in before he’s had a chance, but we’re just trying to express to each other the feelings and inklings we have about our son’s disposition. one night after he was about two months old, i sat with greg on our steps at night and, looking up at the star-filled sky, said, “i feel so afraid for him. he seems so…vulnerable.” something we never much say about ruth who is a fighter to her core. when we say we’re afraid for ruth, it’s mostly we’re afraid that her temper will become her own worst enemy and eat her alive in some way. or that, because she’s a woman, she will be met with inequality and sexist stereotypes throughout her life, but mostly, we fear for her temper.
joel’s name came to us serendipitously after we had exhausted time and again our list of preferred boys names. it caught both our eyes as we watched the credits for a movie we had just finished roll over the darkened screen. and i think we both knew without really talking much about it, that that was the name our son would have.
it wasn’t until later, after he was born and i was thinking about it that i said to myself, “he’s a gentle soul…he’s ‘joel’, and i realized how well his name fit.