parents


I knew that you loved me since I knew what love was. You always took great care of me, showed interest, were available, warm, firm and encouraging. And I could tell that you were great parents as soon as I got to the age that my peers started complaining about their parents. I rarely had anything to add to those conversations. I loved you and respected you too, but I was of course ignorant of just how lopsided our relationship was.

Two months ago,  when Margo was born, this deep, strong glow of love and devotion gripped me, and I thought, “Oh my God, Mom and Dad felt like this about me!” It’s been a major shock to and reorganization of my emotional system, that all this time you have had this in your hearts for me. It’s been on my mind during every interaction with you since then.

It’s a sad, almost tragic, part of human life that children have to be ignorant of the intensity of their parent’s love. I suppose it might be too much to bear for us as children, especially if it came along with the knowledge of how much it takes to provide that safe and safe-feeling life. But we stay ignorant into adulthood until we have children of our own, long after we could handle that knowledge, long after we need it, really, to understand who we are and where we come from.

So almost forty-five years of ignorance precedes this letter.  Sorry about that! But mostly, thank you. I learned how to love from you, since the day I was born. Thanks for how deeply and effortlessly I love my daughter!

Nathen

Fam of 3

Dad, Mom & me, 1971. Photo by Stan Zarakov

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Me & Margo, 2016. Photo by Reanna Alder

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Day One

Dear Baby,

You don’t have a name yet but it’s looking like you will be Margo. Your mama has been liking Margo best for a couple of months now, though mostly calling you Hepsibah when you kicked from inside, or had hiccoughs. Your grandpa Papap likes Michelle (maybe he’ll sing you the Beatles song some day) and your cousin Oliver wants Rose, and actually called you Rose today a couple of times until his mama told him to stop. “But she’s so pretty and Rose is such a pretty name!’

It seems strange to name you. I know I’ll get used to calling you Margo, or whatever we name you, and that you will come to define that name for me in time, but right now, you are just you. It’s simple. And it makes me think that we become limited by our names. I think it takes a lot of work to get back to being simply you, the organism that lives and breathes, eats and shits, smiles and cries.

You are tiny and have a lot of black hair, for a baby. You are so cute that I cry whenever you smile and a lot of the rest of the time, too. I’ve seen it a bunch of times so I know it’s true, but it’s hard to believe that you will get even cuter as you chub up and develop more agency and social awareness.

You are calm and sleep a lot, so far. I’ve been carrying you almost all day in a skin-to-skin sling and you’ve been awake maybe 30 minutes. You wore your mama out last night, nursing and cuddling. She’s pretty beat up from giving birth to you, all sore and achy and tired. Wounded.

Being around you is letting me have new experiences of things I’ve become so used to, like gravity, the slightly out of tune sound of my piano, the sound of the mockingbird outside, the lines and colors of this new little house your mama made, the feeling of a breeze, the sound of wind. Beautiful.

Day Five

Dear Baby,

You are lying asleep on your Nana Honey’s chest in her living room. I am typing on the couch next to her as we talk about your name. It’s your middle and last names that are the hardest. Maybe your generation will have figured this stuff out by the time you have kids. Luckily, your mama is in charge of naming you, since you’re a girl. That was our deal.

This is your first real separation from your mama. She’s at the hospital right now, getting some help. We’re all hoping that she’s home soon, maybe before you wake up.

You are doing great, healthy, beautiful, strong. And very well loved. You met your uncle Cory this morning, and his girlfriend, Emma. They held you for the first time, and so did your uncle Sam and his girlfriend, Aly. Your grandma Nana Honey is holding you for the first time right now, for the last hour. They all love you like crazy. Me too. I love you like crazy.

Day Seven

Dear Margo,

I wish I’d had more time to write. So many precious moments with you and your mama that now I won’t remember and so you’ll never hear about them.

Your mama is having a tough time. She’s been in a lot of pain from some complications. She went to the doctor again yesterday.

So you had your first two attachment ruptures, as we call them in my profession, and oh, were they heartbreaking for you and me. Your uncle Ben and auntie Beca work in the ER and hospital and told us it’s crazy to bring a healthy baby in there, just don’t do it. So you stayed home with me both times, and it was rough. The first time was about three hours, and you slept for the first hour and a half, on your nana’s chest. Then you woke and wanted, needed, to nurse. You did swallow some of the pumped breast milk we had but that was not comforting at all. You just cried “Ngaaaaaaaaa, shudder, ngaaaaaaaaaaa!” over and over. I feel so sad thinking about it. We held you and made you as comfortable as possible, but that was not enough. Eventually I put you in our skin-to-skin sling and danced some Charleston and Lindy with you and you fell asleep pretty quick.

That was two days ago. Yesterday went a little better. Your mama was gone almost as long, but I fed you the pumped milk before you got upset, so you ate more. I’m learning your words and understand “hungry” and “going to poop” (which sound like “ngaa” and little grunts, respectively) but it’s quite clear that “hungry” really means “I need milk from my mama’s breast with her skin and heartbeat and loving arms, not a finger to suck on and not milk from a spoon.” You like my skin and heartbeat and loving arms, too, and my singing, and the lullaby I play you on the piano, but not to satisfy “Ngaaaa!” The sling and dancing were helpful, nice and snug against my skin, with Charleston pulse, and you fell asleep a little while before your mama got back.

Despite her pain and those ruptures, you and your mama are bonding great. She loves you so much and cries about it every time she tells me. When she’s in pain and needs help, the thing that helps her the most is remembering a time in Florida, when she was swimming in the ocean with you in her belly and became overwhelmed by the beauty of the moment and her love for you. I remember her coming back to our apartment and telling me about it and bursting into tears, saying “This baby is with me, and will stay with me, and we’re going to get to swim in the ocean together and I’m just so happy…”

I’m so in love with you. I love every little wiggle and expression. I see your face when I close my eyes. It is obvious to me that you are the most beautiful thing that has ever happened in this world, even when you look like a tiny and disgruntled fat man with hiccoughs, which you do sometimes. Yesterday I had to go to Walmart for some iodine. I dislike that place intensely. It’s so ugly and depressing. I tried three other places first but no one else had it. But I walked into Walmart, bracing myself for the ugliness, and thought, “I have a baby daughter at home!” and proceeded to find and buy my iodine with a light heart and a spring in my step.

There is so much more to tell you, but I need to make your mama breakfast.

Love,

Papa

Day Nine

Dear Margo,

I’m tired for days and your mama is more tired. We have a lot of help available from our families but I’ve been mostly keeping them away so she doesn’t get worn out by social activity. It’s the people you love the most it’s hardest to send away so you can nap. It looks like she’s going to be OK, though. We’re all sure of that now.

Right now you and your mama are napping. Your grandpa and grandma are helping out in the house, putting up blinds, doing laundry—you generate 2-3 loads of laundry a day, which is mind-boggling. I’m trying to work out how to get that laundry water onto trees instead of into the septic as soon as possible. I’m taking a break right now, down in the cabin which used to be our bedroom and which you will likely remember as your mama’s sewing studio. It’s 102 degrees outside, a real late-spring heat wave.

You can almost roll over already. You can get right on to your side. I think that’s remarkable. I’d like to look up developmental milestones and see.

I’m thinking about how if you ever read this letter, it will be as an adult. If you are my age by the time you read it, I will either be dead or have lost most of my memories. In any case, our relationship will have become at least to some degree, though against my sincere wishes, complicated by life, compromises, confusions, resentments. It’s not that I don’t expect a good, solid, loving relationship with you, but I’ve seen life happen, and it gets complicated.

I want you to know and believe to the bottom of your heart that whatever complications we have developed, that it is not your fault, that you were born purely good, purely lovable. Right now, at least up until your ninth day on earth, that is so clear to me, and my love for you, my care for you, my devotion to you, is complete, easy, and uncomplicated. It is only my own limits and the limits of this place we find ourselves that can mess that up. I wish we could both remember this until we die.

Love,

Papa

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