I remember that I have left you at the moment I'm saying goodbye to my roomies and my freshman dorm room. Someone wondered whether or not I was able to return and complete my studies. Yes, and no. I was able to return for my sophomore year, this time sharing an apartment with Heidi, Heather and Stacy. This was a tough year for me, as my father was undergoing cancer treatments that nearly killed him. Frequently he was in and out of the hospital. My mother was unable to leave his side, so I was unable to visit. When a friend from high school learned of my dilemma, he offered to drive me back and forth on weekends when he wasn't working.
This high school friend later became my first husband and Emily's dad. You can learn a lot about a person on a long drive. You can talk in an easy manner while the world rushes past the window. You can light up a smoke and listen to rock music, without caring about much of anything. When it doesn't feel possible to accomplish anything, dreams fade and the comfort of a dependable, kind friend sets in.
Three months after I married my friend, whom I also loved, we discovered that we were expecting. I was totally unprepared for this news.
I had just signed up for classes at another university.
After holding my acceptance letter with conflict in my heart, I cancelled my participation in those courses because I had no idea that I could be a mom and a student at the same time. (I do know that it's possible now, but then, I had no confidence.)
So instead of books, we bought a rocking chair and a crib. Both sides of our families threw us baby showers. We lived in a lower level apartment, so the windows in the bedrooms met the ground. The window in Emily's nursery was large and let in the morning sun. There was soft tan carpet on the floor and a large closet to hang the tiny little dresses we received as gifts. My mother crocheted a white sweater set with a bonnet, and a little pink sweater with matching booties and some darling little buttons in the shape of flowers. It was delicate and soft and I have kept it all these years.
Emily's nursery had a crib with a mobile that played music, and a night light that emitted yellow star shapes on the ceiling. In one corner stood a laundry basket full of stuffed animals, in another, a small cabinet for baby books and lullaby tapes. Every nap time and every evening, I would rock this new, pink skinned, beautiful miracle in my arms while I sat in the corner of her nursery, listening to the lullaby tapes and learning to sing all the lyrics. Was it those early months of lullaby singing that imprinted something? Emily has a beautiful voice and has loved to sing since the time she learned her first nursery songs. She grew up to join the choir in middle and high school. I know that one of the things she loves to do is to sing in the car when her favorite music comes on. Her voice is beautiful and strong and if she would let me, I would take her to a college and encourage her to sign up for a music major.
In the nursery, the world outside faded into nothing and I fell into a routine of attention, nurture and play. She had a little white quilt with a cross-stitched teddy bear on the front, and I would lay her on this soft blanket, watching in amazement how she learned to reach for the stuffed blocks just out of her grasp. When she was a little older, I hung a bouncer in the archway and sat cross legged on the floor, soaking up her delight in the freedom of baby bungie jumping. If you happened to call me on the phone during these months, you would hear my voice rambling... "Emily learned this today, and this, and this..." She was so bright and smart and noticed everything. She was afraid of strangers though, and would cry if they talked to her in the grocery check out.
Emily was my entire world. For the first two years I didn't work or take classes. I lived an hour and fifteen minutes from my parents and we only had one car. There was no internet, and if there was, I didn't own a computer. Phone calls were expensive. It was just the two of us. Emily's dad worked second shift, and took on as much overtime as was offered, so we didn't see him much. I didn't have any friends, but I had a beautiful baby girl with blonde curly hair. She wasn't fussy very often, and so most of the time we were free to play, take long walks, watch Winnie the Pooh videos and sing. I put off laundry until it was a mountain in the closet, left dishes on the counter, and responded quickly to the sudden arrival of tears or frustration. I held her often and had a baby backpack to carry her in when we went shopping. People called her spoiled. Now they call it "baby wearing."
Then one day, when my husband thought we might need some socialization, he introduced us to some friends he met though work who were also new parents. These parents were fans of parenting books and recommended that we read The Ferber Method to help Emily fall asleep on her own and sleep through the night. I read the book, thinking that this was something I was supposed to do, and we tried it.
Emily screamed and screamed at being left alone in her crib. Her voice was piercing and the neighbors pounded and pounded on our ceiling for her to be quiet. I kept thinking there must be a gentler way to do this, but my husband was determined. My parents, God bless them, invited us to try the Ferber method at their house. Emily screamed herself sick. She put her chin over the side of the bars and gagged herself in distress. I would go in to reassure her at the appointed time, completely heartbroken at her misery. At five am, my father said, "that's enough." He had survived his cancer battle, and lived to be a grandparent!
Back at our apartment, Emily and I shared a family bed from then on. She was later able to fall asleep in her own bed if I would hold her hand or sit with her for a while, but usually would come in to crawl on my side of the bed at two a.m. Her will was stronger than mine.
But what, in the end, was so wrong about that? I wanted a happy baby who felt secure, not a baby who was traumatized by the fear of abandonment. And by the time she was fourteen, she was so independent that she was able to make the very tough decision to live away from me. The things we worry so much about usually are things that don't ever matter in the end. I'm thankful now that I had those precious, fleeting years for just the two of us. It was a gift more important than my college degree.