My writing life has been relegated to the wings in recent weeks as another new baby takes center stage. Welcome Arlo Robin (I wept when they revealed his name)!
In one of Rachel Field’s novels, Time Out of Mind, her protagonist, Kate, often finds herself inundated with the work of running her employer’s household and caring for its troubled inhabitants. One of my favorite reviews of Field’s novel was written by Eleanor Roosevelt in her “My Day” column:
“The description of the times when [Kate] tried to be just hands and feet, a mechanical automaton that moved and yet was numb, is very poignant. For one reason or another, many of us can remember times like that in our lives…”
The passage brings to mind my current surroundings, 1000 miles from home. My oldest daughter and son-in-law are submerged in their first week of parenthood, sleep deprived, unable to think beyond the one task of nourishing a tiny human every two hours, keeping him safe, and learning to cope with this new, overwhelming sense of love and responsibility. Future plans only go as far as the next feed.
Parenthood, at least during intense stretches like this one, supersedes all other thoughts and duties, consuming brain and body. This is how I remember my mothering days, and a part of me was grateful for that full immersion. My ever-scattered young adult mind was given rest, ironically, when I was buried in babies. There were no decisions to be made about how to prioritize each day’s activities. I had to get those four children dressed, fed, and if possible, enriched every day. Some days, I skipped the enrichment part, too exhausted to do more than simply love them. Even when I felt like a numb, mechanical automaton, all hands and feet, I tried to remind my weary arms and heart to let those children know they were loved.
Now I’m observing from the sidelines, part of a ready and willing backup squad. Even that can be exhausting at 62, though the break from daily decision-making hasn’t lost its comforts. I will be fully present for my child and her family. Nothing more. Of course that can’t last long. Already, one week into my grandson’s life, his parents are coming out of their fog, re-expanding their horizons, finding more independence. Soon I will return to my life at my weathered end of this parent spectrum, the grand end! My sideline role will bear witness from a greater distance. I will miss inhabiting their home sphere, touching and holding them, but I will sleep more. And for a long time to come, I’ll be fueled by images of two new parents – stumbling, learning, laughing, weeping, gazing in wonder, and falling more deeply in love every day with a tiny boy with a furrowed brow and wise eyes. Three sets of hands and feet and loving arms, all entangling as a new family comes into being.
Robin Clifford Wood is an award-winning author, poet, and writing teacher. She lives in central Maine with her husband, loves to be outdoors, and enjoys ever-expanding horizons through her children, grandchildren, and granddogs.