By Jennifer Brennock
Jane is having a baby shower. From her living room floor, I smile the correct smile and chat the correct chat. In my chest, something has grabbed and is squeezing.
With their easy sperm-meets-egg success, all-natural Joe and Jane won’t have to take a parenting class before they can bring him home. Joe and Jane won’t have to be visited weekly for six months before their status becomes officially recognized by the courthouse and they can change their child’s last name to match their own. Jane won’t be compelled to explain this fact to all receptionists brandishing clipboards of forms. Those receptionists won’t assume Jane is an unmarried mother; they won’t assume she didn’t want him in the first place. I sip my mimosa in Jane’s quaint, recently-remodeled Craftsman, thinking about the social worker who won’t come into this house and open Jane’s cabinets and inspect the cleanliness of her counters.
I can’t bring myself to buy a mini union suit glazed with dragonflies or an Easter-hued skull cap or the checked dress with bloomers so yellow I bit my lip when I saw them. I purchase utilities instead. An electronic ear thermometer. A palm-sized baster to suck out boogers. Nail clippers with a miniature magnifying glass. A green towel for mopping throw-up. I gift her tools for the work not jumpers for the joy. I wrap it all in the ducky paper I forced myself to buy because I’m going to be good sport if it kills me.
Jane is gorgeously full. Her pregnancy has filled all her voids. She sits on a golden pillow with no shred of humility. When it’s time for my gift, Jane politely surveys the utilities, uttering minimal niceties. The climate of the room changes. With nothing here to “aww” over, the women take the opportunity for refills and chit chat. My friend takes out a handful of safety pins. Happy duckies conceal their sticking points. She calls to the missing audience, now around the table smearing hummus and complimenting each other’s potluck.
“Hey, you guys! Look at these,” she calls laughing with yearbook nostalgia.
“Oh my gawd!” another woman calls. She is also in the family way. “Where on Earth did you find those? That’s so retro!”
I don’t understand my mistake.
“Yeah, right,” Jane says. “Nobody uses these anymore!”
Another friend looks at me. “I guess we could have had a shower for you,” she says.
My son is three. He knows all the words to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” He knows the meanings of “difficult” and “requirement.” He plays soccer. He’s worn underpants since I adopted him the year before.
I leave the party early, telling them I have work to do. When I get home, I hand the sitter cash and her own backpack. “Thanks. I’ll call you,” then gratefully, it’s just him and me.
I pick up my son for the Little Tiny Baby game I like to play, when I lay his enormous body in my arms and rock him like an infant singsonging, “Look at my little, tiny baby!” Most days, he knows his role for this game; he thrashes and laughs on cue trying to escape my embrace with his toddler arms and legs windmilling. He asserts with a lisp that I’m wrong; he is a big boy. Then I let him win and put him down. He’ll run back to me and beg to be tickled.
But the day of Jane’s baby shower, he lies still in my cradle. He sucks his fingers and looks at me with eyes as deep as caves searching for his mother. This time, I set him on the carpet before either of us is ready. I know I’m trying to make him into something he is not. I scared myself.
“Let’s play dance party instead,” I say.
He runs for the stereo, cues up the song that is ours alone. I turn it up loud, scaring the cats and making the wine glasses restless on the shelf. I flip the switch on the blue strobe light, and it makes every moment even more temporary than it was before. It makes the here and now a mere slice of time, and this slice is just the one that came before the next, and all these fractured moments are as elusive as a handful of sand.
My son is showing me his ballet. He’s stomping his feet like a jackhammer while the strobe takes snapshots of him, and I know these flashes can’t be scrapbooked. I won’t recall it like Jane will reminisce about her baby shower. As I watch him throw himself to the floor in a three year-old’s musical ecstasy, I think of the clerk at the health food store who can ten-key while breastfeeding. I think of those strange ultrasound images that make every almost-baby look like it’s malformed. I think of the hand-in-hand circle that is likely forming right now in Jane’s living room, and the blessing words my friends are saying to her, wishing her strength for her day to come. I feel like the last human on Earth.
Adoption tested me, and I’m not sure I passed. Yet in this moment, I have a dance partner. He’s laughing maniacally, just like the first time I saw his face, and now he wants me to take his hands and sashay across the floor with him. Right now, I know only one thing: Mommy is nothing more than a flash of light.
Jennifer Brennock writes and teaches in the San Juan Islands. “Baby Shower” is an excerpt from her memoir in progress, Real, about infertility, adoption, motherhood and The Velveteen Rabbit.
Editor’s note: Five years ago this August, I walked into the public library on Orcas Island and nervously joined several locals who’d signed up for a Writers’ Roundtable. Two hours later, I emerged excited about my first foray into fiction writing and impressed with the professionalism of the flame-haired discussion leader. Jennifer was then completing her MFA in Creative Writing. Friendship ensued.
Tomorrow: “Ferguson through the eyes of an African immigrant” by Parfait Bassale.