It was one of my best friends. Her water had just broken. Contractions were starting.
Could I come?
I flopped back in my pillow. Thinking out loud about logistics – how I could manage the two-hour drive up to York later that morning, figuring out who could pick up the kids from school. Brad interrupted.
"I can just work from home today. You can go."
That's how I found myself digging through my dresser drawers half awake – what should I wear to welcome new life into the world? Red seemed much too harsh. I went with dark purple.
Then I hopped in Brad's car and steered into the still night. The roads were eerie and empty – hours from being crammed with morning commuters. Brad had been listening to A Tribe Called Quest's new album. I left it on. The beat and the message woke me up, felt right on inauguration eve.
"Judging steps in shoes of a path they never walkedShot down in a blaze of a phrases is how they talkDark skinned, walk with a bot portrayed villainI'm chillin', felon down to the DNA crime willin'Subliminate their youth, hyper-sexualize their womenThey ain't got the strong enough hold, so they built the prisons."I arrived in York at 4:30. My best friend curled up on the couch in her stone fairytale cottage of a house. Her husband greeted me with a hug. Bustled around the house collecting provisions, writing a list for his run to Walmart. We were tired but elated. Contractions had been fairly steady. Today was more than likely the day.
Justin left and Kristen and I talked softly about life – just like always, just like any other day – before we lay down to rest.
The morning wore on. The house got lighter and louder. Justin returned, he was followed soon after by his mom, a giddy, anxious storm. Our friend Brittany arrived, then Krystal popped in. The little girls woke up and stumbled downstairs all shaggy headed and sleepy eyed – 5-year-old Sophia and her 2-year-old step-sister Laila. The midwife and her assistant came to to check on progress. Justin's sister was there, too. The house was full.
We did laundry. We needed more towels – a lot more towels. The living room furniture was moved around to make space for a birthing pool in the corner.
Because we were all staying there. Kristen and Justin's son would arrive right in the midst of this wonderful chaos.
Kristen and Justin retreated upstairs for some quiet. The contractions came back, stronger and steadier. Brittany, Justin and I took turns rubbing Kristen's aching back. Talking her through the pain.
The midwives returned and the birthing pool was filled. It was time.
Laela entertained herself by draping multicolored strands of licorice around her neck. "Baby here?" she asked each time she heard the door open.
"Not yet, he's coming soon!" we reassured her.
Kristen was in the pool, succumbing to the intensity of labor pains. We took turns bringing pots of near-boiling water to fill the pool – the water heater had been emptied.
"It's just like 'Little House on the Prairie', " I squealed, always attempting levity at inopportune times.
There was enough water. Kristen felt like she wanted to push. So we circled the pool. Brittany lay cool washcloths on Kristen's forehead with such tenderness my throat tightened. Sophia watched her mother in quiet awe. "You can do it mom," she urged.
And she did. With this ancient force and grace and will, Kristen delivered Liam, all white with vernix and shiny, downy hair. Justin caught his son and led him up to his mother's chest where we she marveled at him. And the rest of us marveled at the three of them.
I picked up Sophia so she could see better. "That's your brother! That's your brother!" I'm always stating the obvious. I was grinning and teary and so was Sophia. She hugged me tight.
The room was so filled with love – it was a palpable thing. You could reach out and touch it. Read it on all our faces.
This moment was so perfectly timed in the wake of this week and this year.
I've had so many thoughts at low levels and high levels.
Like how I have a response for those Childfree Redditors who had some strong critiques of my parenting abilities after reading my last post. ("She's practically bragging about how her children run her house. Some of these 'mommy bloggers' just seem like they enjoy one-upping each other about how terrible and stressful being a mom is.")
I might have been one-upping my fellow "mommy bloggers" (why does that feel like such a loaded, specific title) but that wasn't my intention. And while that particular post was focused on some of the more stressful moments of parenthood – what I didn't share was that for every communal pooping situation, there are moments of completely unexpected and weird joy.
And I was reminded of this while witnessing Liam's birth. Because it's instant with kids. This love. They burst into the world and upend your lives in the best ways possible. The fact is, my children have taught me more about what it means to be a good human than in the past seven years than I'd learned in the previous 28.
Tonight at dinner, Lily spilled her lemonade all over the floor and table. She immediately started crying. And I started grumping at her because I'd reminded them a billion times about being careful and holding their cups with two hands, etc., etc., etc. There was no lemonade left for a refill. It was very dramatic. Jovie got up from the table after finishing her dinner.
"I'm done eating, Lily. You can have the rest of my lemonade," she told her.
The night before, Lily let Jovie wear her coveted Elsa dressing gown to bed. It was a simple favor, but huge for Lily who is forever fishing the gown out of her laundry basket to wear it and re-wear it. And it brought Jovie so much happiness.
Small kindnesses breed more small kindnesses. They soften our hearts. They lead to bigger kindnesses. More open hearts.
And yes, children are forever disrespecting boundaries. They tear down the walls we spend our adulthood erecting and make messes of all our neat, tidy spaces. But these broken barriers allow our worlds to expand and children's embodiment of entropy reminds us that a messy life is a lived in life*.
At some point before Liam arrived I was asked who I voted for – out of curiosity, not aggression. I didn't answer, because it didn't matter in that moment. It really didn't. See, I'm of one persuasion and maybe the others in that room at that moment were of another, but who we voted for is just one facet of who we are as a whole. And anyway, we were all there, together, for a single purpose. To love.
This is what we get, you know? We arrive in this world in our various colors and circumstances, but we're all naked and searching for the love that created us. For the security and nourishment that will allow us to survive.
No matter what path our lives follow, what shape we take, what beliefs we prescribe to, we are all rooted from the same human tree.
And that's what Liam, in his wisp of a life so far, has already taught me.
We live by each other. We die by each other.
We need each other.
*I have to say, that this is just my perspective on my life. And it's not to say that those who don't have children don't have equally messy, barrier-free and/or full lives. Children were for me, but they don't have to be for everyone. And I completely understand and respect that.