I’d pictured the moment countless times.
A darkened living room. Our son’s eager, upturned face. The reflection of twinkle lights in his dark and mesmerized eyes.
Imagining our baby’s first Christmas was a common daydream during my pregnancy. It was a hopeful fantasy and reminder that, regardless of the pain or sickness I felt, it would all be “worth it” — that phrase parents constantly pass back and forth like a balm, soothing us on our darkest and most exhausted days.
When is the last time I felt that magic, that sparkle?
Sunday was The Day. Though I’d been looking forward to decorating for Christmas, I’d been awake since 4 a.m. for a feeding — and my energy level had reached a new low. Still, Spencer and I spent the morning dragging holiday boxes up from the basement and put the artificial tree in the corner.
There is the etched glass ornament announcing my birth 30 years ago, still clear and pristine. My Pink Power Ranger, a relic from the ’90s, and the pillow-soft Cabbage Patch orbs. Spencer’s Grinch ornaments, a Christmas goose. A hot air balloon. Santa’s grinning face.
Then, the ones we acquired together: “Our First Christmas” on a sparkly round ball; a trolley car from our first trip to San Francisco. From there, our December engagement; our wedding; a key for our first home. Last year’s additions celebrated our pregnancy, back when we didn’t even know Oliver was Oliver. I’d unknowingly placed our first sonogram picture at eye level, where Ollie and I look at it every day.
It’s so strange to see that little photo, the edges now battered from frequent handling. I initially tucked it in my purse, this beautiful secret, but later showed it friends and family as though it were a gap-toothed school picture.
“Here’s our baby,” I would say, the words foreign in my mouth. “Our baby” was smaller than a blueberry — a tiny white shape on a black background. The biggest thing in my heart.
I’d imagined putting up our first Christmas tree would be this beautiful experience. We’d listen to holiday music, sip eggnog, lift Ollie high to “help” with the tinsel.
In my mind, it was cozy.
In reality, it was hot.
Spence and I were exhausted from carrying boxes before we’d even begun. I was sweaty, unshowered, without makeup. I would hastily unpack ornaments and decorate while Spencer tried to calm our fussy baby; the three of us were rarely in the same place at the same time. I took very few photos.
It was not magical. The house was destroyed. Pieces of Styrofoam from my village houses floated like fake snow, and the couch was covered in glitter. Fake pine needles blanketed the carpet — right where our son would reach for them. I was overwhelmed.
But eventually, mercifully, Oliver fell asleep. We moved him upstairs to his crib while we finished unloading our decor, the pair of us whispering and sipping warm beers as the day wore on. I couldn’t see it at first, as I rarely can, but the room took shape.
We haven’t been in our house long enough to have set traditions, particular “ways.” Santa doesn’t have to go on the mantel; the angels can sing from the hall, not the table. Everything is pliable. We can form it as we go.
When Ollie woke up, darkness had fallen. Our living room glittered by white twinkle lights. Spencer and I crept to lift him from his crib, slowly making our way downstairs to watch his expression. It was suddenly the most important thing in the world.
It’s hard to be a human these days, let alone a parent.
During my pregnancy, an older friend and I often discussed current events. Working for a newspaper, it’s inevitable — and as always, it was awful: gun violence; racism; hate-mongering; political upheaval. Ebola and hunger. Sadness and heartbreak.
My son was born in Baltimore the day Freddie Gray was taken into police custody. It was three miles away. Gray died a week later — in the hospital a few floors below where my son laid in his isolette. Oliver was taken out of the city by ambulance the morning the riots broke out — just blocks and a breath or two away.
“It’s a sad, strange time for America,” my friend said last year, words that were also true in April and July and December. “I don’t know, Megan . . . I don’t know if I’d want to bring a child into the world these days.”
She wasn’t saying anything I hadn’t already considered. But it’s different — scarier — to hear it from someone else. In light of the many tragedies over the last few weeks (months? years?), that conversation flooded back to me this week.
I thought of the world in which Oliver will become a child, a man. Hopefully a father himself.
I hadn’t known what to say at the time, but I now know:
I brought a child into this world out of love. Hope.
I brought a child into this world out of the belief that, in time, we can fix what is broken. We can persevere. With understanding and tolerance, we will find a way to be good to each other. That hatred and evil cannot win.
And more than anything, I brought a child into this world for a moment like Sunday: Oliver’s mouth forming a curious “O,” his fat fists reaching for the sparkly ornaments on his first Christmas tree. In an instant, a month’s worth of hard news disappeared beneath its branches. I felt I could breathe again.
When I came home from work each night this week, I turned off the news and turned on the lights. We sat close to the tree, this precious boy in my lap, his tiny hands reaching for a future we cannot yet see.