My mother would read chapter books with me before bed, the two of us alternating between reading aloud and listening. How long this lasted I couldn’t say, though I imagine these evenings ending as my reading finally lost its halting pronunciation and I became too excited for what came next to bother to wait for her.
Lately I think, well, that’s the one thing she gave me, the one thing I can be grateful for. Books taught me the shape that love and empathy are supposed to take on. It’s taken much longer, years of deep frustration and terrifying vulnerability, to get to a place where I really understand them, but the books I swallowed in my youth gave me the foundation.
We don’t call our children by their names until we can formally announce it in front of our community. But because it’s too much of a bureaucratic nightmare otherwise, we still fill out their birth certificates in the hospital.
There were moments, sitting in the NICU next to her bassinet, the hours unexpectedly turning to days, that all I wanted to do was to scoop her, my unnamed baby, up into my arms and call out the name we’d already given her over and over, as a mantra of sorts, to make her more real, something more than the medical condition that kept us in this limbo of a life not yet started.
It isn’t a surprise that they’ve been absent both physically and emotionally during this tremendous transition in our lives, but it still makes me ache. Both of our mothers, in their own ways, have chosen pride over care, unable or unwilling to accept, or in some cases even acknowledge, our minimal boundaries.
So, we’re alone. It’s not new. We’ve both always been fiercely independent, but I see now that that was not so much a character trait as a means of survival.
The problem, I’ve discovered, is that having never received help, we don’t really know how to ask for it, or even what it is that would be helpful in the first place. Sometimes I even worry that it’s something innate in me that keeps people away in situations where they would support anyone else.
We did at least reach out to the community for meals and a small group of friends for emotional support leading up to next week’s surgery. We’re trying. But it’s never going to come naturally.