When a baby is born and you pass her around, you wonder what she is thinking as she lies in your arms. Living in another state from our grandchildren, we spent the newborn visits hogging the first baby, trying to absorb her and letting her absorb us…hearing our voices, feeling our sway, sensing our scents. On her tummy, and eventually on her back, once she was stronger, her dinosaur bones, I would slowly spell out the letters of her lengthy name with my index finger. “K…e…n…n…e…d…y…”and finish with a big tickle up the neck, “KENNEDY!”
I could soon enough see that she came to expect it from me. Which was, of course, the point.
Eventually the child could walk and talk…funny how that happens, and quickly…and her mama turned the spelling of her name into a rhyme, “K-e-n-n-e-d-y, that’s my name, I’m sweet as pie!”
And, as kids will do with every parent’s perfect plan, Kennedy twisted that rhyme into her own ridiculous singsong, apropos of nothing, “K-e-n-n-e-d-y, that’s my name, football pie!” Then the laughter, the glee.
I’m sure I did the same thing thirty years ago on the back of the baby girl who named me Mamie, albeit with a much shorter name, K-a-t-i-e. I have done it using the few letters in Noah. “Again, Mamie!” The unique arrangement of letters in Loftyn. I have barely begun to do it on the quickly broadening back of Jackson, whom we haven’t seen since late December, as he grows and forgets while we all quarantine in our respective states. I may have done it only once to the new Myles.
My calendar tells me it’s almost time for what would have been my monthly hair color appointment at my friend Mary’s salon, and I remember a wonderful woman who retired from there named Penny, whose gentle, capable hands at the shampoo bowl reminded clients of a loving grandmother. Penny always made sure there were no suds in your ears and that the water was never cold.
Beyond even that date will come Easter, when sometimes my sisters and I would crash our hard-boiled eggs into each other, “egg fight!” Someone wins, someone loses, but then everyone wins because two of us like yolks, while one of us likes only the whites. It is often a holiday that my brother-in-law has had to miss because of work, likewise his son, the chef, cooking for families who prefer a restaurant for their fancy ham, maybe pork belly and farm-to-table eggs.
My mind wanders to their other son, all six foot four of him…did he let me draw his name on his back for comfort as I “rode” the MRI machine with him as a toddler? He’s married now, and his wife gives the longest, most heartfelt hugs of anyone I have ever known.
Just outside both my back and front doors, birds are building nests. Spring is dawning, which would usually be yet another excuse for a pedicure with my mom. Last time we went together, before her winter vacation in Florida, the young women massaging our calves with lavender sugar scrub were discussing an Instagram post in which some unknown harlot tagged our girl’s boyfriend. Should she text him? Ask him to explain? Or become Nancy Drew first and confront him with evidence?
As the weather warms, I yearn to climb onto my stand-up paddleboard, hibernating in the basement, and to lunch with my friend afterwards. And to reach my fork to sample from her plate, or share some fries, maybe a sip of each other’s beer.
Zoom and Facetime prevent the grandkids from forgetting our faces, as does an old-fashioned letter written to help bridge the chasm. Distance isn’t the problem; my best friend and her husband drive across town to stand six feet from their grandsons. My sister does the same to see the babies she moved residences this past year just to be closer to. Her daughter had ice cream delivered. Proximity is not the problem.
Today, the sun shines and more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit are promised, so I will take my mom for a ride in the car since we’ve been shuttered at home together-ish. Side by side. Last week when we did the joyride, we stopped in the driveway of her best friend who came outside to chat from a distance, bundled in an over-sized Cleveland Indians jacket. The boys of summer, benched for now. If we do the same visit again this week, we may have to call that our Easter since it is a holiday usually shared with her family…our family.
Months ago, as regular flu season kicked up, I stopped ending my yoga classes by giving everyone a gentle neck massage. Some folks say that’s their favorite part of class. Others, like my friend Joolz, only tolerates it. She doesn’t want to reject my touch, but she is one who has trouble relaxing, finding peace at the end of practice. Which makes her appearance there even more valuable to me.
Mass on Sunday is on TV for now, and while I may have balked at the exchange of so many handshakes at St. Bridget’s and often surreptitiously squeezed sanitizer into my hand and my husband’s (or once, the open handbag of the woman in the pew in front of us!) I do miss the waves, winks, and thumbs-up of those friends, each of us easy to find in the same pew week after week. The big ones and the little ones. Some of us grabbing breakfast afterwards. I miss the Eucharist. It is called Communion.
My original yoga guru ends class by saying “unity in diversity; all are one.” I miss meeting her for coffee after class. I miss the group of faces I would see at noon on a Wednesday, and even more the several with whom I shared tiaras and mimosas one year ago today for a 50th birthday celebration. Thanks, Timehop.
Before this all happened, we had Thanksgiving and an 80th birthday party for our mom. We had a Christmas with the kids. Before this happened, we rang in the new year on a mountaintop from a hot tub while fireworks exploded in the valley below. Before this all happened, we made it to the in-laws in Florida for a golf visit. Before this happened, we had a weekend in Quebec with our friends. Before this happened, we celebrated our bestie Ken’s birthday.
Before this happened. And now this has happened. And everything from this point on will be “after.”
I just miss touch.
(Photo from Mother’s Day 2019)