Mama, what do you believe in?
The question fires from the backseat as I steer our car down the hill to town.
I believe in love and kindness and honesty. I believe my perspective and approach creates the powerful current I get to swim with.
Over the railroad tracks. Right hand turn. A woman biking with tattooed legs. Friends sitting with coffee. I stop for a family to cross the street.
I believe in nurturing a strong connection to nature. I believe in good communication, trusting your gut and dinner together every day. I believe is all kinds of things.
We stop at a red light. A woman in heels hurries across the street while laughing into her phone. Cars drive. North, south, east, west. People are heading places.
In the rearview mirror Ruby sits, tucked into her pink carseat. Her fuzzy blond halo catches the morning sun, her hands crossed in her lap. She wears her current favorite uniform of capri leggings and a tight-fitting shirt. We are on our way to gymnastics.
What do you believe in? I ask.
Oh I don’t know. I’m just trying to figure it out is all.
Last week I came across a photo of Ruby. It is one of the only photos I took of her in the hospital. I was afraid to document anything that might be too painful to look at in the future should she die. It also felt wrong to take pictures of her so fucking helpless. Instead I sat and stared at her, willing my dark thoughts and increasing detachment to brighten, reattach.
On this day, at this moment, she seemed like a baby. She felt like my baby. Her eyes were wide and alert. She stared into me and I felt a volcano of strength and hope erupt into my heart. She stretched her legs like she’d done before RSV made her eyes close, made her body go limp and breathless. I took a picture.
I show it to my kids. Margot says wow! who is that?! Ruby studies the image on my computer screen with a troubled expression. I tell them it’s Ruby, when she was sick. And Ruby’s ocean eyes fill with tears. She jumps onto me and squeezes my neck and tells me that the picture makes her so sad. She says it’s weird but it’s like she can remember feeling that way.
It’s not weird at all, baby.
For the last few months, she wants me to hold her all the time. She wants to sleep with me, touching me. She wants to sit on me, eat on me. She wants me to trace her face. Again mama. She wants to hold my hand, sit on my hip while I cook, dig in the garden right where I stand. Watch this mama. Sometimes I get touched out. I want a break from the 43 pound primate dangling from my torso. I steady myself during those times of annoyance. Or, more likely, I steady myself after – with a little space from them. I step back and find my balance. I see my lifespan, important moments marked along a horizontal line. This is an important moment. This one where we both learn to loosen our grip on each other. Just a little bit. Just enough. And in order to loosen, we first tighten. We remember that feeling of wishing for hugs and face traces and hand holding. We remember being unable to touch for all those days. The fear and heaviness.
I can feel her heart beat, her lungs full of air. She grips too hard around my neck and whispers into my hair
My mama. My mama.
The light turns green. I wait to see if she will expand on her thoughts about what she believes in. Mabel leans over her carseat from the back and pants, her pink tongue one inch from Ruby’s face. My daughter meets my eyes in the mirror and says
I think I know why some people only have cats and not dogs. I always want to have a dog but maybe some people like their homes to be, like, all peaceful and calm. Maybe some people just like a quiet home. And mama? You have two choices when I am done with gymnastics. You can either take the car through the giant car wash or buy me a baby turkey. You can surprise me.
At the gym she runs to her friends and coaches and turns to me. Watch this mama! She does a front flip off a high mat and lands, strong and smiling. She laughs. Bye mom! she shouts as she runs to the trampoline, not looking back.
I believe in feeling all the feelings. I believe in big dreams and small movements. I believe in seasons, skipping stones, skiing, strawberries, saying yes, swimming, sleep, sunrise, snuggling and swing dancing. I believe what you believe. I believe in you.