“Mother is a very powerful identity,” she said. This was today, 26 of us in our respective zoom boxes with the festive baby shower virtual backgrounds. The year is 2021. The zoom baby shower the stand-in for the hugs and collection of words of wisdom and wishes that we would otherwise string together as beads on a necklace to hand to the new parent.
I had sat contemplating this fact, this coming identity shift, over the last few days in particular. We saw our baby on the ultrasound for the first time in person. Before that, it was only the wonders of the human endeavor that could keep us tethered to the growing being in Temecula, us in San Francisco, a facetime here, a video recording there, texted pictures of her progress. This time, we heard the thump thump of the heartbeart, fluttering, a fast drum in the big house, a hummingbird’s wings, the crow’s hops. The baby’s hands were by her face. We saw her yawn and then smile.
As I try and focus in on my laptop, I listen to the backyard chorus of the daycare next door, the 40 three-year-olds screaming, singing, chanting, laughing, squealing with their outside voices, blowing whistles – those are particularly long days in trying to work – and sometimes puffing homemade kazoos. Things that some teachers do to pass the hours together, growing the bright young minds.
I thought, well, what is 215 divided by 40? It’s over 5. So it would be over 5 of those daycares full of children that were found last week on the grounds of a Kamloops residential school – the place where Native children were sent, kidnapped really, forced to march at times, to assimilate and erase and mute, snuffing out languages and cultures and carefree joy of childhood along the way, the Canadian government, the United States government, the Catholic church, writing it in policy together to “kill the Indian to save the man.” These 215 skeletons, with no marked graves, no crosses, no flowers, no talisman sending them from one world to the next, no nothing. Hiding them, the reality. I wondered though, how did the people know where to look? The bends of the willow trees, the patterns in the patches of overgrown grasses, wildflowers coming back year after year, enveloping these beings, when the mothers could not force their way in, could not track where their stolen children were, what became of them. Mother earth took them in, their last exhales are what she breathed in.
There are at least 129 other residential schools in Canada. More than 350 in the United States. Starting in the 1800s. The last one closed in 1996. I don’t do the math.
In the zoom baby shower today, everyone went around the circle and gave us advice. Beautiful stirring words, practical wisdom, ways to make humor out of something that many say is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Don’t be perfect, let that go, the cult of perfect motherhood will bury you. Eat her good snacks too – you can always get more organic raspberries. Nap when she naps. Be prepared to have your schedule and routine turn upside down and then work to turn it rightside up. When you think you want to go somewhere, stop thinking and just go. When you get there and it’s a disaster, just leave. No guilt. Don’t get buried in books or songs that will haunt you forever – the child will find and madly request over and over again “Baby Shark” no matter what you do. So, to start, read the books you want, listen to the music you love. And they will adapt too. It goes by so fast. Take the time to enjoy it. They’ll all end up in therapy in the 30s anyway. The dishes can wait, the laundry will be forever piling up. You cannot get ahead. So don’t even try. They will always be your baby. Before you know it, you’ll be looking at colleges and sending them off into adulthood. Wishing they were babies once again. Get an Airb&b for family when they come. Your relationship is like a thick rope and this baby will try and fray and wear that rope down. Don’t forget about yourselves and do all the things you need to make that rope taut and strong. You need someone to take care of you too. Since the grandparents are more than a flight away, find grandparents here too, to share their wisdom and love. Everyone needs hope in the form of new life.
I think of George Flloyd calling to his mom, his mama. Gone from this earth, she did not bear witness on this plane. How he summoned mothers everywhere. A sound that poured through solid walls, artificial boundaries and borders, the tendons of hearts, space and time. Their arms still aching, from phantom pains of their babies, here and gone.