Back to the bookstore. The love of books. Extended, now, to children’s books, like Mindful Kids and Henry David Thoreau in the Woods. Story time at 10:30am on Saturdays. Of course, most of that is the future. As of now, most of F.’s desires center around feeding. When she’s rooting for her mother’s breast, the most I can offer is my thumb or my pinkie. I wish the world we’re introducing her to wasn’t one on fire. Natural and built environments demolished and transformed according to the whims of capital. Nick Estes usefully reframes current events as a continuation, as if by law of correspondence, of white settler-colonialist America’s war on the Buffalo Nation. His book Our History Is The Future has me looking differently not just at contemporary US acts of aggression against Iran but also at hippie modernist classics retrieved from Goodwill like Jerry Rubin’s We Are Everywhere. Is it a coincidence, too, that after walking past a building demolition downtown, a friend’s text about “leveling up” leads me away from Estes toward a motivational blog exhorting readers to “Inhale the Future, Exhale the Past”? (“Level Up” is also the name of a conference on videogames that I attended at the start of my career as an academic.) The phrase inspires fears, though, about the creeping libertarianism interwoven in the DNA of transhumanism and human potential. Is self-actualization the same as “leveling up”?
A beautiful afternoon — a time to celebrate after several days of rain. Though even those have been wonderful: F. sleeping in my lap, or with her head resting on my shoulder. Sarah writing thank yous as friends and family visit us, bestow gifts on us, and feed us, local friends and colleagues having established for us a meal train. A circle of giving. Freedom is ours when we join and grow these circles of reciprocity. Extend the giving outward through the polis and the cosmos. Support the Sanders bid for the presidency. Make the vote count. Correct the outcome of 1972. Participate, too, in the antiwar movement. Make its number swell.
With my father-in-law and my nephew I caught a matinee screening of The Rise of Skywalker, an anti-imperialist franchise film prefaced by trailers for imperialist dreck: upcoming releases like My Spy, Bad Boys Forever, and Top Gun Maverick. Granted a brief respite from parenting by our in-laws, Sarah and I drop in on a New Year’s party where we chat with friends, though we bail well before midnight, unable in brief to enjoy ourselves in full. Yet here we are, F. beside us, welcoming the decade ahead.
Sarah endures days of contractions, pain shooting around inside her — muscular, interior, burning, grinding, all at once — until the hospital staff turns over at 7:00am and a new doctor-and-nurse team administer an epidural, after which Sarah experiences intense relief. From then onward, all is mostly smooth sailing, at least compared to the night prior. Amplified via monitor, the baby’s heart rate soundtracks our wait (how weird to sit there listening to our daughter swim!) as we watch monster contractions graphed as vertical spikes on a screen. Reflecting afterwards, under the influence of the epidural, on the discrepancy between her expectations going into the labor and the sheer pain of it: “That is not,” Sarah says, “how I imagined it at all.” A loud echo reverberates through the delivery room. Thinking of the baby as the sound’s origin, J. replies, “I imagine her pushing off the side of a wall, as when one is swimming in a pool.” As Sarah continues to dilate, the three of us watch calming footage of sea turtles swimming in the deep. As for me, I picture the baby as an angry Al Pacino, fist in the air, shouting “Attica! Attica!” as in Dog Day Afternoon. And then, without further ado, she arrives in all her glory.
We’re here, we’ve arrived at the projected due date, little one carried full term. And according to the doctors, all is well. But Sarah hasn’t yet entered into active labor — so the wait continues. I pass the time by sitting in the yard listening to outdoor sounds, birds and squirrels, drinking a can of pilsner. ‘Tis enough, sometimes, to just yip and squawk and tweet.
A dream: Sarah and I ride with our friends S. and M. in the back of a FedEx truck stuffed with packages. Soon students join us, as if we’re all traveling somewhere for a field trip. Several students consume mushrooms. Part of me wants to partake, but when they offer, I decline due to personal and professional obligations. Eventually we arrive at a house. Some guy from the truck begins to chat with me in the basement about a wild trip of his and a course he teaches at the Center for Integral Something-or-Other. Buffalo emerges as a shared point of reference, at which point Sarah peeks her head down the stairs. “The kids have arrived — time to come upstairs.” I wake to find Sarah lying beside me, breathing through a series of contractions.
House brought back up to fire code and documents prepared for an impending job application, we’re ready. Any hour now, baby, any minute. A cardinal sang to me this morning, moments before the rubber-suited knights of the local fire department trooped through the home. A kindly bunch. They identified the problem and we thanked them. Time to read William C. Schutz’s Joy — those first pages especially, where he describes the birth of his son.
Ornaments adorn the Christmas tree — several beauties. Stars, birds, balls with bands of colored chrome. And out the window beside the tree, sunlight catches in the bare upper branches of a neighbor’s elm. We’re storytelling beings, you and I, as we wait for the arrival of another. In these next few days, we become parents — ontologically transformed.
Retaining the best of past and present, we build from what we believe of the world a new world: a gift, a package, a mysterious being, a new person. Outside I see a magical landscape, plants bejeweled with clusters of rainwater, tiny infinities of waterworlds, each leaf a cup of sorts filled with life.
I hear voices of comrades passing along hopes and aspirations, fears and concerns, across time. Alongside these, the needs of the household. The days and their many chores. Shopping, cooking, cleaning: the “I” before and after work always performing other kinds of work. Into it all I try to fit reading, writing, walking, watching, listening, meditating, being for and with others. Always, though, reminded: the ego is but a small part of the equation, barely capable, outdone by those on whom it depends. Be that as it may, the “I” that contains this equation is about to become someone’s dad. The fact of it fills me with awe.